I think every nature lover has dreamed of one day visiting Australia. The continent boasts a remarkable level of biodiversity and endemism, with some of the planet’s most famously unusual creatures calling the Land Down Under home. To residents of the Northern Hemisphere, it seems like another world: a mythical realm of marsupials and venom, isolated for so long that the evolutionary arms race has created a truly unique ecosystem. From the Great Barrier Reef to the Outback, Australia is full of fantastic wildlife and spectacular scenery. It has been the clear, undisputed number one spot on my list of “must see” destinations ever since I was a child, but I knew this was not a trip to be taken lightly. A journey to the far side of the world is not easily crammed into a week-long vacation in the middle of the school year.
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During the last few days of June (June 27- June 30), Steve Huggins – a good birding friend of mine from Chicago – and I decided to go on a whirlwind trip of the prairie states out west in search of fun summer breeding birds, including a few lifers. Steve is a well-traveled world birder, boasting a world list of over 4,000 species. He had not, however, seen a Sprauge’s Pipit before, making that a major target of our trip. I had never been to North or South Dakota in my US travels, and after hearing numerous rumors over the years of the natural beauty and incredible birdlife of the prairie pothole region, I was ready to see it for myself. Steve and I left Chicago at 4:30 AM on Thursday, July 27th with the intention of covering some serious mileage.
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Most evenings in Panama, the excitement wrapped up by the time the sun set. There were several other guests who shared my interest in checking out the rainforest in the dark, so the staff arranged a night drive about halfway through my stay at Canopy Tower. I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity for some after hours exploration. We slowly drove down Semaphore Hill Road, with Jorge operating a powerful jacklight that he used to scan every visible branch and bush for nocturnal creatures. Birds were few and far between, a roosting Great Tinamou and a Black-and-white Owl calling in the distance, but the mammal show was brilliant. Jorge’s expert spotlighting revealed a Central American Woolly Possum, several Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloths, and two Kinkajous clambering through the treetops. We also spotted a Lowland Paca dashing across the road and a Spectral Bat hunting overhead.
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I awakened well ahead of daybreak after my first night in the Canopy Tower. The local Mantled Howler Monkeys were up shortly afterwards, their wild, thunderous shouts ringing out from all directions around my lofty perch on the observation deck. Slowly but surely, the dawn chorus of birdsong stirred to life as light returned to the landscape. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced a more memorable sunrise. The other guests and guides gradually found their way to the top level, and we were treated to a marvelously lively breakfast performance. A mixed flock of migrants had joined the resident birds, providing a great opportunity to watch Scarlet Tanagers feeding alongside Palm Tanagers and Red-eyed Vireos calling in unison with Green Shrike-Vireos.
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I’ve spent most of my adult life dreaming about Panama. The country has ranked highly on my short list of priority destinations for years, largely due to its relatively close proximity, accessibility, and rich biodiversity. For birders who seek the natural treasures of the Neotropics, Panama is a fantastic first choice. It boasts more birds than any other nation in Central America, with over 900 different species recorded in the country. It’s a fantastic hotspot for other wildlife, too, hosting a wide variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. From the dense lowland rainforests to the misty cloud forests of the mountains, Panama is full of incredible habitats with rich communities of plants and animals. Whenever my work calendar has provided me with an extended break, I’ve attempted to plan an expedition to experience these wonders for myself. Time and time again, my efforts fell through.
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Knowingly seeing an individual bird that has been previously encountered is a special treat in the world of birding. Most birders would probably agree that the fascinating life cycles of these wild creatures are among the greatest draws that keep people invested in the hobby. It is a truly remarkable privilege to witness multiple chapters in the stories of specific birds. Repeated meetings occur more frequently than one might expect, given the difficult, fast-paced, and often short lives many species lead. Even so, it never gets old. The high-profile sagas of rarities and vagrants regularly feature surprising encore performances. Wayward birds sometimes reappear months later and hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from the original discovery site. Recent examples include the magnificent Texas-to-Maine journey of the late Great Black Hawk and subsequent sightings of the 2017 Pennsylvania Black-backed Oriole in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
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No one likes to let vacation time go to waste. As my schedule began to fill up with responsibilities and obligations, it became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to orchestrate a grand international adventure for my February break this year. Nevertheless, I still had a few days to spare and didn’t want to spend them just sitting around. I decided to set my sights on a relatively local destination for a short-but-sweet jaunt up to the Adirondack Mountains. The planned itinerary outlined a lightning round sweep through the best boreal habitat. There were several specialty species I hoped to add to my various lists, and the opportunity to spend some quality time in the wintry woods was exactly the change of pace I craved. Newcomb I made great time on my journey north, departing from Long Island before sunrise and reaching the Adirondacks around 10 AM.
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Year listing is one of the most popular traditions in the world of birding. The annual cycle of seasons is felt especially strongly by those of us who immerse ourselves in the world of birds, and each new year brings a new set of chances to enjoy unforgettable experiences. On behalf of the whole Nemesis Bird team, I’d like to extend best wishes for a healthy and happy 2019 full of avian excitement to all of our readers! May the dips be few, may the twitches be successful, and may all your birding resolutions come to fruition. Gotta Start Somewhere Even casual birders who do not keep an annual total of the species they observe often take note of the first bird they encounter at the start of a new year.
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If you’re like me, you’ve waited to the last minute to even think of buying Christmas gifts because you just haven’t found the time. If you buy this for me, we aren’t friends Between birding, work (more birding), and planning future birding (CBC), you’d think I would be sick of birds, but never! Let Nemesis Bird help you with your last minute holiday gifts for the birders and outdoor enthusiasts in your life. If you don’t find what you are looking for here, check out suggestions from previous years at: 2010, 2012, 2015, 2017 Nature and Birding Books One thing birders can never have enough of….BOOKS! A few good field guides came out this year, so I suggest these as a starting point (make sure the recipient doesn’t already own these).  GULL is the word this year.
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At the end of every year, I like to take some time to reflect on the highs and lows of the year’s birding escapades. 2018 definitely had its rough spots, with a few painful dips and shortcomings scattered throughout, but on the whole it was a fantastic year chock full of great birds. Out of 526 species observed since January 1st, 157 were all new lifers that I had never seen before. It’s a challenge to trim that list down to something as limited as a Top 10, but the chance to relive all of these special memories made the exercise worthwhile! Let’s get started, then! 10. Blue-throated Hummingbird, Cave Creek Canyon, Arizona 8/2 Southern Arizona is home to some of the most spectacular birds in the entire ABA area. The myriad hummingbirds that inhabit the sky islands are among the flashiest attractions on that star-studded list of avifauna.
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