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A Big Year for a local birder

January 6, 2011
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In 2008, I tried to do a Big Year in the state of North Carolina. It was, by the conventional definition of a Big Year, a complete failure.  I couldn’t even crack the 300 bird mark, a fairly arbitrary but reasonable milestone, let alone threaten the record at the time of 349.  I ended the year at a respectable-by-any-other-definition 299, beaten by the one-two punch of high gas prices and poor planning.  A Big Year is not something to take lightly, not an effort to take on by the seat of your pants, but it was  not a complete loss.

By the definition of having fun and seeing a lot of birds in a lot of the state, it couldn’t have been more successful.  Sure, I missed Black-billed Cuckoo and dipped an incredible six times on a Black-headed Gull, but I saw European Storm-Petrel and 26 other lifers in the state.  I self-found two excellent rarities, a Glaucous Gull and an Ash-throated Flycatcher.  And I covered a lot of territory from Ashville east to the Gulf Stream.  From a competitive standpoint it may have been a bust, but from a personal standpoint it was nothing short of a wild success and most of the time when I was actually in the field, a ton of fun.

So I began to think about ways that I could harness the fun and competitiveness of Big Year birding without having to keep to the rough travel schedule that wears on you over the 12 long months.  I wanted a little Big Year, one less intensive, perhaps even one without a record to shoot for.  Just a solid year of trying to see as many birds as possible in a designated area, but not one too big.  I think I’ve come up with the solution, and I’m going to attempt it for 2011.

I present to you, the Triangle Big Year.

The Triangle, or the Research Triangle, is the area of North Carolina where I live.  Traditionally, the three angles sit on the campuses of the three research institutions in the area, University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Duke University in Durham, and North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and the many large and small communities within Orange, Durham, Wake and Chatham counties.  As an already designated region, this is precisely the kind of area just begging for a Big Year run, and the best part about it is that none of the boundaries are more than 30 minutes away from my home.  The counties in question, the region that will see the wrath of my binoculars and know the heel of my birding boots, are below in green.

Will the birding itself be good?  Within the four counties lie two major reservoirs and several smaller lakes, four state parks and several smaller city, county, and state preserves.  It’s actually one of the best regions in the state to do something like this and best, I don’t know that anyone ever has.  That means no number to shoot for, no pressure to top anyone, and no guilt if I take a weekend off (which, honestly, I’m unlikely to do anyway).   According to eBird,  275 species have been reported in those four counties, though I suspect the actual number is closer to 300.  Not bad my any means.  In fact, in the past White Wagtail, Gray Flycatcher, and several pelagic species have shown up in this area, so the potential for really excellent birds is there and if any of those birds are found by any of the hundreds of active birders in the area, chasing them won’t take more than a couple hours.  And truth told, chasing regional rarities is probably the only thing I’ll do differently from my normal birding this year.

I think I can fairly easily get to 150, and 200 would be an excellent total indeed.  My total Triangle area list currently sits at 214 so getting there isn’t out of the realm of possibility by any means.  In my first week I’m at 47 and growing every day.  I’m sort of excited about it.  At the very least, I’ll probably keep it going longer than my Bird a Day attempt last year.  Now that was a grueling and thankless attempt.

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12 Comments
  1. laurent permalink
    January 6, 2011 9:56 am

    Good luck! Time to focus on snow buntings, longspurs, and crossbills!!!

  2. January 6, 2011 10:27 am

    What are you doing blogging? You are on a Big Year! Get out there and bird already!

  3. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    January 6, 2011 10:53 am

    A noble goal Nate! Looking forward to how this pans out.

    Incidentally, I’m at 58 species for the Triangle so far this year. Catch up, man! 😉

  4. January 6, 2011 11:14 am

    Great idea!!! I’m aready at 75, so better get that list up!!! I aleady have once chased bird as well, Black Scoter on Falls Lake.

    • BirdTrainerRobert permalink
      January 6, 2011 1:17 pm

      Man, we looked for the Scoter after we dipped on the Kanata Shrikes. Nothin’ but Buffleheads and Hooded Mergs… first dip of the year, alright!

      • January 6, 2011 2:21 pm

        Haha, sorry you missed the shrike! And they got them there on the CBC there yesterday… Lol, I’m sure my first dip of the year will be very, very soon.

  5. January 6, 2011 1:21 pm

    Good luck! I decided to do a Jersey Big Year this year and I’m already wondering what I was thinking when I made that decisi0n. I’m doing a BIGBY this year too.

  6. January 6, 2011 3:54 pm

    Best of luck! Ive done the county-big-year thing, and theyre fun. Hell of a lot less gas wasted and you dont have to worry about lacking the resources to get obscure birds 15 states away.

  7. Nate permalink*
    January 6, 2011 4:24 pm

    @Laurent- Thanks. For me it’s all waterfowl all the time. I need to get them before they disperse.

    @Corey- Quiet you! I’m got plans for the weekend that involve some significant filling of gaps on my burgeoning list.

    @Robert- I’ll get there. I should be closer to 80 in a week or so.

    @Ali- If you and Robert are turning this into a competition, I’m worried about my ability to set any sort of record here.

    @ammodramus- Jersey seems to be to be a reasonable state to cover in a Big Year, I wouldn’t hesitate to tackle it providing you’ve got some pelagic plans.

    @Steve- Thanks! You’re right about the travel thing. That’s what killed me before. I think I can manage a Big Year if the farthest I have to go is about 45 mins away.

  8. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    January 6, 2011 7:40 pm

    lol, I’m not crazy enough to go for any kind of Big Year – Triangle or otherwise… but that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna try to find as many birds as possible!

  9. January 7, 2011 12:03 am

    Good luck with the Triangle big year!

  10. January 10, 2011 11:23 am

    are you going to create a patch for the 3 counties on ebird?

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