30 January 2015

Big Year Competition

Some of my most memorable years birding have been the ones in which I have participated in some kind of competition.  The ones where I set out to  break a personal record or a personal goal.  Even better was the year that Andy and I participated in the Bird a Day competition.  The thing about competition is that it's a useful motivational tactic for those days you just would rather curl up in a warm bed and watch Netflix. 

Andy and I birding Rocky Mountain National Park
For some, winning it all is most important but for me it's really just trying to keep up with Andy and not letting him totally beat me.  Sometimes I even get lucky like with the Bird a Day year and I squeak by him.  This year we agreed to do a Big County Year - mine being Larimer County, Colorado and his being Davidson County, Tennessee.  We had the whole thing planned and then I got a new job in New York.  With this wrench we decided to just compete for the year and see how it goes.  Mind you, I am not planning any crazy Big Year trips.  Actually the opposite is true, I have just moved cross-country and really have no means to travel outside the confines of my work.  Lucky for me I will spend part of the year living on a very birdy Maine coast

My plan is to keep you posted throughout the year with regular updates on how I'm fairing and by comparison, how Andy is doing.  To start the tale, let's go back to January 1, 2015. I decided to start my cross-country move on the first day of the year.  In hindsight, I wasn't really even thinking about the Big Year Competition because if I had, I would have birded at least one full day in Colorado to pick up winter specialties before moving. Nevertheless, off I went and I had the luck of seeing both a Rough-legged Hawk and Ferruginous Hawk on day one in Eastern Colorado.  I also picked up Western Meadowlark, Snow Bunting, and a Snow Goose.  Not a horrible day but my list stood at 18 by days end.

On day 2, I traveled over 14 hours from Nebraska to Michigan and as a result I only added two measly birds - Blue Jay and House Sparrow. Luckily, I had high hopes for my day birding around Detroit and my target was a lifer Snowy Owl. After waiting for the snowfall to stop and grabbing lunch my dear friend Heather and I headed to Lake St. Clair Metropark where FIVE Snowy Owls had been seen the day before. It was cold, windy, rainy, slushy, and frozen but we were undeterred.  We spent the next two hours searching high and low for a Snowy but only finding things like Common Merganser and Ring-billed Gull.  The other disappoint was it seemed my binoculars (which I hadn't used for the Big Year yet since I was birding from a moving car) seemed off.  The alignment somehow was distorted and with tired eyes I was crippled from finding a Snowy Owl to add to the list.  We drove to the DNR boat launch where I picked up from the car a few decent ducks and both Tundra and Mute Swans and then it was the end of a day.  By this time Andy was up to 39 species and I was trailing by 10.
Lake St. Clair, Detroit, Michigan
Day 4 was even worse with only the addition of a Mourning Dove in Pennsylvania.  I was not only trailing behind, I was feeling a little depressed about my broken optics.  Without thinking, I didn't even bring a spare pair cross-country!  What a way to start a birding competition without binoculars. Over the next two weeks I birded at work from the staff lounge (which by the way has excellent optics) and picked up over a dozen more birds including American Tree Sparrow and Song Sparrow.  Andy was up to 83 species while I sat back in the 40s, dreaming of having working bins.  The only saving grace was the knowledge that we both would be meeting up in South Carolina over the weekend and I would do a little catching up.  The other highlight was Emily was going to loan me her Nikons until my bins were fixed.  

Lab of Ornithology - new work location
Come back next week to find out where our competition stands now!  I plan to do a regular Friday post with updated year birds. If you have any birding suggestions for the Ithaca, NY area, let me know in the comments.

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