My year started with a trip to
On January 19th I spent my second day birding in 2009 down in
My third trip out in 2009 was to the NH coast on January 21st. I quickly added the usual sea-ducks, Razorbill, Guillemot, and to my surprise King Eider. The lack of any report of King Eider for 19 days caused some doubt of the validity of the sighting; however, later in the year, when I opened up the Winter Issue of NH Bird Records, I learned that Len Medlock reported King Eider on the same day at the same location!
In an effort to spend some more time birding together, Ben and I headed up north twice (joined by Jason Lambert on one occasion) where we saw Pine & Evening Grosbeak, Hoary and Common Redpoll (the three of us also saw both species in Keene, NH), Gray Jay, Bohemian Waxwing, and other northern specialties.
I went birding approximately 4 days a week with Ben throughout February. We spent time in Plymouth-MA,
Ben left for
On March 15th I headed out on the Spring Pelagic trip. Conversation on the boat focused on who would be at the lead at the end of the year: Steve? Len? Jason? Eric? Len Medlock and Jason Lambert were in the lead followed slightly by Steve Mirick who was followed by Eric Masterson’s. On the trip I realized that my list was right in the middle of everyone else’s totals and I was frustrated that no one mentioned my name in the debate of who would finish the year on top. Then again, I had to remember that when Ben first met me, he “took it easy on me” due to someone’s suggestion to do so. However, by the time Ben left, “taking it easy” wasn’t in my vocabulary and motivated by the conversations on the boat I went on a mission to show others that I had grown and changed and was just as capable/dedicated as anyone else when it came to ending the year on top.
From that day forward I knew that if I was to end the year on top I would have to aim to break the 280 species that Mike Harvey saw in 2003 as 280-290 was goal for Eric and others. I knew others had the advantage of having years of expertise behind them, yet I knew that I had the advantage of having a never say die attitude, a flexible schedule, and a job that required my “work” time be spent in marshes throughout the coast. My strategy from that day forward was to see things as soon as they showed up in the state, and to spend any free moment I had in the field searching for migrants, breeding birds, and rarities.
March allowed me to add an abundance of waterfowl including Gadwall and Greater White-fronted Goose. April was a weird month beginning with a Great Gray Owl in
May proved to be even MORE productive as I added Harlequin Duck, White-eyed Vireo, and Gray-cheeked Thrush (thanks to Steve Mirick!) and Sandhill Crane thanks to a random whim to stop and pish for warblers in Newmarket. The Mississippi Kites returned and so did Ben. Before long we were back together and looking at a Lark Sparrow found by Steve in
June started off with a Royal Tern found by Eric Masterson, followed by a trip to
I grabbed my gear and ran to my car. Sabine’s Gull was one of my “most wanted” species. I knew it would be a GREAT species to have on a big year list. I won’t tell you how fast I drove, but I’m sure you can imagine. On my way I found out that it had moved down to the Seal Rocks area. I pulled in and parked about 3 cars in but didn’t care. I’m pretty sure I left my car running as I dove out and saw JoAnn and Mike standing there looking through their scopes. JoAnn let me take a look, and I frantically spoke. I’m pretty sure Mike was convinced I was crazy at this point. I moved my car to a spot that had opened up and set up my scope dedicated to watch the bird until others got there. Birders arrived over the following few hours and it was one of the craziest times that I can remember.
A more detailed Sabine’s Gull recap can be found here: http://wornfieldguide.blogspot.com/2009/07/tale-of-sabines-gull.html Sabine’s Gull was
A few days later I headed home to help out and missed an American Oystercatcher. I was a bit bummed but knew I was needed at home more than anything. Luckily, shortly after my return I was rewarded with one of the most memorable birding excursions of the year on July 4th. While I was patiently awaiting Ben’s arrival to the coast in order to go on an afternoon whale watch, text messages from Jason trickled in with the word “Jaeger”. Frantically I texted him back trying to figure out the details. Frustrated I left a rude voicemail and scanned out over the ocean from Pulpit Rocks in vain. Later I learned he was on a whale watch and had all 3 species of Jaeger with some other birders (later this was dropped down to 2 as one was a mis-id).
