Revised 2011 bird total:
437 species

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Eyes on the record! 2014 year summary

Hello followers,
I know it's been a while since I've updated my blog but I wanted to give an update.

As you know, my year record is 437 species in 2011 when I completed my Junior Big Year.  However, this year, by no act of trying, I have landed myself amazingly close to that record.  My current year list hovers at an impeccable 434 species.

This year has been a fun year.  Quite fun.  My trips have been versed --- Northern California in January, Ohio in May, Maine in June, Montana in August, Texas in November plus all around my local state of Virginia.

I have landed an exciting 28 life birds this year.  Frankly, I am a little surprising that I keep racking up lifers after birding so hard from 2010-2012, especially in my Big Year in 2011.

My most productive trip lifer wise was California.  I haven't birded there since I was a beginning birder in the beginning of my 2011 Junior Big Year.  3 years later, I was an astonishingly better birder.  I had many highlights with 14 lifers but a few of my favorites were Mountain Quail, Spotted Owl, and Harris's Sparrow.

In Ohio, given that this was my 3rd trip there, and it isn't too far away from my home, I didn't land all that many lifers.  In fact, I only had one, but it was a good one.  It was one of the rarest birds I've ever seen (not for the area, but in terms of world population).  There are only a few thousand Kirtland's Warblers in the world!

In Maine I scored 3 lifers.  I went to a Teen Birding Camp on Hog Island which was an amazing experience.  I got the "iconic" bird, the Atlantic Puffin, but I think Black Guillemot was my favorite lifer there.  The other one, Roseate Tern, was also awesome.

In Montana, given that this was my 5th trip there to Glacier National Park, an amazing place and my family's favorite vacation spot, I only got one lifer as well.  It was a good one, Black Swift!

Texas was excellent for lifers!  Even though this was my third trip there, I got 7 lifers!  I attended the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and the trips there helped me get some specialty birds.  My lifers were Zone-tailed Hawk, White-collared Seedeater, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Tropical Parula, Scaled Quail, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, and Groove-billed Ani!

In addition, despite the fact that I bird here so much, I got 2 lifers in my home state of Virginia this year.  Both were fairly rare.  The first was an Iceland Gull in January near Richmond, VA.  They show up around the state from time to time but this was my first time catching up with one.  The other was a Red Phalarope that showed up here in Rockingham County of the Shenandoah Valley in October.  Red Phalaropes are fairly common offshore Virginia, but given that I've never gone offshore, I was so happy my lifer showed up right near home!

The interesting thing about this year is that I have hardly done any chasing.  There were birds I could have, should have chased.  There was a Sabine's Gull just 3 hours away that I really should have chased.  Even the Whiskered Tern up at Cape May was SUCH a good bird and not THAT far away, I should have chased it.  Hawk watching which is one of my, if not my very favorite kind of birding, got the best of me.  I was tied up counting hawks.  I should have chased these 2 birds, though!  It's as simple as that!

So, if you read back on my most recent blog post before today, you will read that last year I was also close to my year record of 437, but I didn't go all out for it at the end of last year.  So you may ask, am I going to this year? YES!  I can't stand being in the 430s but not 438 two years in a row!  I am going all out!  I figure that with one trip to the shore I can at least tie my record with Saltmarsh Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, and King Rail.  It is also quite possible that I can score one more bird while down there (anything rare that shows up... Like a King Eider or Eurasian Wigeon that are down there now, if they stick around).  If not, there is a Black-headed Gull returning for ANOTHER winter (I got it there in 2011!) at a place in Maryland that I can drive up and chase.

So, with any luck, I should be able to reach 438 and break my Junior Big Year record!  For the remainder of the year, because I am attempting to break my 2011 Junior Big Year record, I will post here if I get year birds!  Stay tuned and wish me luck!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Update - in the 400 club, again!

It's November 21st 2013, and its hard to believe that it's been 2 years since I was running around the country chasing around birds to finish off my 2011 Junior Big Year with a bang.  

