Saturday, January 02, 2010

2009 in Review

And Here is my story:

On January 14th I returned to New Hampshire at 8pm after spending 25 days with my family in Syracuse, NY. By the time I had returned, many had anounced their intentions of doing a “big year”, I was not one of them. I did decide to keep track of what I saw using the excel sheet that Steve Mirick posted. I set an internal goal of 250 species for 2009 and hoped that my efforts would increase my ABA life list from 347 to 400 by years end.

My year started with a trip to Coe Hill Rd. where I logged my first species of the year: Northern Hawk Owl. I’m sure I saw birds on the way there, or even heard them in my yard, but I never noted any of them. It was my 348th life bird.

On January 19th I spent my second day birding in 2009 down in Gloucester, MA on a mission to see the Ivory Gull with Ben Griffith. Ben showed me lifer #349: Thayer’s Gull, which was found by Jeremiah Trimble. Within an hour the Ivory Gull appeared for #350. Before the end of the day I also added Harlequin Duck and Black-headed Gull to my life list.

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, Keene, Rochester, Dover, Durham, Exeter, and the coast. Admittedly, some of my motivation was not “birding related”.

Ben left for California to work with Island Scrub-Jays. We tried the long distance thing… but that didn’t work out so well for us. However, despite his absence I realized that “being a birder” was who I was, with or without him; I really began to find myself and began to feel more and more comfortable in who I was.

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 Durham and ending with a flood of 22 species of warblers in the state including Yellow-breasted Chat and Hooded Warbler. I tallied 21 of the 22 species of warbler seen that month and shared a remarkable total of 17 warbler species in a day in April with Jason Lambert!!!

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 Exeter. We spent time birding migration where I logged my 400th Life (though not ABA) bird in Tennessee Warbler. Ben became my coach and his “orders” sent me to the coast on May 29th where I logged Black Tern and Red-necked Phalaropes.

June started off with a Royal Tern found by Eric Masterson, followed by a trip to Mt. Jefferson with Jason and Len to see Bicknell’s Thrush for Jason’s Birthday. After the trip I came down with mono and found out that a family member had cancer. To reflect and get away from work for a bit, I took a trip with Ben up north and added Spruce Grouse, Red Crossbill, Boreal Chickadee, and Olive-sided Flycatcher. When I returned to Dover, I made preparations to head home to NY to help out the following week. Ten minutes after I cleaned out my car I received a phone call from Ben who had just heard from Steve, that Mike Harvey had found a Sabine’s Gull near Pulpit Rocks.

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: Sabine’s Gull was ABA bird #400 and #263 for the year.

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 Rye Harbor we frantically scanned from the bow of the boat and then suddenly in the distance we spotted a first summer Parasitic in the distance!!! After celebrating, I headed to the wheelhouse and begged that we swing by the Isles of Shoals where a Long-tailed Jaeger had been seen earlier that day by the other group. Pete (the captain) obliged and just outside the Isles Ben picked out a beautiful adult Long-tailed Jaeger with streamers!!! A different individual than the other group had!!!

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 Hampton Harbor! July actually proved to be a great gull month with sightings of Black-headed Gull and Little Gull as well! The month capped off with July 29th sighting of my second Little Blue Heron and first Baird’s Sandpiper!

In August things picked up as shorebirds started to move through again and I added Western, Stilt, and Pectoral Sandpipers. Hudsonian Godwits appeared in Hampton Harbor, and more notably, Steve showed up to the Coast in a tank-top. On August 7th I was sitting at 279, 1 away from tying the record and 10 species ahead of Steve when I stepped onto Granite State (the whale watching boat) with Jason and Ben. We were hoping for some Phalaropes on the trip and were not disappointed. In fact, the first Phalarope we saw was a Red Phalarope!!! I had tied the state record!

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 Franklin’s Gull at the Rochester WWTF! I threw my damp laundry in a bag and bolted for my car. I was so frantic that I even left my iced coffee on the top of my car and wouldn’t have noticed if I had not been stopped at train tracks. When I arrived, I ran over to Mike. In some symbolic way I’m glad it was he who found what turned out to be #281.

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 Wellfleet, MA with Jason L. and Mike T. to see the Fork-tailed Flycatcher (aka “spotting Brazilian wildlife”). On our way home, we received a call about NH’s 3rd record of Bell’s Vireo, found by Len Medlock, Jane Mirick, and Steve Mirick. October never cooled down as additions kept pouring on including: Orange-crowned Warbler, Common Moorhen, Caspian Tern, Clapper Rail, Eurasian Wigeon, and Pacific Loon. The month ended with beautiful looks at a Common Murre inside Rye Harbor.

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 Newmarket, NH which was seen a day prior by Denny Abbott and a month prior by Phil Brown. Tundra Swan, found by Bob Crowley, was my closest “almost miss”, and also occurred in November. I arrived with Ben, Steve, and Jane in Chatham, NH where 8 Tundra Swans were just over the ME/NH line. Within 5 minutes of our arrival, a boater approached the birds which then flew across the line into NH and out of sight.

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 Maine). However, I did not see the bird until November 15th but then saw it for 6 days straight.

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!


Andrew said...

Wonderful post and photos!

Chris S/Nashua said...

Thanks for the great account of your adventures, and congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Lauren, on your fantastic achievement! Having done a NH Big Year in 2008, I can really identify with your efforts. I'm delighted to see so many birders made the effort in 2009 and succeeded in breaking the record. May you find the ones you missed in 2010!

Terry Bronson
Morgantown, WV

Amanda said...

You rock, Lowie! I'm really proud of you... as is Dr. Foster (and others) who told me first about your great birding achievement. :)

dAwN said...

Awesome Lowie..
I read this post a while back offline ..but here I am again..
You rock..

evision said...