2011: The Year in Birds

The fact that I saw more kinds of birds in 2011 was not because I had declared a Big Year in the traditional sense; that would have involved making deliberate plans to see as many species during the calendar year as possible. As I look at what I've been doing over the past 364 days, however, there's no denying it: this was a Big Year. I saw more birds, and learned more about birding) than I ever have in a single twelve-month period. Take a look:

Not much hardcore birding--mostly just looking around the home or checking out what was sitting on the wires by the roadside. 19 species, including:
Northern Mockingbird (first bird of 2011)
Carolina Chickadee
American Raven (over the guardhouse at Woodberry)
Carolina Wren (in our carport)
Red-shouldered Hawk
White-crowned Sparrow
American Robin (yes, they winter here)

Again, no outings dedicated to birding, but there were things to see. 10 species, including:
Northern Flicker (a common sight this year after several years of scarcity)
Red-tailed Hawk
Great Egret (logged in Newport News during a college visit with Dixon)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Cooper's Hawk
Savannah Sparrow

I leave home for my sabbatical on the 13th, at which point I enter a zone of heavy birding, both on the road to Ithaca and in the town itself, mainly at Stewart Park and on the grounds of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. No life birds yet, but plenty of stuff I haven't seen in a while.
38 species, including:
Eastern Phoebe (nesting in our carport again)
Ring-necked Duck (first species logged after leaving home)
Tundra Swan (one of many waterfowl species seen along the flooded Susquehanna River)
Redhead (first in over 20 years)
Black-capped Chickadee (first species logged at the CLO)
American Tree Sparrow
Snow Goose (first of many species logged at Ithaca's Stewart Park)
Bald Eagle
Green-winged Teal
Ruddy Duck
Wood Duck
Eastern Meadowlark (first species logged during my Spring Field Ornithology course)
Fox Sparrow
Rusty Blackbird
Northern Pintail

Shifting into higher gear, with regular SFO field trips. Visits to Montezuma NWR and Braddock Bay Banding Station are highly productive, as is a short trip home to Virginia.
52 species, including:
Common Loon (first sighting in breeding plumage. Purty.)
Greater Scaup (swimming BESIDE some Lesser Scaups, making direct comparison possible!)
Great Horned Owl (nesting in Stewart Park's woods)
Wild Turkey
Common Redpoll (staying late at the CLO)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (logged, appropriately, at the CLO's Sapsucker Woods preserve)
Long-tailed Duck
Common Teal (first lifer of 2011, seen with green-wings at Montezuma NWR)
Trumpeter Swan (second lifer of 2011, seen near the Montezuma Audubon Center)
Eurasian Wigeon (third lifer of 2011, seen on pond behind the Montezuma Audubon Center)
Sandhill Crane
Bonaparte's Gull (only my second-ever sighting)
Warbling Vireo (also only my second-ever sighting)

Now it's time for serious birding. Lots of migrants are coming through Sapsucker Woods, and I end the month with a trip through New England with my parents, but the jewel in the crown is our SFO class field trip to Cape May, New Jersey.
77 species, including:
Yellow Warbler
Nashville Warbler (lifer #4 for the year)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Little Blue Heron (a surprise in Ithaca: a white-plumed juvenile visits the CLO pond)
Tennessee Warbler (lifer #5 for the year)
Laughing Gull (first species logged in Forsythe NWR for our epic SFO trip)
Forster's Tern
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Least Sandpiper (lifer #6 for the year, in the marsh of Forsythe NWR)
Seaside Sparrow (lifer #7 for the year)
Gull-billed Tern
Brant (lifer #8)
Black-bellied Plover
Clapper Rail (lifer #9, logged after we'd quit for the day and gone to eat dinner)
Wilson's Phalarope (lifer #10, logged after we'd gotten back on the bus following the rail sighting)
Purple Sandpiper (lifer #11, clambering on the rocks of Higbees Beach)
Black Scoter (lifer #12, off Higbees Beach)
White-eyed Vireo
Yellow-breasted Chat
Blue Grosbeak
Piping Plover
Scarlet Tanager
Baltimore Oriole (back at the CLO)
American Redstart
Chestnut-sided Warbler (second-ever sighting)
Blackpoll Warbler (second-ever sighting--and much, much better than the first)
Wilson's Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler (spectacular sighting: bathing in a stream not six feet from me)
Magnolia Warbler
Swainson's Thrush (lifer #13)
Bobolink (and yes, they sound just like R2D2)
Hooded Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Common Goldeneye (first seen since my trip to Cleveland in 2007)
Black-throated Green Warbler
Common Eider (lifer #14, spotted in the rain off the coast of Acadia National Park, Maine)
Black Guillemot (lifer #15, swimming alongside the eiders above)
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (lifer #16, at Parker River NWR, Massachusetts)
Black Tern

