I’ve created a monster…and he beat me

I’ve created a monster…and he beat me

Not Tom, but a reasonable likeness in dress and expression

Now I know how Dr. Frankenstein felt.

I thought I’d feature a picture of the winner of our first big year contest. Ok, this clearly isn’t Tom, but I’m pretty sure Tom has this shirt (the pink one) and this is clearly Tom’s look when he sees a life bird.

Cape May, NJ with birding enthusiasts

The first big year is over and my old high school buddy Tom won. I admire his tenacity. He put in more time, more consistently than me. I was sure that the arrival of his first granddaughter would slow down his birding pace. Unfortunately, it didn’t. The sad fact, for me anyway, is that Tom spent more time in the field. He finished the year with 183 different species to my 162. Tom’s number is impressive for a working guy and almost all his birds were seen in Connecticut. He doesn’t even have a scope! Not that I do.

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Tom, what bird is this?

Where I went wrong, besides not cheating or flying to Florida in December, was that early on if I couldn’t identify a bird I simply gave up and didn’t add it to my list. If Tom couldn’t identify a bird, he’d guess! (OK, sour grapes, sorry.) No, Tom would try to take a picture and post it on Facebook on the “What’s this bird?” page. I don’t know that any good pictures of birds goes unidentified. The group is very good for identifying those little brown birds (“LBBs” or little brown jobs, “LBJs”). If Tom was really stumped, he’d send the picture to me so I could guess.

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Great Blue Heron

Congratulations Tom. You kicked my butt. (I won’t bring up how often I beat you in high school track because that would be a very pathetic attempt to save my battered pride. That and it would be hard to find witnesses, given our insubstantial track following.)

OK, let’s forget about 2015 and move right on to 2016. I understand we picked up at least one new participant in the 2016 big year competition – Tom’s sister Margot. The contest is open to all birders, not endorsed by Swarovski or Zeiss, who are reliant on field guides, and are unlikely to truly shame either Tom or me (but mostly me). Here is how to enter.

  1. Let me know you are entering.
  2. Watch the movie The Big Year with Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson (whose pink shirt Tom is now wearing) or read the book The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascikby.
  3. Register on Cornell University’s e-Bird site. It is free and this is the best place to find out where to bird, what birds are where, and where to record all your sightings.
  4. Go birding and write down what you see (then record your sightings on e-Bird).
  5. To count a bird species in the contest, the bird must be alive and not a plastic reproduction to scare off or attract other birds, not captive, be seen (not just heard), and be seen within the continental U.S. or immediately offshore. Birds seen in Mexico, Canada, Alaska, and Hawaii don’t count. The competition is on the honor system.

In January or February following completion of a big year, we’ll get together somewhere in the northeast to exchange the perpetual/rotating trophy (once we buy one), swap stories, and perhaps go birding if allowed by our spouses or significant others. This year we are going to Rockport, MA – home of many cute, small shops – according to my wife. It is also home to wintering Snowy Owls and many other birds…just in case some of us don’t want to hang out in cute, small shops.

Tom is already off to a strong start, with over 50 birds already. He even saw a Snowy Owl – a bird I’ve been chasing for several years. I am surprised at how much I enjoyed our big year competition. It has been a great motivator to see new areas and to get our regularly “hunting” birds. I have a good feeling about 2016.

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