The Birding Chronicles

My brother Ron and I have decided to do what what we are referring to as an “Average Year”. This is essentially a scaled down version of what birders commonly refer to as a “Big Year” where the objective is to find as many unique bird species in a calendar year. The “Big” adjective is a bit daunting as neither of us have the extra funds or spare time to chase birds anywhere close to the 650+ low water mark of the upper echelons in the birding community – not to mention my own life list just made it to only the 300 mark last December. I am not sure yet what kind of numbers we will be able to put up, but I think we would be very happy if we could hit around the 250 range. I can tell you we got off to a great start each putting up over 130 in the first week in January alone. The problem is the effort over time looks like an exponential graph – easier to rack up numbers at the beginning of the year, but as the species count goes up, the harder it becomes to find ones that will ding the new bird bell. This should be a lot of fun and siblings pitted against each other usually generates some great stories along the way. To be honest, when we are together in the field the competition part drops away and our efforts become joined – on our own though… well that is a different story hehehe.

We have tried to set up some rules for our friendly competition. First off all, almost all the rules from our previously established “Field Guide for Competitive Birder Rules of Engagement” (link here) still hold. For Ron’s sake, we did suspend rule 6 requiring a featured blog post to get the bird added to the count. After some initial debate, a photograph of the bird sufficient to confirm the ID is still required (rule 4), although now a web gallery is not required (rule 20). Note, if we are both at the same place, see the same bird, but only one of us accomplishes a photograph, then the other person can use that other individual’s shot for the count. This gets rid of the caveats of one getting penalized for being at a bad angle or missed the shot due to pointing out the location to the other person etc. etc.. Unlike politics, we still strive to be civilized.

To help chronicle the journey and allow my readers to watch our progress, I’ll be putting up monthly totals along with graphs and details throughout the year. We’ve created quite the elaborate spreadsheet so we can monitor the competition – figure I’ll just grab screen shots of those counts and graphs and put them here for convenience. Looking forward to see how this plays out. What I can say is it has added a lot more stress when we are out in the field, especially when traveling to various birding venues – we cannot afford to miss the target birds if we are going to get anywhere near the 250 range.

The year has started out quite well thanks to our annual trip down the Texas Gulf Coast. For ease, decided I would just screen shot our metric graphs

Our cumulative species count for first two weeks of the year.

As we are in the first month, the monthly and cumulative chars are a bit redundant. I am currently sitting at 167 where Ron had to head back to the cold tundra of Illinois with 134, but has been able to push that up by 18 (152) birding in the cold.

I actually like the daily graph the best as it adds that spirit of competition ha! It is a bit unfair as I am still reaping the benefits of the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio and now Mississippi birding.

Update 01/27/22: As we head home, decided to stop back at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park in Jackson, MS. I found several Hooded Mergansers there on our first visit, but that was technically December and didn’t count towards our Average Year. They have been there every time we’ve come and sure enough, they were enjoying the ponds/lakes in the park once again. Managed to get a new lifer with a Bonapart’s Gull that was hanging out with a small flock of the Hoods. Linda wasn’t feeling the greatest, so we opted to stay overnight giving me a chance to walk their very nice nature trail. Racked up several birds (over 20) along with a confirmed 9 for the Average Year list. May be able to add a couple of more once the Wren pictures are checked against the reference (Winter, House or both!). They have a ton of Red-Headed Woodpeckers here and a surprising number of Palm Warblers. White-Throated Sparrows were a nice add along with a brief visit from a Hermit Thrush. A small group of Cedar Waxwings decided to show themselves as well. Highly recommend this place to any birders. Nice campground and the trails are nicely cut and rocked with several boardwalks.

Update 01/25/22: Did some birding around Galveston Island. First stop was Galveston Island State Park. The rain had subsided finally. A lot of the park is shut down as they rebuild the camp grounds. Once again found a Clapper Rail on the Clapper Rail Trail at the first boardwalk. Little Blue Heron was hanging out at the end of that road. Managed to get two White Tailed Kites in a tree as we were exiting the park. So far, been able to get that species on every visit there. From there went down 8 Mile Road. Nice area to bird from the car with multiple ponds and the bay to hunt. Linda spotted a Falcon perched on a field across a field. Had to put the tele on to even have a chance of figuring it out. From the looks of it and some flight shots, guessing it was a Peregrine. Further down that road spotted a Merlin in a nearby tree. That was a lifer for me. That road provides a good chance of getting Sandhills if you need them.

From there went on to the Texas City Dike. Large amount of Gulls and Terns there. Will need to get the reference books out to figure out what they are. Saw three Loons while we were driving the dike, but the real find was the flock of Eared Grebes. Also found Turnstones, Willets and a Sparrow that still needs to be identified.

Busy day as we then headed to Anahuac NWR in hopes of getting better pictures of the Short-Eared Owl. Road to back part of refuge where we fond the Owls hunting previously was too mushy to take the RV and turned back for a quick run through the auto-tour. Usuals where there along with loads of Black-Bellied Whistling-Ducks. While shooting a small flock by the boardwalk, noticed two of them were slightly different than the others. Remembered they had seen Fulvous Whistlers there – sure enough I was staring right at them which added another +1 to my lifer giving me 2 for the day! Shot a few Raptors, Hawks or Harriers as we made our way down the last loop of the tour. A busy day, but worth it for sure

Update 01/19/22: Today I managed to tin a new lifer thanks to a new State Park we visited called Guadalupe River State Park – considered the second prettiest river in Texas! Can’t wait to get back and start posting on all the new finds … wait.. scratch that.. I can wait a bit longer to go back into the Illinois ice box ha!