A few weeks ago, the bird-blogging gurus at 10,000 Birds called on readers to submit their “Bird of the Year” – basically, the coolest bird sighting you had in 2012. I failed to get a response in by the deadline, but I did not fail to ruminate extensively. I had never chosen a Bird of the Year before, but the idea appealed to me, as it prompted a happy stroll down Birding Memory Lane.
While there were lots of nice moments, there was no one sighting that really stood out. The rarest bird I had seen was probably the White Wagtail in L.A., but how excited can you get about a bird that someone else found and told you exactly how to find for yourself? Hundreds of people saw that bird. Meh. I thought about choosing Allen’s Hummingbird, not so much for a single sighting as for its overall contribution to my year in birding. One morning in March, I woke up, sat up in bed, and saw one out the window – my first Allen’s Hummingbird ever. (Note well: Groggy and indecent, but not not birding.) Cut to the end of the year, when they’re buzzing around my new home all the time and even eating at my feeder. Nice bird, that Allen’s Hummingbird. Still, it didn’t seem to fit the bill.
So I missed the Christmas Eve deadline for submitting to 10,000 Birds, and having made myself fat and merry over many a holiday dinner, I was more or less content to give up on picking a Bird of the Year. On Christmas Day, the roads were quiet and dusted with snow as I set out with my bride, heading from one family gathering in Vermont to another in Connecticut. As we stood in the cramped office of Thrifty Car Rental, answering the four hundred questions they ask before they will let you pay them to borrow a well-worn Chevy Aveo, I was only mildly irritated – so lulled was I by the Holiday Spirit.
But like that of a caged lion, my outward calm belied the instincts of a born hunter. Somewhere between declining something and declining something else, I became aware of the presence of birds just outside the office window. Medium-sized, almost silhouetted in the late-afternoon light… I figured they were Blue Jays maybe, something mundane. Then it dawned on me, and my jaw dropped: Holy crap. Pine Grosbeaks.