Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Big year: An overview

 Short-eared Owl-Boundary bay

What would a big year blog be without an overview of where I went wrong and what I did right? It's always fun to see the list of missed birds and this year I missed a lot this year.  According to Ebird there were 394 species seen this year, I saw 91 percent of them. That's an A in my book.

Northern Pintail-Reifel

Alot of the birds I missed were one day wonders or late reports or things I could not get to because of work. I won't mention those ones but the ones I could have got, and for the most part, Should have got.

1. Tufted Duck
There was a tufted duck near Cranbrook for almost 2 weeks, I don't exactly remember my reasoning for not going. I had gone to Cranbrook earlier in the year. I was chasing Black-necked Stilts all over the place and turns out I would've gotten one at the same place the Tufted Duck was seen. I did end up going after it later, getting a Ross's Goose out of the deal.

2 Rock Ptarmigan
This was a tough one to miss. I tried for it at Pink Mountain and after a few hours of slogging around up there I gave up. I also wasted a day going to Stone Mountain Park, only to find the gate was locked to the road that goes up the mountain. I held hopes that one would be seen on Mount Steele but birders who went out there never saw any. My last chance was Mt Mackenzie near Quesnel. The 4 day weekend I had planned on going up there I ended up getting a flu and was bedridden for a couple days leaving me no time to get up there. After that it snowed pretty much right after and I had no more chances.

3. Short-tailed Shearwater
I hoped for one on the Pelagics I went on but no such luck, they are generally seen later in season anyways. I was hoping for one when I went to Port Hardy but it was a long shot, I would've gone to Amphrite Point in Ucluelet but even then with my little scope and bad weather, the chances of me being able to see one clearly enough to separate it from a sooty were slim to none.

4. White-faced Ibis
I missed a flock of these at Wasa Sloughs by a day. Vancouver to Cranbrook is a long drive and I ended up birding along the way so by the time I got there it was too late. This year there weren't a lot of big rains in the spring which kept things on the ground. Because of it one day wonders were numerous.

5. Hudsonian Godwit
This was a big surprise because usually one shows up in fall migration either on the coast or Salmon Arm Bay, but none were reported. If I had gone to the peace river in May I might have had a chance, but I didn't have time to make a big trek like that for one or two species.

6. Iceland Gull
One was seen at Robert Lake in March but I was counting on one showing up closer to home.The only other one was in Nanaimo in early December, I hoped I would have time to stop on the way back from seeing the Hooded Oriole but it was already dark.

7. Lesser Black-baked Gull
there was one at Penticton waterfront for 2 days I made it there on the third day and it was gone. It was seen again in Vernon a few weeks later, and again I missed it by two days. Since then no other reports surfaced, and I can say I at least made a valiant effort on the bird.

8. Burrowing Owl
This one was one of those that stings. I for sure thought I would see it, I spent two days in Comox searching the beach, and then a week later I spent another day. It would have been the perfect way to finish my big year. I can at least say I saw a bunch of Burrowing Owls at Lac Du Bois this year, but they were all banded, and thus not countable.

9. Great-crested Flycatcher
This would have been an amazing bird to see. When I first went after it it was an Ash-throated Flycatcher. The next time I went after it it was a Great-crested. Part of the reason I missed this is my work schedule was changed because I took a new position and went from having 2 days off right when this was being seen, to having to work 8-4.

10. Citrine Wagtail
Easily the biggest miss, and the one I could easily have seen. I waited until February to go for it and missed it twice. My only consolation is I did see it in November.

11. Hoary Redpoll
There were no Redpolls this winter, but last winter there were a few I could have gone after, namely in Golden. But the car I had at the beginning of the year was pretty much a piece of garbage and I was unwilling to risk driving 8 hours through numerous mountain passes.

12. Brown Thrasher
Another long staying bird I was too lazy to go for, I ended up going to cranbrook like a week after it was last seen. But could easily have gotten it between jan and feb if only I had the nerve to brave the mountain passes.

Long-eared Owl

Where I went wrong.

My philosophy at the beginning was more about seeing the regular species than chasing rarities. I began to realize a little too late that rarities should be my number one priority. Jan 1st I should have been looking for the Citrine Wagtail in Comox instead of going in February. I did luck out with Gray Partridge as it was the first bird I saw in the Okanagan, and I assumed it would be one of the harder birds to find. I also did not do any owling at the beginning of the year, and perhaps if I had gotten alot of the harder to find owls such as Boreal and Great Gray at the beginning of the year I would have had more time to look for rarities instead of spending a weekends looking for Owl in late October.

Northern Waterthrush-Swan Lake Dawson Creek

I also focused too much on numbers for the longest time. I realize now that worrying about adding Mourning Dove and Brown-headed Cowbird to the list in February was pointless when I would end up seeing them everywhere in May. I probably should have been researching other birders thoughts on their big years to figure this out, but it was too late when I did. I never really got into the swing of things until April, and if I had figured it out sooner I no doubt would have had a way better finishing total. If you look at my misses, all the really big ones were between January and March.

Saw-whet Owl

What I did right.

I think what I am most proud of is how well I did in the Peace River. I did have help but considering I had never birded the area I managed to see all of the specialties, it took until my last day there but its a great achievement. Some people have to visit 2 or 3 times to nail them all down, I think doing so well there boosted my confidence exponentially. I also got all my Okanagan specialties, including Sage Thrasher, which to me was the highlight of my year maybe, as I had wanted to see them since I was a 13 year old. Lastly I managed to rock my two Pelagics. I was lucky enough to get two of them, if I had missed one or the other I  wouldn't have been successful on the open ocean.

Black-headed Grosbeak-Chetwynd

Luck definitely played a big part of this year, as it does in probably every one. If I deconstruct all my decisions its almost hard to say I would change anything. Imagine perhaps I had managed to see Sharp-tailed Sandpiper during thanksgiving weekend instead of searching for the Yellow Wagtail on the Island. If had had, then I would not have chased the one at Esquimalt Lagoon, and if I hadn't gone after that I wouldn't have gotten the Chestnut Collared Longspur. If I had gotten Willow Ptarmigan at Pink Mountain I may never have gone up to Morfee mountain and got Gray-cheeked Thrush. There are a plethora of situation where this happened, so I can't agonize over most of my choices, I think there are three main ones though.

Great Gray Owl fledgling

If I had gone for the Tufted Duck I would've gotten that bird, Ross's Goose and Black-necked Stilt, which would've saved me alot of driving later on in May. I definitely should've got the Citrine Wagail, and Also Brown Thrasher is one i could have easily gotten. But aside from that, I regret nothing.

Anyways this concludes my big year, I will be posting a final list of the 363 species I saw. All these pictures are my favourite ones from this past year.
take care

Solitary Sandpiper

Yellow-rumped Warbler


  1. Ryan, well done on your big year. I enjoyed reading your blog updates throughout the year. How many new BC birds did you get in 2013 if you have that handy.

    All the best in the new year

    1. Bravo! well done. Only 10 away from RC, so not bad at all, really. Very impressive. More fun this coming year! Hope to see you up here, or maybe down there? !!

    2. @chris mcdonald I just checked on ebird and I started the big year at 313 BC birds, and ended with 380, so 67 BC birds! I definitely moved up in the ranks

    3. Dianne! Thanks for helping me with the Blue Jay, I hope to come back to Cranbrook sometime in the spring, but if you are in vancouver let me know.