Whats harder to believe is that, without even trying to do another Junior Big Year, I am so close to my own "record".  I've just birded  a lot this year--and traveled a lot this year  but really haven't put in much effort to try and brake the record, at all--yet as of 11/21/13 I've landed 430 species (my 2011 record was 437)!  

It's been a GREAT year this year and by that I mean GREAT.  2011 will always be my favorite year I've ever birded--- until I do a full all-blown Big Year or something - but for my youth years 2011 will always be on the top of my favorite list.  It was an incredibly fun year but this year is one I will not soon forget either.

The cool thing about this year is that while I've landed an unreal close number to the number of bird species I landed in 2011--- I've traveled to a lot of different areas than 2011 and seen a lot of the same yet a lot of other birds.   Other than my "home turf" (i.e. Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia) Texas is the only place that is a "repeat" location for 2011 and 2013.   In April of this year ('13) my Godmother (a fellow birder) and I took an awesome trip to the Rio Grande Valley Texas - same area I went in 2011.  In '11 I went in March so birds were similar but a little different because late April is getting into heart of migration season - when everything changes around!

Locations I visited this year that I 'bypassed' in '11 include -Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana (I didn't realize until now that they are 3 'M' states -funny!).  I also went to New Jersey (Cape May) this year and I did in 2011 but this years trip was for only 8 hours.  though I did land 2 lifers - Parasitic, Long-tailed Jaegers.

My family and I go to Glacier National Park Montana most summers but 'bypassed' it in '11 because we went to Alaska instead.  

One of the fun aspects in my Junior Big Year ('11) was bird chasing - crazy, out of my mind, twitching, which I did very little of in my other birding years ('09, '10, '12) so it was fun to do some again this year.  In fact, this year my chasing was, for the most part even a little more out of my mind than in '11 - because at least two of the full-blown chase trips were 'stabs in the dark' - no more than 50/50 chances of scoring the bird.  My first 'all-out' chase this year was to Massachusetts for a Gyrfalcon that my dad and I chased early in January.  Gyr is one of both of ours favorite birds and we've only seen one - this one had been hanging around so we went for it.  But we knew it would be a longshot - it was getting less and less reliable.  We dipped it.  But we had a great time saw some cool birds including a rare in area Short-eared Owl that I actually found and my lifer Hoary Redpoll (of which the following month I got 8 of in Minnesota).

My second all-out chase was early March - a long day trip with my mom and my Godmother to North Carolina for a previously reported Northern Lapwing.  It had been seen for almost a week but the report from the day before our chase was of a no show for the Lapwing.  But this lifer was too hard to resist and we had to go for it.  We got lucky and we scored it.  We arrived at the cemetery a few hundred yards away from the pond where the bird had been seen and several other birders arrived.  In the first 10 minutes -no luck.  Then I was checking out some Scaup in my scope and behind the Scaup -Ta Da! Lapwing.  Apparently I was so dumb-founded that I was so quiet in saying it "oh there's the northern lapwing."  And my mom had to ask "You see the Northern Lapwing?  That's the bird we're here for, right?"  I finally got excited got all on the bird!  

I've had several other chase trips this year but these were the 'stab in the dark' all out chases - got 1, dipped 1, not bad.  

I scored 40 life birds this year which I am pretty happy with since I saw so many birds in 2011 and other years also.  I am now officially in the 500 club for life list - in fact my life list is now 532!

