2011 had ‘Big Year’ written all over it. First came the chatter among birders about a Hollywood movie on bird watching. The movie was based on a true story of 3 birders doing a Big Year. Then, sometime in July, I stumbled upon John Vanderpoel’s blog about his 2011 ABA Big Year (http://www.bigyear2011.com/). I was hooked from day one and checked his web site daily for the latest updates. He finished with an amazing total of 744 birds which is 4 birds short of the all time record. An amazing ride… Then came the movie ‘The Big Year’ which I liked a lot (it seems I was the only one as the movie failed miserably). In between, I started reading about Tom Reed’s amazing New Jersey “Big Year” (he ended up breaking the all time record in September!!). So, with all this excitement, I decided I had to do a big year of my own in 2012. I still had to work to support me and the family so how can I squeeze a ‘Big Year’ into weekends, holidays and days off? That is when I came up with the NJ semi-Big Year concept: Try to see at least 300 species in 2012 in NJ without loosing my job or spending too much time in the dog house. Not an easy task considering I had a lifetime NJ list of 291…
And it turned out to be a Great semi-Big Year: 311 birds seen (15 Lifers) and an additional 30 birds that were in play which could/should have made the count even bigger. I raised my NJ total from 291 to a more respectable 340. Most of it was thanks to the help from many fellow birders (on the field and via email), online tools such as eBird and JerseyBirds and text alert services such as Keekeekerr and CMBOBirds. The fact that all of my WSB teammates (Steve G., Rob F. and Lisa Ann M.) were having better counts than me throughout the year gave me an extra intensive to get the next bird and try to catch up (I never did). I enjoyed my semi-Big Year and look forward to doing a ‘proper’ Big Year sometime in the near future.
January through March
40 days – 134 outings – 173 new species
Started off the year in Cape May because I wanted to make sure I got the Bell’s Vireo while the weather was still good. Other goodies on day one included a Winter Wren (same location as the Vireo) and a Dickcissel. Day 2 I went after the Rufous Hummingbird which was kept alive thanks to a heating lamp at Goshen!! Three days of work slowed me down a little but on the 6th I was determined to make it up by getting Common Chaffinch up north. I got there at 7am after a 2 1/2 hr drive but no Chaffinch (the fact that there were 50 people taking up half of the backyard this bird was seen at may had something to do with it). I took the opportunity to go further west and get the Snowy Owl at Merril Creek (long walk!!). I got the Caffinch ten days later along with a Great White-fronted Goose (Assiscong Marsh). A chased after a Glaucous Gull at Edison was not succesful. Other birds in January included Common Goldeneye (Reed’s Beach), American Tree Sparrow (Tuckahoe), Rusty Blackbird & Red-headed Woodpecker (Villas), Redhead (Pleasantville), Common Raven (Laurel Hill Park) and Monk Parakeet (Overpeck County Park). I finished the month with 113 birds.
February started off with another unsuccesful trip to Allaire State Park (Western Tanager). The following day was a big hit through as we racked up some nice birds during the winter pelagic trip out of Wildwood (Dovekie, N. Fulmar, A. Puffin, BL Kittiwake, C. Murre). More good birds followed soon there after with a visit to Salem Co. (Barn Owl, A. Pipit, H. Lark). A report of a Northern Shrike had me drive up to the NJ/NY border which also gave me a chance to visit the Great Swamp for a pair of Barred Owls (thanks Shmuel). This was also the first of many times I was unable to get a Pileated Woodpecker. Closer to home I checked off Snow Bunting, Western Sandpiper and Short-eared Owl. I closed out the month with another couple of trips up north – Eurasian Wigeon (Perth Amboy) & Black-headed Gull (Morgan Ave Mudflats). By the end of February my count was at a respectable 153 birds.
March started off with a bang! A Western Grebe in Cape May followed by a Broad-tailed Hummingbird that was had spent the winter in the area. I finally got my Canvasback (Brig) and followed that up with Iceland Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull (Morgan Ave Mudflats). A Sedge Wren (Glades WR) was also a nice addition. In the end I had some great birds but kept on striking out on Glaucous Gull and Pileated Woodpecker. My total was up to 173.
April and May
21 days – 95 outings – 81 new species
I was in good shape but I knew that the next couple of months would be crucial. April 7th was a big day for me as I got to see and photograph a Little Gull (Morgan Ave Mudflats). This was followed by scores of migrants and local breeders taking up territory. The last bird of April was a very cooperative White Ibis which I was unable to photograph as I left my memory stick back home in my heist to get to the bird. I was now at 210 and my goal of 300 looked attainable.
Beginning of May my priorities shifted to preparing for the World Series of Birding. Scouting resulted in some nice new additions (White-winged Dove, White-faced Ibis, Ring-necked Pheasant, Mississippi Kite) and the event itself added Black Tern, Common Nighthawk & Canada Warbler. A trip to Garret Mountain only added Blackburnian Warbler but a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Franklin Twp more than made up for it. I ended the month on a high with a field trip to High Point SP with NJAS (Pileated Woodpecker!!, Cerualean Warbler and Golden-winged Warbler thanks to a tip from our trip leader). End of May’s total stood at 254.
31 days – 47 outings – 21 new species
June started off strong with Grasshopper Sparrow, Common Gallinule and White-rumped Sandpiper. I only added 4 more birds but one was a lifer (Roseate Tern) and the other was a bird I missed in many spots previously (Kentucky Warbler). Brown Pelican was not too shabby either. Count: 262
Early July I felt that I was starting to fall behind. I added another 7 birds all of which were Good to Great birds: N. Bobwhite (very scarce), Am. Avocet (Brig), Least Bittern (felt good to get it out of the way), BB Whistling Duck (Brig), Hudsonian Godwit (Brig), White Pelican (Brig), Stilt Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher. Count #270
23 days – 51 outings – 25 new species
September was going to be a make or break month for me. I knew I was going to miss 10 days in early October so I had to make up for it now. Started off with some nice additions out of Cape May (Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Lark Sparrow) followed by a nice surprise – a Crested Caracara near Trenton with a nice chase to boot. I was on a roll and 2 more lifers followed: Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Connecticut Warbler. It even got better with a Baird’s Sandpiper and an Elegant Tern!! both at Sandy Hook (2 trips but who is complaining). Cape May came up strong again with Clay-colored Sparrow, Bay-breasted Warbler (finally) and a Say’s Phoebe!!. By the end of the month I was at 294 and feeling good about myself.
My trip to Las Vegas and San Diego in the beginning of the month meant that I missed out on a Northern Wheatear among other things. However, I was able to get to my original goal of 300 by the end of the month by cleaning up stuff I should have gotten earlier. Count #300
17 days – 24 outings – 11 new species
With 300 in the bag I started thinking that 315 may be an attainable goal but 310 would be nice as well. November’s birds were one better than the other: Golden Eagle (total of 5 seen), Vesper Sparrow, Northern Goshawk (7 seen), Cave Swallow (100+ seen) both Crossbills!! and an Ash-throated Flycatcher which I found on my own to boot. Things could have been better though as I missed out on Lincoln’s Sparrow, Cliff Swallow, Evening Grossbeak, Long-eared Owl and Lapland Longspur among others. Count #307
As December came along I had enough drive and luck to get a few more birds including 2 lifers (Pink-footed Goose and Townsend’s Warbler) along with a King Eider and a Western Tanager a bird I chased early in the year. A couple of birds did not cooperate yet again (Red-necked Grebe, Ross’s Goose, Common Redpoll) but in the end, I am very happy with my first attempt at a Big Year – a semi-Big Year that is!
Final count: 311