A fun part of birding is the drive to see as many species as one can. Sure, you can just bird your local patch and delight in whatever discoveries befall you, but that is not necessarily sufficient stimulation for everyone.
So, for some of us we occasionally ( or perpetually ) do 'big years'. The parameters can be as limited as your town for example, or as extreme as the entire US or the entire world even!
In my case, it is a state big year; trying to see as many as possible of the birds that pass through, within the state and calendar restraint. Yes, its a game; a fun game, that gives an added dimension to an enjoyable pastime.
As a benchmark, I have posited that 300 species seen in New York State within the year is a good benchmark. After several attempts, my personal best to date is 330, and the record which was being broken a few years running, is currently at an incredible 361.
As of this writing I am at 292 species, and its only June! Others have broken the 300 species barrier, and so far about 350 species have been reported in New York. With all these species being seen, one might conclude that amassing these sightings is easy and a piece of cake.
No doubt, rapid dissemination of sighting information via email, texts and what have you have drastically facilitated the game, but sometimes the birds themselves have other thoughts on the matter.
Some examples... Early this year, a posse including Pelican, Arlene Rails, and John Gaggle-o-geese went after a delightfully cooperative Ross' Gull way upstate. In addition to the gull, we scored Bohemian Waxwing. At my urging, we made a last minute try for Tufted Duck up that way, but failed miserably. How miserably I will describe...
I gaffed on the directions and ate up valuable scanning time. It didn't matter though, as the flock of ducks was absent from the location all together! Dang. Presciently, Pelican said: "oh, one will show up on Long Island" and she was right!
The trouble was, it showed up on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but I tried Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. There were additional attempts as well. I mean WTF?
Then a Clark's Grebe showed up in Oswego Harbor. I went for that and got it easily, but the reported Thayer's Gull nearby was missed by me and all that day, including Steve Tanager, who being unable to sleep the night before, decided to drive up there for the grebe on his own.
Originally Pelican was supposed to be part of the posse, but she and John Gaggle-o geese opted to go the following day to avoid the reported storm. We got wet, but their going the next day meant that they missed the storm and got both birds!
The missed Thayer's was eating at me, and I revisited that location this time with Captain Bob, who also wanted the Great Grey Owl, for which I hatched an insane plan. We, together with Arlene drove up and got a hotel. we made good time so we looked for the gull before dark, and we saw it except for Bob who missed it and it flew off.
The next day we awoke and went for the Grebe and got great looks. We told a birder from Connecticut at the grebe site about the gull, and he headed there as well. When we arrived he was looking through the gulls without success, but a quick scan of the birds and I was able to find it with ease. I got the CT birder on it as well and there was much rejoicing.
At that point Bob told me that there was someone across the water waving at us. It was Steve! Once again he could not sleep and ventured up there for the gull as did we. What he didn't do, was plan to continue on to Keene for the Great Grey Owl.
We traversed the Adirondacks to get there and in short order we saw this magnificent bird; the second individual for me. But there was more...
So in exchange for traipsing all over the state, seeing as how we were in the area, I made another attempt at the Tufted Duck, or as Bob likes to refer to it, the tuff duck.
It was cold and windy, and those two chose to stay in the car until I found the bird. An hour being blasted by the wind and no luck yet again. ... :(
I must be a sucker for punishment, and not just because I love puns, and it gets worse...
So Bob was not the only birder who wanted to see that Owl. The next time I was coerced by Liz Ardcuckoo. It also gave me another opportunity for the tuff duck. I am so weak...
So we went for the Owl and had great looks at it and a Barred Owl in the same vicinity!
Returning to Lake Champlain, I braved the wind and cold again and this time finally succeeded! HaloF-ing Loolya. Liz waited in the car, and missed the bird. Oh well. I got it :)
Lest you think that has been my only nemesis this year you would be quite incorrect. Purple Finch that everyone else had seen, again on the days I was not able to visit Shu Swamp -still- eludes me despite 6 attempts. Still.
And then there was more....
I led the anual trip upstate called Doodle-bash where we end the day Sunday at Blue Chip Farms and Shawangunk grasslands NWR. In over 20+ years I have never missed Upland Sandpiper. At the grasslands we did get spectabulous looks at Dickcissel, but again no Uppie.
The next week gave me another opportunity with the heartening appearance of the most cooperative Henslows Sparrow ever. A beauty, and ever so close to he trail! But could we find the Uppie? No.
A week later I decided to try again enroute from returning from visiting family in Massachusetts. I shot straight out 84 and made good time. I did not ~have~ a good time though; the nice day gave way to rain and another dip.
Uppie came up in conversation at the Shearwater show recently. Its sad as a lot of birds were found dead along our south shore, but a storm brought in a Brown Booby ( found dead the next day ) as well as 100's of Great Shearwater very close to shore at Jones Inlet. Cory's Shearwater is expected to be the more numerous birds, but the proportions were reversed. I saw about 100 or so greats, 6-7 Cory's, 2 Sooty Shearwater, and a Manx Shearwater.
Besides the Shearwaters, Ed Thrasher, Bob Prothonotary and I discussed how we had all missed Uppie this year, and a plan was hatched. We headed upstate where we tried unsuccessfully for Sora at 6.5 station road, and then on to Blue Chip.
Careful searching of the farm did not reward us. Neither did walking the blue trail at Shawangunk NWR. We did hear what we believe may be a ~second~ Henslows that we could not locate.
We continued on to Galeville park where others had reported sightings. Nope. So we decided to try Blue Chip again. Along the way we spotted some birders sitting by the road, and I inquired of them. Mary (?) recognized me from a previous meeting at Shawangunk, and informed us they had spotted the Uppies there 3 days prior. We decided to join them.
We were there for over an hour and Bob hinted that we should be leaving, but Ed and I impressed upon him that we try a bit longer. Shortly thereafter, the Uppie delighted us by alighting upon the same post that Mary had pointed out. It then flew toward us and called while banking and calling before returning to its field. Yay! and Phew; we discussed how much longer the trip seems if one dips, but we were stoked!
With some work, sometimes a LOT of work, nemesis' fall by the wayside. And speaking of nemesis birds, just a few days ago a White-winged Dove was found at Jamaica Bay. I was at work and thought 'great, another infamous one day wonder I'll miss'.
Then some successful reports encouraged me, along with a last appointment being canceled. Could I make it to JB in time, ~and~ make it to dinner before the meeting I had to host? Dam the torpedoes, I was going to try!
Waze, for the uninitiated is a 'fastest route' navigation app similar to Google Maps. Previous use had not impressed me, as there was a lot of turns and no discernible benefit. On this occasion it routed me through back streets and saved me a load of time.
I arrived at JB where Earic Miller had been searching. Eventually I caught up with him and he guided me to where the bird had been reported to have been seen. As we walked through the South Garden, we kicked up lots of Robins and a few Mourning Doves. And then I heard the flapulence of a dove that alerted me to it's presence as it took off from the ground. It sported a rounder tail with white edges, inconsistent with MODO! Earic and I searched the area more, and then he spotted it in a tree affording great looks! Nemesis no more and NYS lifebird 418 / NYS yearbird 292 for me.
Sometimes it keeps going wrong over and over, and yet sometimes it all remarkably falls into place oh so right!!