Total ABA Species Recorded During 2010 - 731

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cinnamon Teal at Back Bay NWR

This morning while Sarah Davis, Ken Markley, and I were conducting an impoundment survey, Sarah noticed an odd teal and brought it to my attention. It was an obvious male Cinnamon Teal. I took a few photos to document the sighting. The provenance of the bird is unknown. Whether it will be accepted by VARCOM will depend on whether this sighting fits the currently known vagrancy pattern for Cinnamon Teal. So stay tuned. The bird was found in an area that is currently not open to the public. However, the west dike is open for birdwatching and we also saw 5 Black-necked Stilts in the north end of C pool which should be visible from the west dike. Since the teal could move around, anyone visiting the refuge should be on the alert for the Cinnamon Teal.
In addition during the beach survey we found an Iceland Gull on the beach at False Cape State Park and a Piping Plover on the north mile section of the Back Bay NWR beach.
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Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Calendar of Big Year Talks

Starting in the fall, I will be giving talks about the Big Year to various bird clubs and other groups.  In response to a question from Cathy and Terry Bond, who wanted to know when and where the talks would be, I have posted the calendar on my website.  Just click on the link "Calendar of Big Year talks" on the left side of the Blog under "Link to Website."  I hope you'll find a talk that fits your needs.  Contact information for each program is provided.
I have also cleaned up the two Big Year species spreadsheets.  One has the species listed by date seen in reverse order, the last seen at the top, the first seen at the bottom.  The other list has the birds listed in ABA order with the gaps showing graphically which birds I missed during the year.  You might have fun with those as your time permits.
As far as the blog goes I'm going to try to write a paragraph on some timely subject or what I'm seeing or not seeing, trying hard to be interesting, but not stimulating enough to throw readers into a flaming rage.  So check it out and see what I'm up to; your responses will be a clue as to whether it's interesting enough to continue.
Incidentally you might be interested to know that the Blog got about 10,000 hits a month until December when the hits topped 18,000.  I don't have a complete record of hits for the whole year because I didn't turn the counter on at the beginning because I didn't know about it.  My guess is that if I had been counting from January 1, 2010, the total from the year would have exceeded 110,000 hits.  I do know that for the last half of the year the total was over 72,000 hits.

Monday, January 3, 2011

It's Over

     Today is a gorgeous day in Tidewater VA.  The sun is shining brightly, enough so that I spent an hour cleaning up the backyard.  Our statuesque pine, the one with the perfect shape prior to the last snow storm, has three more missing limbs, a product of the enormous wet snow we had a week or so ago.  I did start on my year yardlist, and I did start on my Virginia yearlist, the routine type of listing, but The Big Year is over.
     Joyce and I ended the year last Friday by hosting the compilation for the Little Creek CBC on New Year's Eve.  On Saturday we began the new year by going to the VA Eastern Shore with Audrey to see the Mountain Bluebird, state bird #404 for me (photo).  Yesterday I participated in the Nansemond River CBC for which I am the compiler.  Our enthusiastic group tallied a few over 120 species and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the compilation and food at David Matson's house in Suffolk.  Today seemed like a good time for a little reflection on the year past.
     Am I happy with the Big Year?  Overwhelmingly so!  How could I not be, having passed numerical goal after goal once the original goal of 650 was reached.  Everyone should understand that the birding strategy morphed through the year.  In the beginning I set up an itinerary and expected to follow it religiously pocketing the rarities along the way that happened to be where I was.  Little if any chasing.  The reasoning?  Using that approach would keep the cost at a reasonable level.  That plan held for about the first half of the year.  That approach brought John and me to the point in March where we had all the birds and were waiting for the migration to bring us more.  It was that approach that gave us the 650 by July 1.  That firm foundation gave a clear track to the chasing which came later rather than having to clean up a bunch of missed species during the last third of the year.
     Finding the Blyth's Reed-Warbler at Gambell in September has to be the highlight of the year.  I never imagined in my wildest dreams that a new North American record would be part of the Big Year, much less dream of being the one who found it.  Others of course helped in securing the identity of the bird.  But standing there in the boneyard by myself looking at this bird created an exhilaration that is difficult to match.
     I also derived a great deal of pleasure and a large sense of accomplishment when I missed a bird, but came back to get it. There were quite a few of those like La Sagra's Flycatcher, Moscovy Duck, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Brown Shrike, Himalayan Snowcock, and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl just to name a few.  After missing the Black-tailed Gull three days in California, I got it in Newfoundland, a reward I'm claiming for my earlier effort.
     No Big Year is accomplished without help.  There are countless people who gave me and John their time, advice, support, housing, food, and general good will throughout the year.  First and foremost on my list has to be Joyce, my wife who never wavered in her support and good words from before the year began right up to that very last day.  This next year is her year to decide where we will go.  Well, maybe I'll still sneak off to a Cardinal's game.  Chief among the commentators on my blog were Renee and Ned who kept up my spirit and offered advice when some of the going got tough.  The other supporters and helpers were justly important but I won't attempt a complete list at this point.  You all have my most heartfelt gratitude.  I hope you know that this year would not have met the success it did without your help.
     Where do I go from here?  This year 2011 will be a Virginia year, more or less.  I'll do the birding things I usually do like the weekly walks in the Great Dismal Swamp, the bird surveys at Back Bay NWR, and VSO and CVWO field trips.  But in and around the edges I will be pulling together the details of the Big Year for inclusion in a book I'm planning to write.  I'm open to any suggestions from you, best delivered via email to  The blog won't go dead, but a little of the electricity will be gone.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Decision Not To Go To Texas

