Monday, December 31, 2018

End-of-year recap

December 29th ended up being my last day of birding, as my cat got sick that afternoon so I've been staying home with him since then (he is fortunately starting to improve now). So the Northern Shrike was indeed my last bird of the year!

A Big Year is all about the numbers, so here they are:

238 species
2136 miles biked
59 miles walked
309 hours spent birding (excluding travel time)
0.11 species per mile (total miles biked + walked)
0.77 species per hour of dedicated birding time
268 checklists submitted to eBird
129,660 individual birds counted
121 days of birding (~1 out of 3 days throughout the year - more than I would have thought I could manage while also working full-time and honoring other commitments!)
Longest trip: 12 days, 547 miles, 18 new species

All birding trips were "green" in that I did all my traveling from home (in La Crosse County, Wisconsin) by bike or on foot - no fossil fuels were harmed in the making of these lists.

In addition to birding, I biked 2250 miles for commuting and another ~200 running errands, which I haven't counted above because I wasn't specifically birding then (but of course I kept an ear/eye out!). I've also excluded the very few non-green trips on which I birded (with non-biking family) from the above numbers.

Here's how my species and birding hours accumulated over the year:

And miles (biking + walking):

There was a big jump in species and hours during May, but not so much of a jump in miles, because I was birding intensively close to home during spring migration (no need to waste time on traveling then, because the birds came to me!). The next big jump in hours and miles, with a small jump in species, was during my late July/early August 12-day trip to Horicon Marsh and many points in between. Aside from that jump, adding each new species took a whole lot of effort after mid-May!

I was disappointed to miss a couple of trips that I'd hoped to take (Buena Vista Grasslands in April or November was foiled by repeated unseasonable snowstorms; Black River State Forest in June was foiled by Lyme disease; Lake Superior in September was foiled when my knee acted up on the first day) but Horicon Marsh was my top priority, so I was thrilled that that trip went so smoothly. Local birding was better than I could have hoped in terms of gulls in the spring and locally rare birds in the fall, and overall my La Crosse County list was respectable (219 species, easily topping last year's 207 and bringing my 2-year county list to 233) - but I was disappointed that the shorebirds did not turn up as they did in spring 2017 (which was apparently quite unusual for this area).

Best birds of the year included a lifer Connecticut Warbler, which is also rare here (this was the only local rarity that I didn't manage to photograph!), lifer Canada Warbler (my most-wanted bird for the year because they are so lovely; my best look was when I was birding with a group and didn't have my camera). Both of those were self-found, which is always the most exciting; as were nine other local rarities:

(Thayer's) Iceland Gull at Airport Beach, 21 March
Ross's Goose at Airport Beach, 28 March
Lesser Black-backed Gull at Black River Beach, 29 March
White-faced Ibis at Halfway Creek Marsh, 6 May
Sanderling at Airport Beach, 2 October
Harris's Sparrow at New Amsterdam Grasslands, 7 October
LeConte's Sparrow at La Crosse River Conservancy, 12 October
Surf Scoter at Lake Neshonoc, 27 October
Airport Beach is the winning location in that lineup - probably because it's just up the road from my office, so I checked it frequently when conditions were good. It surprises me a bit that October was the best month for rarities. But fall migration is much less well-birded than spring migration, and "rarity" is a function of both the true occurrence of birds and the amount of collective birding effort, so maybe that makes sense. Or maybe this was just a particularly lucky October. Other birders were able to see all of the above except the Harris's Sparrow and Surf Scoter, so that's great too. I was also able to chase four species locally that others had found:

Townsend's Solitaire at Miller Bluff, 1 January
Hoary Redpoll at a feeder on Brice Prairie - generously shared by the homeowners, 10 February
Long-staying Red-necked Grebe at the north end of French Island, 1 May

Even longer-staying Long-tailed Ducks in Vernon County, 22 December
All of the 18 species I saw/heard on my 12-day trip were special, too; aside from Black-billed Cuckoo, which showed up later in La Crosse, they were all species that I otherwise wouldn't have gotten this year. But the most exciting species from that trip were two shorebirds at Horicon that others had found in the days before I got there:

Red-necked Phalarope, aka "Nessy"....
Buff-breasted Sandpiper - not super rare in the area, but not a species I had expected to find this year.

(We're still not talking about the state-first Sharp-tailed Sandpiper that showed up in the same spot just 2 days after I left.....)

It's tempting to make 2019 another Green Big Year and try again for those trips that I missed, but I think I'll make time for other things in the coming year. I will definitely still be birding - and still almost exclusively by bike - but I'll focus more on helping out with the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, which is entering its final year for this round, than racking up as many species as possible. Maybe it will also work out to take one or two of those trips that I missed in 2018.

Overall it was definitely a great year of birding - thanks for following along!


  1. Congratulations! Yours Big Year numbers are very impressive, and will not be easily topped by anyone in this part of the country. It was a lot of fun keeping up to date on your adventures via this blog. Have you thought about doing a 5-mile radius challenge in 2019?

    1. Thanks! I think the all-time green record in Wisconsin is 243, so my number has already been topped. =) I haven't checked my patch totals lately - definitely could be fun to work on those next year!