I don't think I'll break my '11 Junior Big Year record this year as I don't have any more big birding trips planned - just local birding with Christmas Bird Counts and stuff but it's been another fun year.  Looking forward to another one next year and hopefully many more lifers!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Time to reflect--2012 nears the end

There are only a couple of weeks left in 2012.  Last year at this time, my Junior Big Year was nearing it's end and I was in cleanup mode.  Mad-dashing across Eastern North America to add 5-10 new birds to my Big Year list.  Exactly 1 year ago at this time I was birding in the Augusta Bird Club Christmas Bird Count.  This year, I participated in that count yesterday.  Last year when I participated in that CBC (and the Rockingham County one the day before) it was a mere "regular birding" brake in my mad-dashing last month.  A week before I had returned from a week in Arizona where I added 50 new birds.  In the last two weeks of my year (between this date and the end of the year) I spent 5 nights away from home on two different trips and added 8 new birds.

This year, the last two weeks will be much more relaxed.  However, I do have my eyes set on another rare bird, once again.  A Tufted Duck is being reported from Maryland.  I've birded a lot in 2012, a whole lot and added some 30 birds to my life list.  But it's been since my Junior Big Year since I've done an all-out mad-dashing chase.  I'm ready and this duck is my chance.  If all goes well my mom and I will leave on Thursday of this week and will return 25-30 hours later, and if all is willing with another life bird on my list.

Now, I want to reflect on 2012 compared to the Big Year.  I kept a year tally this year but it wasn't as "important" to me as it was last year.  My year list now stands at 290 and if I head to Maryland I should add a few more, but I'll finish out shy of 300.  Last year I finished shy of 450.  That's roughly 150 birds difference.  Which think about it is a LOT.  To get near 450 is tough.  It took what I did.  Chase anything I could, make lots of trips, and really work for the list.  This year I traveled to Glacier National Park in Montana where I saw about 20 birds I did not see last year.  Take away those, that's 170 difference from last year to this year.  Take away the other 10 or so that I saw this year but not last year, and we're looking at almost 200 birds that I saw last year but not this year.  That's because I traveled to Florida, California, Texas, Alaska, Arizona, as well as up and down the east coast last year.

But this year was just as fun just not as intense and not as many birds.  The Montana trip was awesome, I had 18 life birds as well as 32 bears (mostly Grizzlies) and lots of other wildlife.  I saw several really rare birds this year, and found rare birds myself for the first time.  I remember the total thrill of finding a rare White-winged Dove in eastern Virginia this February.  The rarest bird I saw this year, I would say was the Black Rail in West Virginia.  I am one of the few people that can say they've SEEN (rather than just heard) a Black  Rail in West Virginia.

And if you're wondering, my life list is now 491.  I hope to reach and surpass 500 in 2013.

Wish me luck for the Tufted Duck and lots of birds in 2013!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everybody!

Gabriel (KestrelSwan)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May finishes..sort of a repeat of last year

It's time for another update on this blog.

The 5th month of 2012, the year after my Junior Big Year is coming to a close.  This is not a Junior Big Year, however my birding is shaping up similarly.  The trips last year are what gave me the big numbers.  So far I have not flown anywhere this year and only have one flying trip planned for the rest of the year.  Obviously, my list is lower at this time than it was last year at this time.  Right now my "year list" is at 209 species, last year at this time that number was 302.  Call it 100 below, it is very close.   Although that is a big difference, the way the birds are shaping up is VERY SIMILAR to last year, only with less bird species since there have been less trips.  As an example, last year from mid April-mid May I was adding more than one year bird every day, on average.  Some days there would even be 5 or 8 "new ones".  This is because a large percent of wood-warblers, thrushes, flycatchers, vireos, etc. winter in Mexico or South America.  When the birds return for breeding, a lot of them pass through or breed here in Virginia, so the birds just "racked up".  A very similar scenario happened this year.  I had multiple days with 5-8 year birds and few days with none, from mid April-mid May.  However, at the end of the third week in May, here in Virginia the migration turns the "off switch" with not much notice.  By May 25th, Blackpoll Warblers and a few other "late warblers" are the only ones trickling through, and in very small numbers.  You still have the breeders (Redstarts, Ovenbirds, Black-and-whites, Chestnut-sideds, Hoodeds, Ceruleans, Waterthrushes, and so on) however they are all fairly common and I will have likely "picked them up" by the first week of May.  So come mid May last year year birds all of a sudden became few and far between.  In the first half of May last year I added 21 year birds.  In the second half of May last year I added 4 year birds.  A very similar thing happened this year.  In the first half of May I added 21 (do you see the pattern here?) year birds and so far from May 15-May 29 I have added 1 year bird.

