Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Big Year Ends and Another Begins

I had mentioned in a previous blog post, that I was doing a Newfoundland big year in 2009. For those unfamiliar with this concept,it basically means you try to see as many species of birds in Newfoundland as possible, in a single year. My goal was 250 species and I finished the year at 240 species. I would have had a legitimate shot at 250, had I started listing on Jan 1 of 2009. I missed several gettable species last winter,like, Ivory Gull,Snowy Owl, Short-eared Owl,Saw Whet Owl,Boreal Owl, an overwintering Red-bellied Woodpecker and several others. Also I never made an effort to see breeders such as Spruce Grouse,Grey-cheeked Thrush and Rock Ptarmigan.

Since I anticipate to spend a great deal of time in the field this year I decided to give it another shot. Right now, it looks like getting to 250 will be a tall order, since there aren't many rarities lingering this winter,that allow me to jump start my list. So,how does one go about seeing 250 species in Newfoundland in 12 months? Well,this is somewhat uncharted territory,since no one has ever done this before. The current record is 247 species, in a vagrant filled 1998. For me, there are several keys, that I think will give me a chance to hit this landmark total.

1) Early start- To have a chance you have to go all out for 12 months- this is my plan right now.Also, winter is a crucial time to pick up lingering warblers,and other vagrants, as well as species like, Gyrfalcon and Ivory Gull. I might even try for Spruce Grouse or Hawk Owk this winter, if the opportunity arises.

2) Spring Euro vagrants- occasionally we get a small influx of European birds in spring,should the winds line up correctly between here and Iceland, I'll be chasing Euro Golden Plover this year for sure!

2) Clean up on rare breeders(esp owls and Grouse)- There are a number of breeding species that take quite a bit of effort to see. Some of these such as Hawk Owl,Three-toed Woodpecker and Rock Ptarmigan have eluded me in my 10 years of serious birding in the province,but are definitely gettable with enough effort and a little luck. Then there are other key species such as our owls and Spruce Grouse that one can find if they really dig. Another gettable bird is Wilson's Storm Petrel, which can be seen from our province's ferry's.

3) Codroy Valley in Late May/early June- this is pretty much mandatory in any Newdoundland big year. There are close to 20 species seen in this area,that are unlikely to be seen anywhere else in the province,unless you see them as fall vagrants.

4) lots of mid summer sea watching- to get to 250 I'll need all three specie of jaeger and at least Great Skua.As well,in July and August,small gulls such as Little Gull and Sabine Gull,although very rare, are a possibility.

5) lots of shorebirding- seeing species such as Baird's Sandpiper,Hudsonian Godwit,Wilson's Phalarope and Stilt Sandpiper are an absolute must.

6) An eye on weather in Sept/Oct and lots of time in the alders- this is extremely important if you are to bolster your warbler list. This is the time of year when things like Hooded Warbler,Kentucky,Cerulean, Prothotary etc, can sometimes be found. No doubt,this will require some luck,but some fast moving weather systems from the south will really help.

7) Chase Everything at a moments notice- you can't wait to see if a rare bird will stick around,or hope another will appear closer to home- you just have to go for it and hope for the best. I'll be doing lots of this in 2010, providing there are aome of rarities to chase!

8) Some luck helps too- I'll be hoping for some of this in the coming months with Gyrfalcon and Ivory Gull in mind.

The above,I believe are some key factors that will determine the success of my big year. There are no doubt many more variables that influence my chance of attaining this goal. Two days into the year my list sits at a meagre 40 species. However,there are still a bunch of easy winter species left,including many winter ducks. I'll be updating my big year list on my blog each Sunday with additions from the previous and the outlook for the coming months.

I know I've said this already,but I have two gull workshops coming up and I really want to write something on Gull ID. I welcome ideas in the form of comments on this posting. Otherwise I guess I'll have to some up with something on my own.

Hopefully everyone has a happy,life bird filled,vagrant laden New Year!!

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