Monday, January 25, 2016


Towards the end of last year I paid a visit to Eritrea. Almost everything about this trip was unexpected, starting with the fact that it happened at all. Visas for Eritrea aren't exactly two-a-penny, and even if you get one you then need additional permissions to travel outside the capital. I make a point of not writing very much about my work, and I'll make no exception here, but if you've heard of Eritrea at all, you're quite likely to have an image of the place in your mind's eye. I know I did, and it was not what I found in reality. I'll say no more than that.

The iconic Fiat Tagliero building, just around the corner from my friend's place in Asmara. Probably the most famous of many stunning Italian modernist buildings in the city

For a start the capital, Asmara, is by the far the most pleasant African capital city I've yet visited; relaxed, low-key, spacious, full of fabulous architecture, fairly green (given its environs), and pollution-free. Even the birds of Asmara held surprises. For the most part they were a fairly predictable cross-section of dry highland birds, with a flavour of Ethiopian/Eritrean endemism: Laughing Dove (Spilopelia senegalensis), Swainson's Sparrow (Passer swainsonii), Variable Sunbird (Nectarinia venusta). That sort of thing. But I was surprised not to see any White-collared Pigeons (Columba albitorques), which more than hold their own against Feral Pigeons (Columba livia var. dom.) in Addis Ababa. And the sheer numbers of White Wagtails (Motacilla alba), which obviously roost around the city, as impressive, as was the Shikra (Accipiter badius) I saw hunting them.

The biggest surprise of all, though, was on my last two days in the country when we headed to what my friend, colleague and host (all the same person) had described to me as a rainforest. He's a clever man, so I was reluctant to question him too deeply. But a rainforest? In Eritrea? Seriously?

We headed out of Asmara across the khaki, dusty highland plain that surrounds the city. There is not much traffic in Asmara, and there's even less outside. To give you an idea how little, the villages along the road were using it as a threshing floor, in an image straight out of Leviticus. The cattle were treading out the corn in monotonous circles under the eyes of the older men, while the younger men and women stood in groups downwind winnowing the wheat from the chaff, which blew away in pale vortices.

The highland plains outside Asmara. Almost all the land is terraced to one extent of another, even in the upland forests (now mainly Eucalyptus plantation)
A few Greater Blue-eared Starlings (Lamprotornis chalybaeus) were hanging around for scraps at these threshing parties, and there were distant raptors too - particularly Augur Buzzards (Buteo augur), but also some unidentified migrant Harriers (Circus sp.). Not much sign of a rainforest, though. I kept my counsel as we approached the edge of the vast scarp slope that drops away from these highlands, plummeting from an altitude of around 2300 metres down almost to sea level over the course of a few kilometres. It's an awe-inspiring sight. Or so I'm told, because as we arrived at the vantage point I got my first hint that perhaps I might be wrong and my friend - who does, after all, live there - might be right. Fog.

It drifted in and out in billows, obscuring now, lifting then. Erckel's Francolins (Pternistis erckelii) dodged from the roadside as we loomed out the mist, and I had my second, bar-tailed African Goshawk (Accipiter tachiro) of the highland unduliventer race. On and on, down and down, the fog turning first to drizzle, then to rain, and finally a torrential downpour that sent cataracts of muddy water coursing down the road. Meanwhile, outside the car windows, the green increased, and the vegetation proliferated. Shrubs turned to bushes, bushes to trees and trees began to sport a profusion of epiphytes. I've been in rainforests before and I had to admit that this looked, felt and smelled awfully like a rainforest to me.

A bit of a change of scenery from the highland plains. Filfil forest looking, feeling and smelling like a rainforest.

We stayed the night at a "Recreation Centre" a little over half way down the scarp slope at a place called Medhanit. I'd read of this place in yet another Eritrean surprise; one of the best, most comprehensive and most user-friendly online guides to birding for any African country I've come across. See for yourself here. The website describes Medhanit, accurately, as "basic", and I passed one of the odder evenings of my life here, supping beer and slurping spaghetti in the candlelight as the roof sprung more and more leaks under the onslaught of rain. When we got to our rooms I was glad my colleague had brought sleeping bags.

