Best Bird

Fifteen years ago I learned about Best Bird from Chuck Tague when I took his Spring Warblers class at Presque Isle State Park.

As the class wrapped up two intensive days of birding Chuck asked each of us, “What was your best bird?”  Mine was a least bittern, a life bird(*) who flushed from the reeds when I stepped alone to the edge of the marsh.

Best Bird is now a tradition with me.  At the end of every outing I think back on the birds I’ve seen and their behavior.  Who was most beautiful?  Who did the most interesting thing?  Which bird took my breath away?  I enjoy thinking back on the birds that made the outing worthwhile.

My trip to Nevada was so full birds that it’s hard to pick the best.  I saw 127 species, nine life birds and thousands of individuals.  Rather than pick a single Best Bird, here are some of the many “bests” of my trip:

  • On my first day, in my first hour of birding I saw a peregrine falcon hunting the ducks at Henderson Bird Preserve.
  • There were two beautiful “gray ghost” northern harriers at Duck Creek Wetlands last Saturday.  I was glad to be watching them in 75 degree weather on the east side of the valley.  Through my binoculars I could see it snowing in the west.
  • At Corn Creek I saw a Swainson’s hawk (another life bird) when a raven hassled it until it flew away.
  • Most unusual was a group of great blue herons and great egrets roosting on an unfinished roof near Floyd Lamb Park.  The home’s roof was tar papered and stacked with ceramic tiles, waiting for the roofers to begin.  The herons and egrets perched among the tiles.  I would never have seen them but one of the herons perched on the crest and I saw his silhouette.
  • On Sunday at Corn Creek there were phainopeplas perched on every available high spot.  They like the place because there is so much desert mistletoe there.
  • Thanks to a helpful local birder, I saw a vermilion flycatcher for the first time in my life.  It was at Corn Creek, a beautiful male bird like the one pictured above.  There was even a Pittsburgh connection: the birder who showed me the vermilion flycatcher grew up in McKees Rocks.
  • Amazingly, I saw more ravens than crows.  Crows are uncommon in the desert.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the photo to see the original)

(*) A life bird is a species seen for the first time in my life.

9 thoughts on “Best Bird

  1. Thanks for this weeks blogging. With each blog I felt I was birdwatching in the Western United States too. Very informative and they were all my life birds.

  2. Karen and I would designate the “bird of the trip”, one that characterized the overall experience. Sometimes this would be a bird we never saw. One such was the Botteri’s sparrow which we searched and searched for but could never see. “Botteri’s not included.”

  3. Do ravens in the desert tolerate people better than the ones back east? I see birds all the time that at first I think are Ravens, but then I tell myself that they must be big crows because of where they are.
    I’m going on a birding hike this weekend along the Rio Grande, I’ll be taking the camera along. I’m also going to rent a 500mm lens to see if I like it before buying it, but I won’t have it this weekend.

  4. Yes, in the desert west ravens are much more tolerant of people — perhaps because they know that we’re where the food is. I once watched some ravens beg for handouts at an overlook above Death Valley. (See
    I’m not sure whether ravens in the Pacific northwest are human-tolerant. Perhaps a reader who lives there will tell us.

  5. Thanks, and were the cardinals more red out there? I’m going on a birding hike in the morning, I’ll let you know if I see anything interesting and get good photos.

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