On Wednesday afternoon another White-throated Thrush was found in Texas, this time at Estero Llande Grande State Park in Westlaco.  I'm certain this is not the bird that was seen in Pharr a few days earlier.  When I heard the news, I got on the computer to see if I could get a flight to the valley the following day.  After some monkeying around, my only option was a very expensive round trip. In addition I would only have the last day of the year to look for the bird.  The resulting quandary was typical of those that arose all through the Big Year.  The decision didn't come easily.  However, later on Wednesday night I decided to let the thrush go.  It was too much buck for the bang!  There had already been a precedent.  I had decided a month ago not to go for McKay's Buntings at a feeder in Nome even though it was an almost guaranteed bird.  That decision was made primarily on financial grounds, but in Alaska the travel conditions are always a little iffy and add an additional constraint.  This time the thrush was not a guarantee, but probably would show up sooner or later at the water feature as the Rufous-backed Thrush did at Laguna Atascosa NWR last week.  That proved to be the case.  A late afternoon sighting yesterday showed the White-throated Thrush to be still around.  Whether it shows today or not will have no effect on my Big Year.  As I learned, very few choices are clear-cut.  I'm pleased that so many of mine went the right way.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Nice Day in the Rio Grande Valley

I spent last night in South Padre Island, the closest motel to Laguna Atascosa NWR.  The Motel 6 was a notch above the rest.  This morning I got going after sunrise since the outside temperature was only 39F and I needed it to warm up a bit.  Although I was heading to a Denny's for breakfast, I discovered that it no longer existed, the space being converted into a retail store.  Instead I found a small breakfast spot near the causeway bridge that offered an inexpensive breakfast and lots of people watching.  I was intrigued by how few tourists there were during this holiday time.  I would have thought that South Padre Island would be a location where families might go for a holiday fest, although it was cold as hell today.  Still a walk on the beach and eating out are favorites most any time of year.  After breakfast, I drove to Laguna Atascosa and ran into Jeff Lemons whom Joyce and I had met at Pea Island NWR in NC when we went to see the White-cheeked Pintail.  He and his family were visiting the valley and they were having a ball.  He was picking up lifebirds at a rapid rate since this was his first trip to the valley.  I wandered around the area and finally encountered the Rufous-backed Thrush at one of the water sources.  It didn't hang around long enough for anybody else to get there.  I told Jeff about the sighting and then left to drive all the way to Bentsen State Park to spend the last hours of the day there.  I spent a lovely three hours walking around in an area that was just re-opened yesterday.  I didn't see anything rare, but it was nice to get great views of many of the valley specialties.  I left after sunset and got a motel in McAllen.  I walked to a nearby restaurant and then retired and watched TV from the bed.  Since I don't watch much TV, it was a bit entertaining, although I'm depressed with how small the content/advertising ratio has become.  I didn't measure it, but I would guess that there's no more than 35 minutes of real content per hour of TV time.  Tomorrow I'll try to fly home.  I hope my planes are flying and reasonably on-time.  Even if they are on time, I won't get home until midnight.  Then, only four days left in the year.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day in the Rio Grande Valley

Christmas eve was pretty much a travel day, but it did go well.  My flight schedule didn't get me to Harlingen early enough to get any birding done.  I checked into my Motel 6 in Mission, positioned well for my trip to Bentsen State Park first thing in the morning.  This morning I was awake and up early, very antsy to get going and looking for the Black-vented Oriole.  I checked out of the motel and went to a nearby Denny's for breakfast.  I still arrived at Bentsen SP before it was light enough to see.  Other birders began to arrive.  Clearly the oriole had brought 'em out, even on Christmas.  There were more than a dozen by the time the visitor's center opened at 8:00.  Admission was free since the floods earlier in the year had closed much of the park to visitation and what little was open was free.  After I had been there half an hour, I got a call from Carolyn Stenberg, a volunteer at Santa Ana NWR whom I met when she volunteered at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR and helped me on the Fisherman Island surveys.  She had gotten my message that I was coming to the valley to look for the oriole and she was on her way to look for it with me.  She arrived and we kept circulating in the area where the oriole had been seen during the past two days.  After two and a half hours, we decided to walk into the park proper since they were re-opening a section today.  When we approached the first feeding station and tram stop, a couple were waving their hands excitedly.  We hurried ahead and there was the oriole (web photo) bathing, then preening, and then climbing up into the twigs and into clear view.  But it continued on up and out of sight.  Cellphone calls to those still back at the visitor center area didn't help.  By the time they arrived, the bird had disappeared.  As far as I know it didn't re-appear for the rest of the morning and maybe for the rest of the day.  I called Joyce to tell her and was told that I had gotten an email from Susan who manages NARBA that since she knew I was in the valley I should try to check out a report of a White-throated Thrush in Pharr TX.  I called the person reporting the bird and made arrangements to meet him in 45 minutes so he could show me the area where he had seen the bird yesterday afternoon.  I said my goodbyes to Carolyn and the others who wished me well on my Big Year and raced off to Pharr.  I met Don at the entrance to the gated RV park and golf course and he took me to the tree where he had seen the bird.  The wind was terrible and there weren't any berry bushes or trees around.  So after two circuits of the only semi-acceptable habitat around the golf course, I left, asking Don to call me if the bird turns up again.  Another phone call from Carolyn invited me to share Christmas dinner with her, her husband, and a group of refuge volunteers.  I accepted and it was a very nice get-together.  Mid-afteernoon I left and drove to Laguna Atascosa NWR to look for the Rufous-backed Thrush that's being seen there.  I had no luck, so decided to try again tomorrow.  I drove to South Padre Island, the location of the nearest motel, got a room and some dinner.  In light of the snow storm which will blanket Norfolk on Sunday, I decided not to move up my return by a day, but instead to come home on Monday.  So I'll have a day and a half more in the valley.  I'll do some slow birding instead of chasing, except I will look for the thrush again tomorrow morning.