I slept like a log, though, as you do in these sort of places, and was up before the grey dawn. Rain was still falling, but not in the sheets of the previous evening, and I was fascinated to see what birds would be around in this oddly out-of-place place. My first bird was yet another huge surprise. A Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) perching in a bush near our car. A Song Thrush? In Africa? I knew they wintered here, but I thought only on the coast and was not expecting it here.

Negotiating one of many rockfalls caused by the overnight rain. The lorry in front had had to stop so that the passengers could clear this enough to pass.

Settling our bill we headed down to the valley floor, with the intention of walking a little way up the river bed. I suspect this must have been a torrent the previous night, but there it was perfectly walkable now, and so walk we did. And the surprises kept on coming. Somehow this place managed to balance forest birds with dry country birds - and Hornbills in particular were not in short supply, with three species vying for attention: Hemprich's Hornbill (Lophoceros hemprichii), which is largely restricted to the Abyssinian highlands, but also African Grey Hornbill (Lophoceros nasutus), at the edge of its range here, and Red-billed Hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus), which is much more typical of dry country.

Walking under a Fig tree in the valley bottom

There were countless, flashy Fork-tailed Drongos (Dicrurus adsimilis), my first Eastern Grey Plantain-Eater (Crinifer zonurus), a lovely, quiet Bruce's Green Pigeon (Treron waalia), a bold pair of Black-billed Barbets (Lybius guifsobalito) and several surprise parties of White-crested Helmet-shrikes (Prionops plumatus). But there were also Little Rock Thrushes (Monticola rufocinereus) and a single Purple Roller (Coracias naevius), both of these really dry country birds. On the raptor side a tiny accipiter in a tree could only have been a Little Sparrowhawk (Accipiter minullus), but a Gabar Goshawk (Micronisus gabar) flew through too and there were several falcons in the air, including by first Grey Kestrels (Falco ardosiaceus), presumably making their home in the nest of one of the three Hamerkops (Scopus umbretta)we saw. But the final surprise for me in Filfil was the weavers. They were numerous, dark faced, dark-eyed and with an orange wash all around their masks. Their backs were plain green and unstreaked. I've seen these before. They were Vitelline Masked Weavers (Ploceus vitellinus). Not a rare bird in Africa, but not marked as being in range according to my field guide. That in itself should not be a surprise. Eritrea is one of the most under-watched and under-recorded countries in Africa. There must be a host bird species that are slipping under the radar here.

I was truly amazed by this place, and would love to have spent more time, but we had only 24 hours for the trip and it was not long before we had to head back. Emerging from the forest back onto the highland escarpment was like moving from one world, one reality, to another, and it took a little time to adjust. We stopped for lunch on the way back at one of the dams near Asmara - Maisirwa - and then took a walk to help digest our grilled beef. The place is famed for raptors, and there were plenty - mainly Tawny Eagles (Aquila rapax) and Steppe Eagles (Aquila nipalensis) joined by a single adult African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer) and an immature Lesser Spotted Eagle (Clanga pomarina). But the two delights for me were a flighty, gorgeous male Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) of the Eastern samarisicus race and my first Half-collared Kingfisher (Alcedo semitorquata), flushed from one side of the lake and watched crossing the water and perching on the other. Eritrea is on the very edge of this species' range, and it was not a bird I was expecting. Like so much else in this country, in fact.

By the dam at Maitsirwa

Sunday, January 17, 2016

... in with the New. Montenegro, again.

There is a great deal to be said for travelling the world, and indeed I have myself said a great deal about it over the course of the last year in this Blog. But there is also a great deal to be said for having a sense of place - of knowing somewhere so deeply that you feel its continuities and its changes intimately.

Thanks to my work I enjoy many of the pleasures of travelling the world. But it comes with a downside, and that's the lack of a sense of rootedness. We happen now to live in Brussels, but it's not yet our home in any meaningful sense, and it may never be so because we have no idea how long we'll stay here. I still love my parents' house in the English Cotswolds, of course, but everyone's sense of belonging changes after having children of their own, and though I still take a close interest in the birds and animals seen from the house and around the village (Dad has kept a fascinating near-daily list since he and Mum moved in two decades ago), it is no longer my home.