Sabbatical over, I'm home in Virginia at last, but I get in a quick visit to West Virginia, and at the end of the month take a trip out west with Dad.
8 species, including:
Willow Flycatcher (lifer #17, at Canaan Valley NWR, West Va.)
Summer Tanager (in Carter Caves State Park, Kentucky)
Upland Sandpiper (near Emporia, KS--my first since my trip to Iowa in 1995)
Dickcissel (at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas)
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (first time in its usual habitat;a pair ended up in Virginia a while ago)

I finish up the Great Plains swing, then park at home for the rest of the summer.
13 species, including:
Great-tailed Grackle
Cliff Swallow
Red-headed Woodpecker (yes, they have woodpeckers in Kansas; trees, too)
White Pelican (almost in Nebraska, at Kirwin NWR)
Western Kingbird (lifer #18, also at Kirwin NWR)
Western Meadowlark (not seen since Iowa '95)
Lark Sparrow (lifer #19, on the road to Crescent Lake NWR, Nebraska)
Lark Bunting
Yellow-headed Blackbird (lifer #20, also on the road to Crescent Lake NWR)
Brewer's Blackbird
Orchard Oriole
Ring-necked Pheasant (on the way back from Crescent Lake)

Nothing in August.
Like I said, parked.

School starts, birding almost stops.
1 species, voice only (Barred Owl, heard from our bedroom.)

School still in session.
The big zilch.

I get out to Sky Meadows State Park with Mary Stevens, but it's not an especially busy month.
1 species (Golden-crowned Kinglet, which turns up at Sky Meadows and then in my yard when I get back.)

I cross the line into obsession with an epic 800-mile round-trip journey to Tennessee (via Asheville, NC, to meet my friend Alan Barry) in order to log a rare Asian crane. I also get a few new birds on my trip to Savannah to visit my grandmother.
5 species:
Hooded Crane (lifer #21, at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, TN, despite its usual Asian range)
Whooping Crane (lifer #22, two of a small flock that migrate between Wisconsin & Florida)
American Avocet (first since Bombay Hook '96--a flock in winter plumage at Savannah NWR, SC)
Tricolored Heron
Loggerhead Shrike

BONUS: arguably the worst-ever photograph of a life bird (with the possible exception of my legendarily crappy Kirtland's Warbler shot from 2010). Behold the Hooded Crane!:

100_4666.JPGYes, you can see the charcoal-grey body and white head, but since the bird was standing at the waterside around 100 yards from the observation platform, that's about all you can see.

*My life list now stands at 390 species
*I have now seen life birds in 32 of the 50 states
*I saw 22 life birds and 224 species in 2011
, which is by far the largest total I've ever logged in a calendar year since I started listing birds by year back in 2004. That year I totalled my previous best, 166 species, largely by going on a January count in the Shenandoah Valley, touring South Florida with my dad in March, going to Cape May for NJ Audubon's Spring Weekend, and wrapping up the year with two Christmas counts in eastern North Carolina. This year, obviously, the trips to New England and the Great Plains were very helpful in adding new birds, but those two months of carefully watching everything that migrated through the Ithaca area (not to mention two highly concentrated days of birding in Cape May with expert assistance) really gave me the most extraordinary birding experience I've ever had. I may total more species during some future Big Year, but I cannot imagine having a more eye-opening twelve months than I've had in 2011.

And that, folks, is big.


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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on December 31, 2011 11:24 AM.

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