Revised 2011 bird total:
437 species

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!


Thursday, March 29, 2012

"My 2011 Junior Big Year!" presentation

I've spent a lot of time in the last couple months putting together my presentation "My 2011 Junior Big Year!", a slide presentation about my amazing year.

It's finally almost complete!

I am scheduled to give the presentation at 3 local birding clubs, the first of which is going to be Monday April 9th at the Augusta Bird Club here in Virginia.
If anyone would like to come to my presentation, please comment on this blog post and I will give you details.

So long,

Gabriel (KestrelSwan)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The birding continues...the all-minded-listing does not

Today marks the two month mark since the finish of my Junior Big Year.

Am I still birding?  Oh yes!  I am all-so actively birding still, and I currently have a 2012 year list of about 122 species.  While that may sound high, they're basically just the regulars (other than one or two oditys) that are in Virginia at this time of year.  I am about 40 birds behind what I was at last year at this time.  Once the summer gets here and I don't do nearly as much traveling as last year, that number will slip to 100-200 behind last year.  Other than for a trip to Montana this coming summer, this is basically a "normal birding year".  This past weekend I went out east to Maryland and Delaware in hopes of finding 3 rare birds: Pink-footed Goose, Razorbill, and Virginia's Warbler.  Of those 3 we only found the Razorbill, which was a life bird for me.  However, instead we ended up in Chincoteague Virginia and I found a White-winged Dove, a rare visitor to Virginia and spent time adding about 20 new 2012 year birds, watching the Tundra Swans, and seeing the Chincoteague Ponies.  Had I been doing a Junior Big Year, we would have stayed longer at the goose and warbler, perhaps spent more money on another hotel night, and would have missed the magic of Chincoteague.

As thrilling and amazing as the Junior Big Year was, it's a little bit nice to now have a more mellow birding and wildlife watching life, again :)

ps. be sure to check out my new blog, which I'm more-or-less keeping up to date:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Looking back on 2011

Today marks the day of one and a half months since the last day of my 2011 Junior Big Year.  I'd like to look back a little bit on that amazing year.

How did the Big Year go?  in one word, AMAZING!  437 is more than I could ever have imagined in my wildest dreams.  With just 13 more birds I would have had 100 more than my original goal of 350.  

Were there any "big misses"? Yes, I think there are in all Big Years.  Some were simply "misses" and a few I chose not to chase due to cost, time, etc.  The one that I didn't get that I "should have had" was the White-throated Thrush (AKA White-throated Robin) in Estero Llano Grande State Park in texas.  Both my dad and I put in hours of searching for that Mexican Mega but it just didn't show itself to us.  It was supposed to be so reliable that it was almost bizzare.   A few that I didn't chase due to restrictions.  One that I felt like "I should have chased" was the Hammond's Flycatcher at a graveyard in Corpus Christi Texas.  We were planning on chasing it but we would have to be in downtown at rush hour and it would rip out some precious time in the RGV.  So we chose not to chase it.  But I surely later regretted it...until I was in Madera Canyon Arizona when our guide spotted and identified my life Hammond's!  Sometimes hard choices turn out to be good in all regards in the end.  

Birds that I'm "shocked" I got?  There was surely a few of those.  A few of the biggest surprises were very rare birds that showed up WHILE I was in the state they showed up in.  One of those examples would be the Rufous-capped Warblers in Florida Canyon Arizona.  During my first night in Arizona I read about these rare mexican birds showing up and I later got them.   Several other examples included included 3 in Maryland.  On my first trip to Maryland, I went trying to just get the Calliope Hummingbird.  But while I was there a Le Conte's Sparrow showed up and I got that too.  On that same trip I read about a Snowy Owl in New Jersey that had recently shown up and we chased it and got it.  On my second trip to Maryland, which we thought was just for Black-headed Gull got me the gull but a Black-headed Grosbeak showed up while we were there..and well, we got that one too. 

Anyway, these are just a few reflections on my amazing year.  Today I go chase a Greater White-fronted Goose that has shown up near where I live and although it won't be a lifer (it was number 368 for my J. Big Year) it's a wonderful 2012 year bird.

Good birding!

Monday, January 30, 2012

"Wild With Gabriel" blog

Now that my Junior Big Year is done, I'll continue blogging on my new blog "Wild With Gabriel":

Enjoy my new blog!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Painted Bunting! Total is 437, not 436!

When I was in the Florida Everglades in January of 2011, just days into my Junior Big Year I took a photo of a bird I could not identify.  Especially since I did not know I was doing a Junior Big Year at the time, every bird's ID didn't matter and I didn't ever really think much more about that bird.

It wasn't until now, over a year later while gathering photos for my Junior Big Year presentation that I came across that photo.  Female Painted Bunting jumped at me!  I grabbed the bird book.  I opened to the Painted Bunting page and low and behold, that bird that was "just another bird" was my only Painted Bunting of the year!  This means my total is not 436, it's 437.

Wow!  A very nice surprise.

Good birding everyone!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Junior Big Year talks

Hello everybody,

wanted to let everyone know that I'm scheduled as of now to give a presentation about my Junior Big Year at at least 2 local bird clubs.  Augusta Bird Club on April 9, 2012 and Monticello Bird Club on October 11, 2012.  It would be great if anyone would like to come out and hear me talk about my J. Big Year.

Also, if anyone has a group or anything that you'd like me to speak at, if it's in my area (basically all of Virginia other than some southern parts) I'd be happy to come.

On another note, my 2012 birding has got off to a great start.  Right now my year total is 71 species.  This past Monday I did an Augusta County Big Day getting a total of 62 species.  Quite an excitement in this first half of the new month has been a Lark Sparrow, a rare visitor to Virginia that's been hanging out just 30 minutes from where I live for the last 11 days and is still being seen.

Good birding!

Gabriel KestrelSwan