So, where is? Well, the only place that we have that is our own and somewhere we can always go back to is our small house near Bigovo, on the coast of Montenegro, my wife's home country. I've written about Montenegro before, but not about my "home patch" in detail. Our house was built five years ago and has always been lovely; designed by an architect friend, Sanja Raonic, it deservedly won awards and has always managed to sail above the shortcomings of its own construction. But the garden was something we neglected in preparing the house, and when we arrived to take over from the builder we were presented with a stunning new house surrounded by a blasted wasteland of rock, which in due course became home to every wasp and hornet for miles around. The only bird we saw in the garden that year, perched on a rare survivor of the vegetable holocaust that was the building process, was a Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) feasting on this serendipitous glut of hymenoptera.

Our lovely house, seen from the road this Spring. The garden has changed since the Red-backed Shrike made his first appearance
This singular bird, gorging himself on that blazing August day, was the beginning of a list of birds seen in and immediately around the village that has since swelled to 100 species, including an incredible 14 species of raptor. To put this in perspective, over the course of 5 years of discontinuous and disjointed visits to Bigovo, I've managed to log as many species as my Dad has seen around Ascott-under-Wychwood in 20 years of essentially continuous residence.

Bigovo - the harbour in the winter

Our visits to Bigovo may be occasional, but they've now been frequent enough, and have covered enough of the year, for me to start to form a picture of what to expect, when; and, perhaps more importantly, when to expect the unexpected.

Bigovo seen from across the bay after an overnight storm. This stretch of sea can produce surprises in bad weather, including my first ever Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)

Summer is hands-down the worst period for birds. The variety breeding in the village is not enormous and those that do breed here are secretive and have inordinate amounts of cover. A July list of birds seen from the house can easily stop at three or four species, though if your song and call recognition is good you'll hear a few more than that. In August things tick up a little, with the beginnings of the autumn migration, but it's a shadow of the Spring, in my experience.

Later in the autumn, things get more interesting, with single species dominating for days at a time: Spotted Flycatchers (Muscicapa striata) in September; Stonechats (Saxicola rubicola) in October, with a trickle continuing well into November. But honestly this is the season least known to me and it is clearly a time when unusual birds could turn up, even if each day seems to have less diversity packed into than is the case in the Spring. I'm also fascinated as to whether the obvious raptor migration seen at the front of the year is repeated in reverse towards the end of it. And I should probably end this para with the point that the early autumn is absolutely the most pleasant time to visit the Montenegrin coast. The crowds of summer are gone, as is the sometimes oppressive heat, but the sea retains warmth enough to make a dip pleasant well into October.

Winter holds much of interest. Whatever the weather there will be legions - hundreds, if not thousands - of Blackbirds (Turdus merula) and Robins (Erithacus rubecula), with a scattering of Song Thrushes (Turdus philomelos) thrown in. I haven't observed any pattern to their behaviour while wintering. They don't flock and don't seem to move communally, as Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) or Redwings (Turdus iliacus) would, for instance. Rather this seems to be a case of lots of birds individually wintering in the same place. The Blackbirds feed extensively on the local Strawberry Trees (Arbutus unedo), including one in our garden, but, interestingly, they seem to shun Pyracantha here, even though it's a famous bird-friendly shrub in North-West Europe. I wonder why? Is it because the Pyracantha fruits need to be "bletted" (i.e. softened by frost) as some old fruits like Medlar need to be?

All these wintering passerines of course attract predators, and the local resident population of Sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus) is clearly augmented in the winter, with Goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) joining for the party as well. And though the field guides mark the coast as out of range for both species, this winter saw both Marsh Tits (Parus palustris) and Willow Tits (Parus montanus) in the village, in one case in the same mixed feeding flock. There are usually one or two Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) around the village, but in common with many other species hard weather can produce larger numbers. Hawfinches in Central and Eastern Europe don't behave as the books would have you believe; they're bolder and more obvious, and can form significant flocks. I've seen up to 30 together in Bigovo, and outside Belgrade I've seen congregations of up to 70 birds. Winter can also produce unexpected raptors. I've seen Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) twice over the village at this time of year.

The bushy garrigue around the house, blurring into oak forest in the valley bottom. This photo taken at the very end of December. Note that the large oak trees on the right hand side of the photo, and in the distance, still have many of their leaves. They lose them only at this time of year, and regain them in early March, making them barely deciduous.