This shows you, that even when 2 birding years are very different, same patterns can and do occur with bird migration.

So long.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Life bird

Although as a general rule I am not keeping this blog up to date (my current blog is I figured that a life bird also deserved a mention on this blog.

I added my 468th life bird this past February in Delaware, a Razorbill.  I had heard rumors that Blue-winged Warblers breed in Loudoun County Virginia, something that caught my interest since I needed a Blue-winged Warbler as a life bird.  But I didn't fully believe the rumor until I heard it from a Loudoun County bird expert himself.  Then I knew that this summer I had to make the 3 hour one-way drive to tick a life Blue-wing.  But today I was on a bird walk, only an hour from my house that saved me a trip to Loudoun County.  I heard the "BZZZ_zitt" of a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER on that bird walk, several times.  Once at the beginning of the bird walk to put it down as a possible sighting and again after the bird walk to confirm it.  Thanks to other birders for also confirming the identity of this 469th LIFE BIRD of mine!

Stay tuned to to see what other birds I am seeing this spring.

Happy birding,


Monday, April 16, 2012

The wonders of spring migration and some reflections

It's mid April.. spring migration time.  Exactly one year ago I was sitting at 253 bird species for my Junior Big Year, gearing up for spring migration, one of the few 'make or brake' parts of any Big Year attempt.  Last year, spring migration treated me well, I went from 250 bird species at the beginning of spring migration on ahead to around 310 once it was all said and done.  While this year, 2012 is not another Junior Big Year attempt by any means it's still an exciting time.  Warblers, thrushes, buntings, and tanagers, our colorful, tiny feathered friends are returning from their wintering grounds in the Southern US, Mexico, and South America.  And they make a wonderful addition to any year list, a Junior Big Year one or not.  I was out birding with a good friend and excellent birder Vic Laubach this past weekend and with my mom today and had 9 warbler species in the 3 days, including 6 FOY.  My 2012 year total now sits at a comfortable 156 species.  This is 97 (call it 100) species behind what I had at this date in 2011.  The gap will continue to grow.  In January the number was only about 30 apart.  Now it's 100 apart.  I expect that I'll end 2012 with approximately 300 species, which would put me 137 behind last year.  That may not sound huge, but it is.  The 300 birds I will see this year will all be mostly expected eastern birds along with maybe 40 rocky mountain species (I am going to Glacier NP in Montana this summer)   Compare that to the 437 species, which included some Alaskan, Arizonian, Californian, Texan, and Floridian species as well as east coast species.  While it may be only 137 behind last year, the "quality" of the birds is far different.  Last year the "best" sighting could be considered either Gyrfalcon, Brown Shrike, or one of the other "super" birds from 2011.  So far the "best" bird in 2012 is probably the White-winged Dove.  That's a nice bird, especially for Virginia, where I found my 2012 individual.  But it doesn't compare with my "best" bird as of April 16 2011, Brown Shrike or Black-veneted Oriole.

These are just a few reflections on how amazing 2011 really was.  I look forward to adding more spring arrives to my 2012 year list and the question that's in my mind now is once again "when can I go birding?"

Happy migration,


Monday, April 9, 2012

One down, three to go!

Tonight I presented "My 2011 Junior Big Year!" presentation to the Augusta Bird Club, one of my three local birding clubs.  It was well received and I had so much fun giving it.  Next month I'll be presenting at the Rockingham Bird Club in Harrisonburg and in October I'll be at the Monticello Bird Club in Charlottesville.  I've been invited to the Blacksburg Bird Club but don't yet have a date.

Very exciting!