Ben and I boarded the boat and were rather tense as the pressure was high. Before long a first summer Pomarine Jaeger (the least expected Jaeger species in July) bombed right past the boat after a shearwater, and then… the boat went into “No-man’s Land”, the area in-between NH and MA that doesn’t count for either state (grrrr!!!). We had beautiful looks at bubble feeding humpbacks, but felt time slipping away. On the way back in to
July 4th was the second of over a dozen whale watches this summer and was the first of 3 trips where I viewed all 3 species of Jaegers! It was a truly spectacular summer for pelagic birds in NH, or so I am told, as it was the ONLY summer I’ve ever experienced in NH! On behalf of all of the NH birders who took a Whale Watch with Granite State - Thanks to all of you... Lindsay, Pete, Melanie, Will, Katie, Jonathan, Jodi... and of course Beth!
Perhaps the only thing more ridiculous than seeing all 3 species of Jaeger in a day was the “over-summering?!?” Sabine’s Gull which was seen on occasion in
In August things picked up as shorebirds started to move through again and I added Western, Stilt, and Pectoral Sandpipers. Hudsonian Godwits appeared in
I began to get antsy but it was 17 days before I saw my next species for the year. But it was worth the wait! On August 24th I was doing my laundry when I got a call from Steve informing me that Mike Harvey had just found a
September was marked with fond memories including large numbers of American Golden-Plovers and Buff-breasted Sandpipers (including one ADULT (not photo below)! Found by Ben and me).
October was the time of one of my few trips outside of the state as I headed to
November was a time of many trips to the coast searching in vain for CAAVVEEE SWALLOWWWS!!!! But you have to miss out on something! I made up for it by finding a Yellow-headed Blackbird in Greenland and seeing a Black Vulture in
I got a lovely birthday present from Pat Watts who found a Western Kingbird (#306) on November 13th (the same day I saw Pink-footed Geese in
On November 30th and December 2nd I saw my 307th year bird in the form of a very interesting Thayer’s Gull at the Rochester WWTF. On the 30th Ben and I felt good about the ID. Unfortunately photos didn’t really resemble the bird so we had a few unanswered questions about the bird. Luckily, on December 2nd I re-found the bird and in better light all question really disappeared.
My last bird of the year came in the small and adorable form of 4 Dovekie on the Winter Pelagic (seen again on the Seacoast CBC) where I also had my closest actual miss of Puffin which was only seen by 3 individuals on the boat before it dove out of sight never to be seen again.
The year ended with 3.25 CBC's in NH (Pittsburg, Seacoast, Lee-Durham, and about 2 hours worth of Errol before my car had had enough and required an $835 fix). It was remarkable to reflect how far I had come in one year at the Seacoast CBC. Highlights of the CBCs included an "Oregon" Dark-eyed Junco, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and, a Dovekie in Portsmouth East, not to mention 462 Purple Finches, 444 Black-capped Chickadees, 8 Boreal Chickadees, and the 3rd ever Tufted Titmouse on the Pittsburg CBC. Lee-Durham had the highlight of the CBC season though as Ben and I turned up 12 Pink Flamingos of the "plasticus" subspecies (Oh yeah... I almost forgot, we had 2 Red Crossbills too).
My final "chase" of 2009 was on 12/31/09 when Ben, Jason, Denny, Davis, and I all searched and successfully found the "Sooty" Fox Sparrow in Barrington. While not countable, it is easily the "best record" I saw all year. Just proves that birding should never be just about a number.
I ended the year with 64 lifers in NH and 308 species. I saw 305 out of the 308 species. I only heard Clapper Rail, Least Bittern, and Olive-sided Flycatcher. Some people may criticize and say that trying to set a number is more about the number than the birds. In some cases I’m sure this is the case; however, when ever allowed the chance I made an attempt to both study field marks and behavior of any bird seen this year. Some of my fondest moments with birds such as the Western Kingbird did not occur within moments of seeing it, rather, they occurred throughout the week as I would observe its behavior from across the treatment plant while also scanning through the gulls. I will never forget setting the NH Big Year record (which will be broken sooner or later) and ending 2009 ahead of everyone else. But more importantly, I will also not forget each and every single one of my species seen, whether life birds or not.
Many people may take note of my nh.birds post and see “308 species in NH in 2009” and think wow that’s a lot of birds. But for me, the year was about much more than just 308 species. It was about birding every single day and enjoying everything I saw. It was about being inspired to learn and improve my skills as a birder to a point that I would be able to earn respect and actually deserve it. It was about finding myself and making memories that are truly unforgettable. Finally, and most importantly to me, it was about getting to know a group of people who I now count as my closest friends: Steve, Jane, Len, Jason, Jessie, JoAnn, Mike H., and of course, Ben – I couldn’t have done it without you all.
Have a great 2010!