But the season to long for in Montenegro, everywhere, including Bigovo, is Spring. It starts around the beginning of March with Hen Harriers (Circus cyaneus), sometimes up to ten at at time around the village. We had one over the garden, once, flying below the level of the sitting room windows, the house being at the top of a slope.

My best experience of the Spring migration at its peak in Montenegro was with Dad in April 2012, and it was a magical one; an endless, frenzied stream of birds pullulating through the village, with Wood Warblers (Phylloscopus sibilatrix), Pied Flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca), Collared Flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis), Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla), Garden Warblers (Sylvia borin), Whitethroats (Sylvia communis), Lesser Whitethroats (Sylvia curruca), Whinchats (Saxicola rubetra), Redstarts (Phoenicurus ochruros), Northern Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe), Eastern Black-eared Wheatears (Oenanthe hispanica malanoleuca), Woodchat Shrikes (Lanius senator), Hoopoes (Upupa epops), Golden Orioles (Oriolus oriolus), Short-toed Larks (Calandrella brachydactyla) and Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava) all putting in their appearances, many of them in the then still largely unformed garden. Overhead were migrating Pallid Harriers (Circus macrourus) - five at once - Short-toed Eagles (Circaetus gallicus) and a solitary Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus) as well as Alpine Swifts (Tachymarptis melba) and all the local hirundines, including Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica). On the sea Red-necked Grebes (Podiceps grisegena) have made appearances at this time of year, and I suspect it's always good for a surprise. I've seen Wrynecks (Jynx torquilla) here in the Spring too, my only sightings of this bird anywhere, to date, and I've seen Levant Sparrowhawks (Accipiter brevipes) further down the coast near Budva, so they're a good possibility from the village as well.

As Spring progresses, raptors take a prominent place, with a noticeable movement of Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus) in May, perhaps having passed over the Straits of Otranto from Italy. Eleonora's Falcons (Falco eleonorae) breed a little way down and up the coast and I've seen them nearby, though not yet from the village itself. And then there are the incoming breeders: Eastern Subalpine Warblers (Sylvia cantillans albistriata), Eastern Olivaceous Warblers (Hippolais pallida), Eastern Orphean Warblers (Sylvia hortensis crassirostris), Cirl Buntings (Emberiza cirlus), Black-headed Buntings (Emberiza melanocephala), and so on. But it's from this time of year that the migration, melding into breeding, becomes a soundtrack more than a visual event, dominated for two months or more by legions of Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos), with a backing chorus provided by Nightjars (Caprimulgus europaeus), a Scops Owl (Otus scops) or two, and the local Golden Jackals (Canis aureus) howling from the hills.

Looking down across the developing garden to the hills beyond - the haunt of Golden Jackals and Wild Boar (Sus scrofa)

I note all this not only out of pride for my adopted country and my local patch, but also in anticipation; the (Western) Easter, and with it my younger son's school holiday, falls at the end of March this year, meaning I'm likely to be in Montenegro for the peak migration season. Even now this means long evenings studying the warbler and raptor pages of the Collins Guide with a sense of avaricious longing.

But what of this New Year? In an earlier post I mentioned that we started 2016 in Montenegro, while even earlier I mentioned that I try always to spend New Year's Day birding. Well, I failed on the latter point. To explain this I have to circle back to the beginning of this post. When building the house in Bigovo we neglected the garden, and have spent the past five years correcting this omission. It's now finally coming together - the structure is defined, but what is lacking is mature plants. In Mediterranean climates winter is the optimum time for planting, as it allows plants to settle into the soil before the summer drought sets in. So on this visit to Montenegro one passion - birding - had to play second fiddle to another - gardening - while we undertook the backbreaking work of digging a hundred or more new plants into the mixture of rock and clay that is our soil. It was not a loss, of course, because it meant I was outside for much of the time for the first few days of the year. What did I see?

