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2011: The rundown

January 2, 2012
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It is all the rage at this time of the year to take a look back, to tally the past 12 months and take stock of the birds you’ve managed to cross paths with during the last spin around the sun.  I’m no different, and perhaps even more eager to do so as I just came off a Little Big Year consisting of the four counties of the Research Triangle, the part of North Carolina where I hang my hat, and binoculars.

This sort of post is the ultimate in self-gratification, but bear with me.  I’ll try to put in a bunch of photos to make it somewhat more exciting that the backside of the baseball card stats that only hard-core listers* care about.  But I do.  Listing appeals to my obsessive nature, and it’s fun to find new birds even if I mostly sort of stumble upon them.  I’m not really competitive about it except with myself (though I admit I peruse the eBird top 100 lists more than I should…), and it’s a useful way to catalog my birding experience.  Yeah, I list.  What of it?

*A tangent, I suppose I would have to define myself as “hard-core” in that I’m sort of obsessive about keeping careful lists for relatively arbitrary geographical entities (e.g. counties), but I’m not a super hard-core twitcher (though I have been known to twitch).  I guess I feel like a distinction needs to be made there, even if it really doesn’t. 

So, now that I’ve defended myself from my imaginary demons and hastily constructed strawmen, here’s the run down of my birding year, 2011.

I saw a total of 357 species and entered eBird checklists for 11 states.  In decreasing order of species, those states are North Carolina (242), Texas (168), Florida (96), Massachusetts (80), South Carolina (69), Missouri (58), Pennsylvania (47), New York (35), New Jersey (9), Illinois (3), and Maryland (1).  Those last two were from airplane layovers.  Yes, I eBird airports.

I had 11 new birds for the state of north Carolina, including the second state record of Allen’s Hummingbird and some incredible White-tailed Tropicbirds putting me at 324 for North Carolina.

State bird, lifer, stunner

The year saw me add 12 ABA-area life birds, the most I’ve had in a long time.  Plus, an additional two that the jury is still out on.  King Rail, heard in Orange County, Florida, in March gets put on the provisional list because I never actually saw it (yeah, I’m something of a philistine when it comes to counting life birds), and Aplomado Falcon, in Cameron County, Texas, is currently from the population that isn’t countable.  But, the bird I saw was sans jewelry, which means it was a wild-born individual, and a little bird told me that the Texas Bird Records Committee is going to re-evaluate that population soon.  So, fingers crossed.

Even so, 12 is pretty good. Especially when it contains long-time nemesis birds like Great Shearwater and Ross’s Goose.  Twas a good year for lifers.

On the home front, the Triangle Big Year ended at 209, a respectable total that included such awesome inland birds as Parasitic Jaeger, Long-tailed Duck, American Oystercatcher, and Greater White-fronted Goose. Like my North Carolina Big Year in 2008, it meant a ton of new birds on my Triangle area county lists, which is sort of the reason you do something like this.  For my home county of Orange, I added 13 new species the best probably being the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers that hatched (but not fledged?) young out west of Chapel Hill.

For Chatham County, there were 24 new county birds.  Top billing goes either to the Golden-winged Warbler (a long-time state nemesis) or the Franklin’s Gull, the bird that should have been mine had I been aware enough to trust my birding gut.  Note to kids out there, always trust your birding gut if it’s telling you to stop…

You should have been my sighting...

But it was Durham and Wake Counties that pulled in the big lists and anchored my Big Year attempt.  I ended up with 36 new birds for Durham County, highlighted by the aforementioned Parasitic Jaeger.  Awesome.  With Wake, it was 40 new birds, best of which was probably the completely random Surf Scoter at a forested pond by the airport.  It goes to show you how much luck plays a role in any listing game.

Unexpected is thy name

The run of great birds in the triangle this year almost makes up for the embarrassing dip of Eastern Screech-Owl (I even went out the night of the 31st and had zero luck) and the bewildering lack of chasable Black-bellied Plovers this fall, as well as the fact that a county line misunderstanding had me miss a half dozen amazing shorebirds (including, but not limited to Piping Plover, Willet, American Golden-Plover, Red Knot…)  that I thought were outside my boundary but in fact were barely over the Durham line.  That certainly stung.

But in the end it was a great year, one I’m not likely to repeat in 2012.  But I have other plans.  The Triangle Big Year, having been put to rest for the time being, will be replaced by a renewed attempt at making some headway in the Carolina Century Club, my challenge to see 100 species of birds in as many North and South Carolina counties as I can.  So today, January 2, will see me next door in Alamance County looking for total ticks.  Onward and upward, friends. There’s always something new to look for.

Thanks for reading.

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One Comment
  1. January 20, 2012 11:20 am

    I ended around 230ish… not too shabby, but I really want to try to to a real triangle big year when I get a car.

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