A voice rang out from the stern of the boat, “Black-footed Albatross, nine o’clock”. Dreams from the night before were coming true as an Albatross, the hermit of the sea, sailed past me and onto my life list…Number 600. A journey that began five years ago had reached a major milestone. The day before I reached 600, my dad and I arrived at our Monterey hotel anxiously awaiting our pelagic trip. I was four species short of my milestone, and I wanted to reach it in California.
Five years earlier, I birded for the first time. A quick walk around my local park produced American Redstart, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, and Northern Harrier, which at the time I thought were just about the rarest birds that could be found in the U.S. As time progressed my list began to grow and grow. On a family trip to Newfoundland the next summer I found some fantastic species to bolster my list: Red Phalarope, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak, Atlantic Puffin, Black Guillemot, Razorbill, and both kinds of Murres. At this point I was hooked.
Then, two years after I had started birding, my dad and I decided we should take a trip dedicated solely to birds; our destination was southeast Arizona. In the United States, southeast Arizona is the mecca of birding. Here, close to the border with Mexico, high mountains rise from the desert floor to create sky islands that bring together a highly diverse set of species. We saw incredible birds such as Elegant Trogon, Painted Redstart, Gray Hawk, Harlequin Quail, Sulphur-breasted Flycatcher, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, White-eared Hummingbird, and Violet-crowned Hummingbird. In a week and a half I saw 126 new species, doubling my life list.
We had so much fun in Arizona that we decided to do more birding trips. Our next stop was Texas. Texas has recorded more bird species than any other state in the U.S., and some of the most famous birding spots in the country can be found here, including Bentsen, Brownsville, Aransas, and Big Bend. Two weeks of birding in this amazing state produced many Texas specialties: Hook-billed Kite, Northern Jacana, Roadside Hawk, Least Grebe, Tropical Parula, Green Jay, Altamira Oriole, Audubon’s Oriole, and Olive Sparrow. In addition, we were able to take a trip to see the highly endangered Whooping Crane.
After Texas came a winter trip to Ontario, then expeditions to Point Pelee, Magee Marsh, southern Florida, and finally California. As we boarded the boat to visit one of the world’s most famous pelagic birding spots, I was on the doorstep of 600. Then, after a few quick pick-ups (Pigeon Guillemot, Surfbird, and Pink-footed Shearwater), I was suddenly at 599. The night before I told my dad, “Albatross is going to be my 600. I just know it!” Sure enough, as my Black-footed Albatross sailed past, my quest for 600 was over.
Now I set my sights on 700 and 800 as the birding journey continues. Although Arizona, Texas, and Florida may not be Colombia, Borneo, or Kenya, there are so many amazing birds to be found here. Not only are the birds incredible, birding trips offer a great opportunity to see many wonderful places in North America. Now is a perfect time to start birding; we have reached a point where rare birds can be found almost anywhere and anytime, and when they are found, the news travels quickly. There are beautiful birds found everyday–all you have to do is get out and look for them.