Big Year Blues
Since I decided in June to make this year as big a birding year as possible in New York State I have been putting far too much effort into finding species that, seemingly, do not want to be found. Especially the two woodpeckers, American Three-toed and Black-backed, that in New York State occur only in the Adirondacks. Despite numerous visits to the magnificent Adirondack Park, I have been unable to track down either of the eye-pleasing, yellow-capped woodpeckers.
Also, because I waited until June to start this Big Year attempt in earnest I missed a couple of important opportunities, like the pelagic trip in February that would have netted me five more species, or nearly two percent of my ultimate goal of 300. I am currently at 262, the three most recent birds being added thanks to the counting skills of fellow birder and New York Big Yearer, Jory, who carefully monitors his own progress on a spreadsheet and offered to include the other Albany-area Big Year birders in his own record-keeping. When I sent him my year list he counted them up and let me know that I should never have graduated kindergarten as I had been under the illusion that I was stuck at 259!
But other than discovered bookkeeping errors it is getting amazingly difficult to add more species. Around Albany I will have a hard time getting anything new until the shorebirds start moving south in numbers (most north-bound shorebird migrants do not head up the Hudson River corridor). Even if I manage to find a couple shorebird species that tend to come through here, like White-rumped Sandpipers and American Golden Plovers, I will still have to head west to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge and south to Jamaica Bay to get other shorebirds that are particularly difficult to find. And speaking of difficult-to-find birds, I decided NOT to chase the Curlew Sandpiper, a vagrant from Europe, that is currently being spotted at Jamaica Bay. If it’s there next weekend though…
Then there are a couple of south-bound migrant warblers I have a shot at: the notoriously elusive Connecticut Warbler and the never-seen-by-me Tennessee Warbler. Hopefully I’ll find them both. Other tough birds I might yet track down will take some travel. I’ll have to head out to Niagara Falls this winter for rare-but-regular larids like Little Gull and California Gull and out to Long Island’s east end for Harlequin Duck, Common Eider, and both Black and Surf Scoters (I’ve actually seen Black Scoters in New Jersey and Surf Scoters in California this year but my Big Year is in New York).
And though I missed the February pelagic in New York waters I’m already signed up for the one in September, and, if need be, I’ll do the December one too. That should take care of seabirds!
I also have the vagrant western birds to look forward to this fall. Every year some birds get the migratory impulse but they get it all screwed up and fly east instead of south. Not that I’m complaining though, as the directionally-impaired still count!
Finally, I can hope for an early-winter irruption of Common Redpolls and Bohemian Waxwings or any of the northern owls except for Snowy Owl.
If anyone out there is reading this in the hopes I’ll share some Big Year advice I have some: Don’t do it! And if you do, decide to do your Big Year the previous year so you can hit the ground running on January first. It might seem like my task is easy, with over five months left and only 38 species to go, but it’s going to be close. See you somewhere in New York!
a Hairy Woodpecker in the Adirondacks, nice, but not what I was looking for
To add insult to injury a fellow birder just posted a link to this video of Black-backed Woodpeckers in the Adirondacks on a local listserv!