Sunday, November 17, 2013

Shooting for 350

Someone asked me recently - when did the Billings Big Year contest go from "the contest" to the "stupid contest" and then to the "stupidfuckingcontest"?  That is a fair question.  Remember - at first I wasn't interested in entering the contest to win. I just wanted to have fun and set a personal goal to see 300 species in our DVOC area. The DVOC area is defined as south Jersey, Eastern PA, and the state of Delaware. Back then, it was "The Contest". Back then, my friend Patty was in the contest for the same reason.  In fact, her personal goal was lower than mine.

Then in April, the list of contestants was published and I discovered that the only serious contestants were me and Patty.  That information put the 2 of us into direct competition to win the contest.  That meant 2 things. First, we both had to take the contest seriously in order to win with a total that is in line with other winners.  And second, we were no longer working together just for fun.  We were both now very invested in doing a Big Year and we both wanted to win the contest.  Ugh.  Hence, "The Contest" turned into the "The Stupid Contest".

Thankfully, the 2 of us came to an agreement to continue to work together and not hold anything back from each other. It makes sense.  We are both chasing the same birds so why not go together? We met our personal goals by June 1st.  300 species for me, 287 for Patty. June 1st.  Ta-da! Now what? We keep going, that's what.  301, 302, 310, 320, 330 by the end of the summer. Running around chasing all of those birds is exhausting.  No rest for the weary. In August, just when we thought we could start to take it easy, the fall rarities started showing up. Hence, "The Stupid Contest" became "thestupidfuckingcontest".

By now - EVERYONE knows that I'm doing a Big Year. I do mean everyone. Birders all over the country, people from the dog park, people at work, clients, hockey players, everyone.  Most conversations start with the question - "What's your number?"  My number as of today is 349 thanks to the Northern Goshawk sighting at Hawk Mountain last Sunday. 349 is huge for me.  Patty is right on my heels with 345. She should close the gap soon with Rough-legged Hawk and Sedge Wren.  We are both pushing for 350 and will get there next Saturday when we go out on another pelagic (open ocean) boat trip.

A few of the birds that required multiple attempts to see last winter are proving to be pretty easy now.  Here are a few. Black-headed Gull.  This bird shows up every year a few blocks from our house in the Villas. I stood there on the beach at least 4 times with no luck. I also went all the way to north Jersey chasing on at Morgan Ave Mud Flats and busted there too before getting a distant view of one at Heislerville. Very disappointing.  The first one of the winter showed up in the Villas yesterday and I finally got a satisfying view.  My Big Year buddies Lester and John joined me on the beach to watch and photograph the bird.  It's not sexy, but it is a coveted Big Year bird.

Black-headed Gull
 I know what you're thinking - where is the black head?  It only has the black head in summer along with alot of other gull species.  The field marks for this bird are the red legs and bill which can be seen in the photos.

Black-headed Gull
Another bird that we chased a few times is Snow Bunting. These are cute little birds that show up along the beaches in winter.  Patty and I went to Cape May and Sandy Hook NJ separately trying to see this bird. We also drove all the way to Rehoboth Beach Delaware a few times before seeing a flock under the bridge at Indian River Inlet.  Of course, they are showing up en masse in November right along the beach in Cape May.  They are so cute that you have to take photos of them.

Snow Bunting

Snow Buntings at Cape May
The other birds that are showing up now are rare hummingbirds.  My friend Harvey has a great yard for hummingbirds and he keeps getting hummingbirds visiting to this day.  I was there on Saturday photographing a hummer that could end up being my #350 if the experts agree that it is a Black-chinned Hummingbird.
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