Well, until shortly before we left, this had not been a hard winter in the Balkans. Indeed there was a shocking lack of snow on the mountains when we arrived at the end of December. As a consequence of this many of the birds that concentrate on the Montenegrin coast as a refuge from ice and snow inland were largely or entirely absent; no Hawfinches this time, and no Firecrests (Regulus ignicapilla) either,  though they've been common in winters past. There was nothing of note on the sea either. But I've already mentioned the huge numbers of Blackbirds and Robins, and the passing flock containing both Marsh and Willow Tits. There was a Goshawk, too - an immature female, putting the fear of God into the local Woodpigeons (Columba palumbus). And high overhead on the Orthodox Christmas Eve (6 January) an adult Golden Eagle beat its way Eastward above the house. Nothing incredible. Nothing jaw-dropping, but the icing on the cake of fresh air and physical labour, and nice confirmations of, and deviations from, a local pattern which I'm slowly beginning to understand.

Looking forward to the Spring, when this photo was taken.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Out with the old...

And so it ends. 2015 comes to an end and a new year, and a new year list, begin.

We started the New Year in Montenegro, and I’ll write about that in a few days’ time. But for now let’s have a look back on the past year, some of which I’ve written about in this blog before, but some of which I haven’t.

I came into last year on the back of what I suspected would be my lifetime “Big Year”, in 2014, in which I saw 580 species of bird across nine countries on two continents. How does 2015 compare in terms of raw statistics? Well, I certainly raised my binoculars in more countries this year – 19 of them, across four continents. But I had much less time for dedicated birding than the year before, so though the geographical spread is much greater, the species total comes in at a little over 100 fewer: 475 species, in fact, of which an amazing 93 (i.e. a little under a fifth) were new to me. It seems that there are still an awful lot of birds out there that I've yet to see, and thank goodness for that.

The year started sedately enough, with good birding on the Belgian coast in January and early February, which I wrote about at the time. Thereafter came a flurry of business trips, only some of which I had a chance to write up: Egypt in February; Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Seychelles in March and April; Kenya and Ethiopia again in April. But the best trip for birds in this first half of the year was one I didn’t write up at the time; a week in the US at the end of April, with work visits to Washington and New York and an opportunity to visit by brother in Florida.

My parents lived for a year in Washington in the late ‘nineties, and loved it, as indeed do I. It was on visits to them that I lost my North American birding virginity, on long walks along the Chesapeake and Ohio canaltowpath, and on visits to Dyke Marsh and Huntley Meadows. But the find for me on this visit was Rock Creek Park, which I don’t remember visiting when my parents lived there. A walk from the visitor center to the Potomac produced some wonderful birds, including my first Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula), Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla) and Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina).

In New York I was initiated into the Big Apple’s migrant frenzy, taking an early walk into Central Park, in an incongruous mixture of suit and binoculars, and finding numerous other birders whose attitude to me seemed to range in binary manner between the two poles of eager assistance and jealous competitiveness, with nothing in between. The birds were wonderful, though; my first real experience of massed North American warblers – birds that look to the European eye like creatures designed by Faberge, in comparison to our dull greens and browns. Here I had my first Yellow (Dendroica petechia), Palm (Dendroica palmarum) and Black-and-White Warblers (Mniotilta varia), as well as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) which, in a fit of over-eager migration fever, I originally took to be an early Empidonax flycatcher.

The migrant hotspot in Central Park, New York. I forget now what people call it.

From here I headed to Florida. It’s not a state I would have much enthusiasm for if my brother didn’t live there, as he has for the past decade or so, after various wanderings in South America. I’d visited him here only once before, coincidentally around the same time of year. Will is a biologist, but where I look up, he has generally looked down; fish are his thing, professionally, with an old hobbyist sideline in reptiles and amphibians. But he’s coming late to birding, and bought his first proper pair of binoculars in the course of last year, and he’s always been game to take me birding whether in the US or in Brazil or Peru in the past. Last time I visited him here I had two wonderful days around Merrit Island and the Orlando Wetlands Park at Christmas (the place, not the religious holiday). But on that occasion I had missed two of the regional specialities; Florida Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) and Limpkin (Aramus guarauna), the latter case made more bitter by the fact that Will did see it when I was looking elsewhere.

An Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) at the Orlando Wetlands Park. Perhaps the best photo of any bird that I've taken to date.

