Except, at the last minute on Christmas Eve before retiring for the night, we decided that spending Christmas Day out birding (aka "bird-watching") would be a fun way to celebrate. In the months since my husband's mother died, we've been out birding quite a bit. It has proved to be a restorative activity, one that gets us out into natural areas and directs our focus toward something other than memories, frustrations, and endless planning for the future.
To successfully find birds, you have to be fully present in the moment, watching for the slightest movement in the trees, on the ground, or in the skies, and listening for the faintest call, flap of wings, or tap of a woodpecker's bill against a tree's bark. To identify a bird once found, you must catalog a multitude of details, such as the bird's size, shape, color, behavior, and location.
Our plan was to visit half a dozen locations finding as many different species as we could in one day. Hardcore birders often schedule a "Big Day" with official rules, reports, and a competitive spirit, during which they will record as many different species as possible in a single 24-hour period. We are not hardcore birders. We had no desire to get up super early to find lots of owls nor to spend the entire day driving hither and yon to a wide range of habitats in order to find more species. We wanted to have fun and see whether we could pick up all the various birds we'd been seeing over the past couple of weeks when we'd birded in each of these areas on separate days.
Our efforts were hampered by the weather. Christmas Day turned out to be cold, overcast, and windy - less than prime conditions for finding birds. We missed quite a few birds we'd found easily within the last week but such is life. There are no guarantees, no matter how good you think your plan may be. And we thought our plan was pretty good. We'd been in each of these areas recently and even found some of the rare birds (Baltimore Oriole, Rufous-backed Robin, Northern Parula) reported in the local Rare Bird Alert on those visits. But, alas, with the poor weather and less time available for each area, we missed the rare birds and some easy ones, too.
All in all, though, we were happy with a total of
The habitats we visited included urban and rural areas around northwestern Pima County (Tucson, AZ): dry and wet washes, the lower foothills of a mountain park, an urban lake, and wetlands created from treated wastewater. While the quail seed block and suet feeder in our yard attracts birds, there were no species in our yard not present in other locations.
After spotting a pack of 4-5 coyotes trying to catch something in a big bush at our very first stop, we hoped it would also be a good mammal day. In the past few outings, we'd seen a raccoon stalking coots at the wetlands, a bobcat at the same wetlands carrying a dead cotton rat, and another bobcat unsuccessfully pouncing on something in the mountain park. We've seen deer and javelina on occasion both near our home and in the mountain park. But, alas, we struck out on any other mammals yesterday. Blame it on the crappy weather!
Without further ado, here is our 2015 Christmas Day bird list in taxonomic order:
Snow Goose (dark morph)*
Double-crested Cormorant (immature)
Sora (heard only)
Great Horned Owl (heard only)
*Edited to add dark morph Snow Goose which we didn't originally write in our notes.