Tom’s Big(ger) Year

Tom’s Big(ger) Year

[The following post is brought to you by my good friend and first guest blogger, Tom Kenefick – winner of our first big year contest.]

Who would have thought that a challenge from my favorite blogger would have sent me on an odyssey throughout Connecticut’s bird sanctuaries? When Kristopher contacted me in December of 2014 and asked if I wanted to join him in a mini Big Year, I – of course – said yes.  What better way to see Connecticut parks and wildlife preserves (and a few in New York and Massachusetts)?

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White-winged Dove – East Haven, CT

I developed my fondness for birding from my mother, who in 1977 bought me my first birding field guide.  The book, which I still own and refer to, is the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region.  This one gift opened my eyes to the wonders of birding and gave me a lifetime hobby that I can enjoy anywhere in the world.

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Snow Goose – Windsor, CT

To say that I had a great time in 2015 trekking around Connecticut is an understatement. I never thought that standing on frozen shores of Long Island Sound in Milford with 10-mph wind and 20-degree temperatures would be something I would look forward to doing each Saturday morning for 4 weekends in a row. But I did! Unfortunately, the Snowy Owl I was looking for didn’t have the same affinity for this small piece of tundra that I did.  Of course, I’m used to getting up early in search of wildlife and coming home empty handed. I fished with Kristopher for a number of years in Virginia and rarely caught anything! [True, but who fishes with raisins when they run out of bait?!]

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Hudsonian Godwit – Milford Point, CT

I have always notice the birds around me but never considered them the way I did this past year. So with binoculars (or bins to the pros) and camera in hand I hit the trails. For the first 5 to 6 months, I birded locally, within a 30-minute radius from home. Considering how close I am to Long Island Sound, I have easy access to many shore birds. The good news is that I picked up a lot of species close to home. My rookie mistake, however, was that I kept going to the same places and spotting the same species for months. I guess I thought they would come to me! eBird was a blessing. Who knew that you could find out where the birds were from the comfort of your home. It got a bit easier after that! Finding birds reported on eBird does not guarantee that birds will be there when you are, they do have wings.

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Bubo virginianus imitatio – Martha’s Vineyard, MA

My adventures ranged from the icy, snow-packed marshes along Long Island Sound to the sandy beaches of Martha’s Vineyard. It was on Martha’s Vineyard that I saw my first owl, or maybe not! I crept through marsh grass and thickets with my camera for about 200 feet and took about 10 pictures of the bird. I looked closely at the pictures when I got back to the house and realized that I had stalked a common owl decoy! That was a lifer!

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Pink-footed Goose – Avon, CT

This past year was also a banner year for me with respect to rare species for the region. Early in the year I picked up a Barrow’s Goldeneye outside of Hartford. The Pink-footed Goose was very exciting, as well as the Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Hudsonian Godwit. None of which proved easy to find.

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Ash-throated Flycatcher – Fairfield, CT

I learned that patience and persistence usually worked. But even with those lessons, I didn’t see even half of the birds identified in Connecticut.

I also have come to appreciate common birds I have seen most of my life. I look at gulls differently now. Is it a Ring-billed Gull or a Laughing Gull? Was that a Bonaparte’s Gull or Franklin’s Gull? I may have seen them in the past, but considered them just gulls. Both the Bonaparte’s and Franklin’s Gulls proved to be elusive in 2015. Maybe 2016 will be the year I add them to my life list.

The truth is, the fun was in the journey.  With that said, I saw more species this year than I ever could have imagined. I can’t thank my mother enough for introducing me to bird watching or Kristopher for this friendly challenge. I think 2016 will be a banner year where Kristopher and I both pass 200 species!

 

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