Sunday, December 30, 2012

NYS 2012 Big Year Summary (Part 3)

So I came into July at 322 species (only 30 shy of the state record) and with an epic June behind me.  I was feeling pretty good about myself and my prospects for breaking the record in the Summer.  After all, Richard Fried had seen a ton of Hurricane Irene waifs and strays, pelagic birds, and other vagrants in the Summer.  Visions of 365, or even 375 swirled in my head.  And then .... well I basically hit a wall and endured three months of pretty crappy birding.  I put in huge numbers of hours and miles, and added very few birds.  I guess Big Years aren't all fun and giggles.

In total I added only 8 year birds during the month of July.  Almost all of them seemed to be hard fought.  A Sandwich Tern required multiple visits to the baking, fly-bitten flats of Cupsogue before it surrendered, and Whimbrel gave in only after an epic number of days searching the bays and flats out East.  I did pick up a few shorebirds, with Stilt Sandpiper, American Avocet and Pectoral Sandpiper at Jamaica Bay and again have to thank for Andrew Baksh for (practically living in the mud at Jamaica Bay all Summer and) keeping me up to speed on the shorebird comings and goings.

Considering I spent so many dozens of hours standing out feeding the biting flies and risking sun-stroke or drowning at Cupsogue, it's perhaps ironic that I wasn't there on the day that Derek Rogers and Ari Gilbert had a Brown Booby fly right over them on the flats.  My attempts at pelagic-birding were also dismal failiures with several charters producing very little in terms of birds and my resorting to Whale-watching boats to get out to sea (they didn't produce much either).

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck after a seriously long drive.
To add birds I ran up to St. Lawrence and Jefferson Counties twice (it's an awfully long way to St. Lawrence County).  One trip added a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck but another added Sedge Wren and Common Nighthawk only after literally days of searching.  And I still couldn't find a Gray Partridge (!) despite serious hours and effort on my part.

So after the dismal July, I was hoping August would be better .... but it wasn't.  I added only 6 species the whole month although I was out birding every day.  With no Summer hurricane, there just weren't a lot of birds to chase.  I did run up to Niagara for a Franklin's Gull but missed it.  I also spent a lot of time out on whale-watching boats, and while I did see lots of dolphins and sea-turtles, I didn't add any birds.

Presumed 'Scopoli's Shearwater' out of Montauk.  Not a species as of yet
but maybe a split one day.
The only adds for August were five species of shorebirds and an American White Pelican at Jamaica Bay.  No vagrants, no seabirds, not all that much fun to be honest.

So this month had to get better right?  Maybe some vagrants?  Or a hurricane?  Or some rare seabirds?

On the plus side a Fork-tailed Flycatcher caused a mad scramble and was a state bird for me - while I missed Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher and Say's Phoebe this year I can hardly complain after lucking into quick views of the short-staying, and infinitely rarer Fork-tailed.  I also managed to finally get out to the Hudson Canyon for a real pelagic trip (after several other bookings on pelagics and fishing boats were cancelled).  Audubon's Shearwater and Leach's Storm-Petrel got to join the list at least, even if we didn't connect with any of the real pelagic goodies.   On the shorebird front, Hudsonian Godwit finally made it onto the list after several misses and a lot of time spent searching for this species.  I was getting through the list of expected birds, it was just really, really hard work.

I ended up seeing lots of Red-necked and Wilson's Phalaropes this year
but somehow managed to miss Red Phalarope.  These Red-necked Phalaropes
were out at the Hudson Canyon.
Even with these birds though, I still only managed 6 year birds in September.  Ever willing to jump in the car for a 15-hour round-trip drive I ran to Rochester for a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper but was a day late.  I also started to get nervous about Brown Pelican as I stubbornly managed to miss the very few that showed up this year.  Seabirds in general did not go well for me this year and by the end of September it became obvious that I'd botched my Summer pelagic season and now missed a good handful of species that were possible with better planning.

Richard Fried had been kind enough to share his record 2011 list with me and I kept staring at this big cluster of year birds that he got in the Summer, and that I simply wasn't replicating.   It's not that there weren't birds around, there were plenty of birds and it was actually a pretty good shorebird season overall (and I did see 38 species of shorebird in New York State this year).  I think it was more that the Summer really highlights the downside of Big Years, and the flip-side of all those endorphins from year birds in May.  Big Years are by their nature extremely goal focussed and it gets tougher and tougher to get new birds as the year moves on.  A great day of shorebirding where I saw 15 species of shorebird including a Ruff at Jamaica Bay would be a really great feeling in any normal year, but this year ... no Hudsonian Godwit .... no smiles.  To be honest I really wasn't having a lot of fun with the whole project by this point and, if I hadn't already sunk so much time into it I would seriously have considered easing off.  At the very least I went into October with 342 species, serious doubts about breaking the record, and really hoping for a change of luck.

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