|Black Skimmer at Milford Point, CT|
Back on December 17, 2014, I published a post about a “big year” birding contest several friends and I started amongst ourselves. The idea was to get off our butts, get outside, have some fun, and maybe learn a thing or two.
Keeping in the spirit of any guy undertaking, Jim and Tom immediately went out and bought new binoculars. No doubt the new “bins” will be crucial in securing a win. Perhaps not.
We are over 11 months into our “Big Year birding death match.” Currently I’m in second place. This wouldn’t be too bad if there were more than three people in our contest. (Let the record show that I was in the lead briefly after a three-day birding weekend in Cape May, NJ – attending a Observatory-sponsored event.)
Jim spends a lot more time outdoors than either Tom or me, but he is busy operating earth-moving equipment. If was really good at his job he could keep one eye free to identify birds while excavating.
I’m at 162 different species since January 1. Tom, the current leader, has over 170 birds, with all but a few from Connecticut. The majority of my birds are from Virginia, followed by New York (Central Park), Vermont, New Jersey, and California.
Of course my first reaction to Tom’s lead was that Tom was seeing things, had poor eyesight, was hallucinating, possibly had too many drinks. Sadly, I’ve come to realize that Tom is actually kicking my butt the old-fashioned way. He’s spending the time outside and actually hunting down these little feathered dinosaurs. (These posted pictures are only a couple of the hundreds Tom has taken this year.)
Some would think that I might be upset at the prospect of losing my own contest. On the contrary. I’m quite comfortable losing my own contests – Exhibit A would be our annual Thanksgiving archery contest (complete with trophy) that I started. I haven’t won it in over three years. I am getting somewhat smarter though. I’m having Tom locate his trophy, rather than me buying it only to award it to him.
We hope to cap this year’s contest with a dinner where we can swap birding stories and bore our wives. Tom did tell me a good story of him stocking an owl to add to his list. Tom has never seen an owl in the wild, so he was pretty excited to see one on the far side of a marsh. He started picking his way through the reeds and muck. When he finally got close enough to get a good look through his binoculars he was able to identify it as a plastic owl! Hey, plastic owls fool pest birds, why not Tom?
It has been a great year so far. I have spent more time hunting birds to spot than I have ever spent hunting game – probably because the birding season lasts all year. I have birded at home, on a business trip in San Francisco, while visiting my daughter in New York City, while hiking in Virginia, and on birding trips to Cape May, NJ. Some days I only get out for a couple hours. Other days, I’m out all day.
What I’ve learned so far is that I know the birds that come to our feeder really well. So that accounts for about 10 species of birds. Most of the other 151 birds were new to me. “Lifers” as it were. Many of these I was looking for by going where they were regularly seen. Other birds I had to look up in the field. Many of these were missed. They simply refused to pose for me long enough.
Tom did share one of his birding secrets – he outsourced to the internet. He posts pictures he’s taken of birds that he can’t identify or is looking for identity confirmation on the Facebook group “What’s this bird.” Some people post some amazing pictures. I can even identify some of them.
The contest continues through the end of the month…then it starts again, and again, and again. Contact me if you are interested in participating in the 2016 contest.