And so ends 2015: time for the old birding sum-up. More so than previous years, last year I decided to take my birding a bit more seriously and set myself some concrete goals:
- Buy a damn scope already!
- Shoot for 300 species of bird in BC (I saw 262 last year, 245 the year before),
- Shoot for getting into the top 10 in BC, top 50 in Canada on the eBird list,
- Above all: broaden my horizons and bird some new areas of BC.
Despite a few setbacks, the year was an unqualified success:
- Scope: tick! I picked up a Swarokvski ATX with a 85mm objective lens in early January. Having a scope makes the absolute world of difference to birding. Suddenly, scanning the shoreline or sea is a pleasant occupation rather than a deeply frustrating one. It also makes some difficult IDs easy [on New Year's Day this year, a quick scan of a 207-strong flock of trumpeter swans yielded 4 tundras. That would have been a hit-and-miss affair without a scope].
- Saw 316 BC species (yeah! I know!),
- Ended up 2nd in BC, 15th in Canada.
- Visited Merritt, Lillooet, Peace River region, all over the Okanagan, Prince George, various spots on Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii.
- Seeing a Canada warbler with my dad up in Fort St. John. That bird is an absolutely stunner, and for me a long-awaited tick (I mean, it’s a Canada warbler, for heaven’s sake). Some people self-identify as dog people or cat people: I’m definitely a warbler kind of guy, so this sighting meant a lot.
- Freezing my butt off on the ferry back from Haida Gwaii seeing literally no birds for 30 minutes on a dead-calm sea, then having a leach’s storm petrel flutter by within a few feet of me. What a moment.
- Same trip, a few days earlier: taking the ferry from Digby island over to Prince Rupert and seeing a yellow-billed loon, still in alternate plumage pop up within a few feet of the boat.
- Finding a Ross’s goose at Brunswick Point, Ladner. This felt like karma. When I first started birding back in 2011-12, I missed the fact that Ross’s geese weren’t actually found around here, so I spent a shameful amount of time scanning snow geese flocks looking for them. At some point I must have consulted my bird book and smacked myself on the forehead, but the habit of scanning geese flocks stuck with me and that one day in Ladner it paid off.
- Visiting Whistler mountain hoping to find a gray-crowned rosy-finch and finding 450.
- Having the great pleasure of now owning my own house on Bowen Island and my own local eBird “hotspot” to monitor. Current total: 97 species. Let’s see how many we can get it up to by the end of the year.
Birds that got away
I could easily list twenty birds that really rankle, but let me limit it to my top five. These should be read to the sound of gnashing of teeth.
- Veery. In the late summer it dawned on me I hadn’t seen one and did a couple of frantic day-twitches to find one. Never did.
- Clark’s grebe. I’ve had a lot of luck with this bird in the past, so the thought of missing it didn’t really cross my mind. Shows my inexperience, I suppose. Despite a very promising candidate at White Rock in the late Fall, I couldn’t in all decency tick it.
- American bittern. That damn bird! I’ve lost count of the hours I’ve spent this year standing around at Reifel’s in the freezing cold looking for one. My wife knows how many times I’ve been out for this bird, so any time its name comes up she laughs endlessly (nothing like a supportive spouse).
- White-tailed ptarmigan. Insert expletive here.
- Ruffed grouse. This bird is probably the most frustrating because my dad sees them all the time and sends me “gosh I almost ran over a half dozen in my car today” emails which I’m pretty sure causes him endless mirth.
On to 2016…
This year’s going to be very different. 2015 was enormous fun, but holy cow I need to tone it down. I devoted a huge amount of my time to birding and let my other pursuits (software, art in particular) suffer. And suffer they have; time to reintroduce a degree of moderation. My new house needs work and my various software projects are in dire need of maintenance and updates. Sadly, all of this will mean less time in the field.
Instead, I’m going to ramp up my reading. I have a row of bird-related literature gathering dust on my shelves and it’s high time to work through them. For a long time now I’ve felt that the number of birds I see far exceeds my knowledge; I’d like to bring the two more in par.
Third, I want to get my life list up over 1,000 species. No, this doesn’t conflict with the above: overall I’ll do less birding but I’ll do some intensive (self-led) birding trips to get my numbers up. Current plan: Mexico early in the year, Iceland for May-June, Brazil/Peru in the fall, and possibly one more if I can raise the funds (Panama? Hawaii? Philippines? Not sure). I may have to take up prostitution or sell some of my body parts to fund all this, but what the heck. It’s worth it.
Lastly, I want to crank up my local birding, i.e. Bowen Island local. I’ve learned a few of the spots here on Bowen but I’d like to explore more.
Bring on 2016.