Defaulting to the places we knew, and knew to be good, we returned these two same locations on this visit and amassed a great list of birds.  I had my first Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis), Black-throated Blue Warbler (Dendroica caerulescens) and Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) as well as reintroducing myself to birds I’d last seen back in 2009. And, yes, at the Canaveral National Seashore I got my Scrub-Jay, despite an officious National Parks Service guard trying to shoo us away from the reserve early.

The highly range-restricted Florida Scrub-Jay.

May and June brought Spring migrants and summer visitors in Belgium, the Netherlands, Croatia and Montenegro and was followed, as usual in Europe, by a lull in July. 

A beautiful shot of a Common Tern (Sterna hirundotaken by my older son from the ferry from Dunkerque to Dover in July.

August, though, brought another trip that I didn’t write about at the time. As part of an agreement with myself to get my health in order and invest more in old friendships, being the most lasting, I undertook the Tour du Mont Blanc, a seven-day walking loop around the mountain through France, Switzerland and Italy, with two old mates and my older son. As mentioned, this trip was primarily about friendship and health, in that order, but I obviously hoped for birds, and though I didn’t catch-up with the greatest prize – a Lamergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) – I did have some wonderful sightings including my first White-winged Snowfinches (Montifringilla nivalis) in Italy, wonderful views of Spotted Nutcrackers (Nucifraga caryocatactes) in Switzerland and a tantalizing glimpse of an Alpine Citril-finch (Carduelis citrinella) in France.

A view of Mont Blanc from the walk in August. From a birding perspective this would not set the world on fire, but seeing scenery like this every day for a week, not to mention the exercise and camaraderie, more than made up for that.

September, October and November were based in Europe and provided little or no time for birding, though I had my wonderful experience of Cranes in Luxembourg in early October. Then it was back on the road again in December, with my best birding trip of the year in Ethiopia followed by a fascinating visit to Eritrea, which I’m in the process of writing-up now, and which included perhaps the most unexpected of all my birding, if not the most unexpected of birds, this year.

And there was a nice, subdued coda as well. For the past couple of years I seem to have got lucky on New Year's Eve, adding one species to the year list the day it closes. In 2014 it was a showy Black Woodpecker (Drycopus martius) at the Doode Bemde reserve near Brussels. In 2015 it was a pair of Marsh Tits (Parus palustris) in the bushy garrigue around our house in Montenegro; my first birds of this species not only for the year, but for the village and garden lists there too.

So, all in all, an excellent year. Considering how few days I was actually able to dedicate to birding in 2015, compared to 2014, my 475 species last year seems pretty damn respectable. And it included some beauties. Any or all of the American warblers could easily vie for my bird of the year, as could the White-crested Helmet-shrikes (Prionops plumatus) I saw in Eritrea, the European Rollers (Coracias garrulus) seen in Mogadishu, the White-tailed Tropicbirds (Phaethon lepturus) that were so common in the Seychelles, or the extraordinarily unexpected Ankober Serin (Serinus ankoberensis) at Debre Libanos in Ethiopia.

But, in the end, there’s something about monotypic bird families. Back in 2013 when I saw my first Crab Plovers (Dromas ardeola) in Djibouti, they would have been my bird of the year. They were just so – well – odd, so different. And this year the prize goes to an equivalent species seen in the US in May. I try not to hope too much when I visit a site where a special bird can be seen. Or, rather, I allow myself hope but try not to let that mutate into expectation. It’s a way of mentally preparing myself for disappointment, and therefore being thankful for what I do see. I suspect this is the state of mind of most birders for much of the time, and is important because to be too much sated robs you of appetite, and if you're too prone to disappointment then you're unlikely to stick to birding anyway, which is a pastime, like angling, which is almost entirely about deferred, and anticipated, gratification. 

But with Will having seen a Limpkin last time we had visited the Orlando Wetlands Center it was impossible for me not to hope for one for myself this time. We were well over two hours into our visit and my hopes were flagging when Will's girlfriend Kati picked up the bird that was to be my first of this species, this genus, this family - one that Will and myself had both missed despite our expensive Swarovskis and, in my case, years of birding experience. And so my bird of the year goes to that Limpkin, not only because I finally saw it this year, but because it caused such pleasure to Kati to find it for me.

A distant shot of my bird of the year - a Limpkin at Orlando Wetlands Park, with a Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata) in the foreground.