Monday, June 18, 2012

My Big Ontario Year

Yes, it took me a while to come around this year and decide to do an official big year but somewhere just before spring migration I came out and admitted I was trying to see 300 species in Ontario in the 2012 calendar year. This is, of course, unless I only reach 299 and if by including December of 2011 instead of December of 2012 I can get to 300...then I will cheat. That Essex County Great Gray Owl is my fail-safe. I kid.

It hit me after my first trip to Thunder Bay in February that maybe I could try this. Andrew Keaveney, Mark Field, and I headed up north to go for a number of northern species, including some reliable rarities in the area. On the trip, we ended up getting Harris's Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, as well as the expected guys: Pine and Evening Grosbeak, Hoary and Common Redpoll, Sharp-tailed Grouse, and American White Pelican. Andrew, bless him, had me convinced that 300 would now be easy since I've already got rarities in the bag.

Maybe it was the extensive driving on these trips, or something about the clean northern air, that I hummed and I hawed a lot until something clicked and I was like, "oh what the heck, let's go for 300 this year!!"

That's when my year changed completely.

I've had an amazing time of it. So far, I've birded more than I ever had during any year as a birdwatcher, I've learned a TON in the process, especially in regards to Ontario species' ranges and abundance, I've looked at eBird 10-100 times a day to keep myself posted on sightings around the province, and I've witnessed the craziness that surrounds being a big year-er. Now, I'm no competitor, so don't mistake my big year as an aim for first place. There are other young bucks who will get some obscene number by year end. I'm happy w/ getting to 300 and commend them for taking on such a bigger challenge than I! It's been a pleasure to watch their progress.

I feel pretty good about my standings right now. It's nearing the end of June and I currently sit at 288 species, my latest being Eared Grebe. I have only a few common guys left to see like Sanderling and Snow Bunting. I'm behind on shorebirds: Curlew Sandpiper (uh oh), Purple Sandpiper, Red Knot, Western Sandpiper and Baird's Sandpiper, Red Phalarope, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper. I have owls to see or hear: Great-Gray, Boreal, Northern Hawk-...but I'm not sure how many more times I can go north! Then there are the gulls: Black-legged Kittiwake, Black-headed, Sabine's, Ross's, Ivory...ok those last two are just dreaming but why not? There are the 3 jaegers. I've got two birds of prey that are remotely possible: Swainson's Hawk and Mississippi Kite. I'm behind a couple sparrows: Nelson's and Lark. So I've got some birds to work w/. And rarities will show up. Glossy Ibis, Northern Wheatear, Black-throated Sparrow...sure, Jeremy. With a bit of help from Marianne in the Pelee area in the fall, I should be on my way to glory.

Although fortune has been on my side many times this year (Western Tanager, Laughing Gull, California Gull, Ross's Goose to name a few), I've also had some savage misses. The aforementioned Great Gray, which I would have seen January 1st had I decided on a big year from the start, White-winged Dove, Band-tailed Pigeon, Varied Thrush, Smew, Western Grebe (my nemesis again!), Bell's Vireo, Kirtland's Warbler, Little Blue Heron, Curlew Sandpiper.

The list goes on and on, but that's birding for you. If we got every single bird we ever chased, we'd be too blessed. It's the dip, the crushing disappointment, that puts us in our place, that makes us charge into the field even harder the next trip. But boy those dips do sting...

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