Well, 2023 has ended, so it’s time to look back at the past year’s birding. The pleasures of birding are many and varied, so this kind of post always involves a list. In this case, I had not yet written about some of these sightings, so there will actually be a bit of new information in this post. I will also return to several birds which have already appeared here. But here goes, a list of my favorite sightings for 2023:

You stole my heart, you rascal you: We made a major trip to Europe, North Africa, and Turkey in late October, November and early December, combining work with some down time. The work part of this trip included ten days spent in a suburban neighborhood of Marrakesh, Morocco. I was not able to get out and do much serious birding, but fortunately, in Morocco the birds come to you.

I have seen few species with the word “House” in their English names (House Sparrow, Wren, and Finch), as well as a couple of “Barn” birds (Barn Swallows and Owls). But Morocco’s example is by far the “housiest” of them all. The House Bunting is apparently considered, depending on the source, somewhere on the spectrum from good luck to divine. Centuries of such consideration have produced a bird that not only occurs around houses or nests on their walls; it actually goes into houses, with great confidence. Our hosts’ apartment had a permanent gap to the outdoors, so these would fly in at least once a day to check out the living/dining room floor for crumbs. Our hosts were not amused. But I was.

Unfortunately, I was still in the process of getting acquainted with a new camera, and did not manage any decent indoor photos. So you’ll have to accept this photo of a House Bunting on a neighbor’s balcony ledge.

House Buntings: cute, tons of attitude, and a very pleasant song as well.

I had waited so long to meet you: In May and June, I made a pair of work trips to Mexico’s tropical state of Tabasco. Fortunately, I also had a contact there who is an avid birder, and who most kindly put his life on hold for a couple of days to take me birding. This was Mexico’s absolutely hottest time of the year, but a full 30 lifers made it worth it. And a few were birds I had previously only dreamed of seeing:

The Northern Potoo: This “pájaro estaca” (“stick bird”) has been on my wish list ever since I first saw pictures of it.

The Red-capped Manakin: Seeing a nesting female wasn’t quite as good as seeing a male do its famous and hilarious courtship “moondance”, the star of many nature videos. But it was close.

The Gartered Trogon: In Michoacán, our two trogon species are both red, white and green (like the Mexican flag). So I had always wanted to see a yellow-breasted one. Which I did, in Tabasco.

We have several beautiful tanagers in Michoacán. But I had always wanted to see the extravagant tropical tanagers, such as this Golden-hooded Tanager.

I would have longed to see you, had I known better: As we say here in Mexico, the Long-billed Gnatwren certainly “da honor a su nombre” — does honor its name.

And if I had known about it before my friend found it for me, the spectacular Black-collared Hawk would definitely have also been on my bucket list. This is one of those rare hawks that mostly feeds on snails.

Why didn’t you do that the first time? In 2022, while in Turkey for our first time, I saw my first Dipper, a White-throated Dipper. But it was an unusually dry and hot October 1st, and the adorable bird was only able to dip its head in its shallow stream. Fortunately, in late November of 2023, I was able to go back to the same site. This time the weather was bitterly cold, and wet enough for localized flooding. So I was finally able to see a Dipper do what has given them their fame: submerging themselves completely in frigid, rushing streams. (It would take video to really show the experience, so you’ll have to take my word for it.)

What the heck are you doing here? Although they were mostly new to me, all the species mentioned above were seen exactly where they should be. But the female Hooded Merganser that turned up in a pond only a few hundred meters/yards from the church I pastor had somehow traveled a country away from its natural range, making it my most extraordinary sighting for the year.

In the end, lots of travel resulted in 44 lifers for the year. 4 were from the tropical coast of Guerrero state, 30 from tropical Tabasco, 1 from Spain, 4 from Morocco, 3 from Turkey, and only 2 from here in Michoacán state — a Buff-collared Nightjar, and that vagrant Merganser.

Written by Paul Lewis
Paul Lewis moved from California to Mexico in 1983. He lived first in Mexicali, and now lives in the historic city of Morelia (about halfway between Guadalajara and Mexico City), where he and his wife pastor a small church. He is the author of an internationally distributed book in Spanish about family finances and has recorded four albums in Spanish of his own songs. But every Monday, he explores the wonderful habitats and birds found within an hour of his house, in sites which go from 3,000 to 10,000 feet of altitude. These habitats include freshwater wetlands, savannah grasslands, and pine, oak, pine/oak, pine/fir, cloud, and tropical scrub forests.