Merry Christmas, everyone! Santa brought to me the Peterson Seawatching guide and The Warbler Guide plus several lifers on my way home I had not expected to get, so I had a very merry few days indeed! I made it 2000 miles up the east coast and I’m ready for my Broadway debut after belting out musical numbers for about 1800 of those miles.  My car arrived home sporting a mostly-flat tire that leaked slowly throughout my northward journey and with a little more vulture poop than it had when I left, but mostly in good condition.  It looks like a homeless person lived in it for the last three weeks (which is more accurate than I care to think about) and it smells about as good as it looks.  It is still harboring my soaking wet tent that I am too lazy to unpack and some questionable food I need to get out of there sooner rather than later.  My stupid $20 key lime pie that I painstakingly tried to keep cold in a stupid styrofoam cooler with ice got soaked by the melting ice and subsequently ruined, so my family does not get to taste the flavors of the Keys until they make their own journey down there unfortunately.  After my last night in balmy Florida, I made my way through the wintry downpour of Georgia and North Carolina, getting some odd looks when I arrived in shorts to a historic park near Savannah.  I’m sure I shot some odd looks right back as I watched throngs of Civil War soldiers pour out of the visitor’s center after what must have been some sort of reenactment.  Even the gate code was 1776. ‘Murica.  Driven indoors by the relative cold and my general fed-up-ness, I spent the evening in an Atlanta Bread Co. in Savannah, GA looking up birding clubs in Colorado and getting excited about my next western adventure.  All of the driving from Florida up to North Carolina was entirely painless and the hours passed without much incident.  I had two nights reserved at a campsite on the coast of North Carolina, so I set up camp in the chilly damp and got some Thai food, mentally preparing myself for a night in the rain (and finally eating something other than packaged food).  I had plans to meet up with Mike McCloy for a day of coastal Carolina birding the next morning and I wanted to get an early night. The rain had really started coming down by about 6, and when I got back to my campsite I made a split-second decision to get a hotel room and follow the ancient Ansarian proverb: TREAT YO’SELF. I have to say, a warm shower/bed/Game of Thrones marathon combo was just what the doctor ordered, and I was energized and ready to go for a rainy day of coastal birding with Mike.  We spent the morning hours seawatching from Johnny Mercer’s Pier in Wrightsville Beach, then moved on to Red-Cockaded Woodpecker land and then spent the majority of the day kicking around marshy habitat for skulking sparrows.  We wracked up 90 species despite the persistent drizzle and having only 5 or so target species, and I got several new lifers thanks to the wonderful guidance provided by Mike (Nelson’s, Seaside, and Saltmarsh Sparrows, RCW, and a Sedge Wren that we definitely saw and heard but that wasn’t a soul-quenching enough look for me to want to count it).

Succumbing again to the lure of hotel life, I watched an HBO special on The Beatles and got an early start for the supposedly 9 hour trip home to Pennsylvania.  I stopped in northern VA to see my friend and take a break from the horrific pre-Christmas driving conditions, ended up staying for a few hours to avoid the worst of rush hour, and made it home by about 11:30 PM on Christmas Eve Eve.  I now have exactly two weeks until I jet off to Colorado to start grad school and I intend to be as lazy as humanly possible with intermittent breaks to venture over to New Jersey to see about some rare geese.  It is certainly good to be home.  This trip was an eye-opening learning experience and I will never forget the birds that I saw and the people I met along the way. I’m trading in Florida Scrub-Jays for Steller’s Jays and will have to see if my grad school schedule allows for regular blogging from west of the Mississippi!  Thank you so much to everyone who has been keeping up with this blog and helping me through my trials and tribulations along the way.  I’m up to 811 blog views before this post (I know it was all you, mom) so like basically a book deal is in the works and I have to fight off the publishing companies with a stick.  In all seriousness though, it’s been a blast writing about my journey and fun/slightly embarrassing to hear everyone’s feedback.  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and the New Year brings you plenty of happiness and birds!  Now for your viewing pleasure I have tallied up my trip in terms of numbers and superlatives:

My trip by the numbers:
199 Total Bird Species (Come onnnnn. If I counted the Sedge Wren we saw….but no…)
43 Lifers
20 Days (13 nights camping, 3 nights in a hotel, 4 nights with family/friends)
1 Flat Tire
1 Oil Change
10 Clif Bars
4,379 Miles (Probably low by about 100-200 miles due to smaller trips I didn’t account for)
3 Peregrines killing things
3 Reptile Lifers
2 Mammal Lifers
72,689 Mosquito Bites
1 Grad School Acceptance

Trip superlatives:
Best Bird: Key West Quail-Dove and Snail Kites (I’ve wanted to see them forever)
Best Birding Location: STA5 or Wakodahatchee
Best Day: STA5 and Zoo Miami
Worst Day: Snake Bight Mosquito Fiasco
Biggest Dip: Groove-billed Ani and Bachman’s Sparrow

Hopefully your New Year is as full of happiness as this GBHE's throat!
Hopefully your New Year is as full of happiness as this GBHE’s throat!

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