2010 – My Biggest Year!

I started off 2010 terribly sick and I didn’t leave the house for a few days. Once I got better, Anna Fasoli and I drove down to Blackwater NWR in Maryland to officially start off our 2010 birding year. We picked up 60 species in one day. On Febuary 24th, I drove down to Herndon, Virginia to see the Varied Thrush that had been hanging around for about a month. In March, Anna was finishing up a job she had down on the Gulf Coast, so I flew down to Florida, and her and I birded the Pinellas County area and then drove back to Pennsylvania over the course of a week. I added 91 species to my year list by the end of the Florida trip and was sitting nicely at 185 year birds by March 13th.

Swallow-tailed Kite and Bald Eagle; Chassahowitzka NWR, FL

Anna and I already knew we were going to work in Virginia for the spring and then Southern California and Arizona for the summer, so about that time I decided maybe I should try to do a “Personal Big Year”. I knew there was no way I could compete with the official “2010 Big Year Birders” since I couldn’t commit everyday of the year to finding birds and I didn’t have millions of dollars to fly all over the ABA area looking for new birds. But my plan was just to see as many species as possible where ever I went and to see more bird species this year than I have ever personally seen in one year.

While on a birding trip with the Cononocheague Audubon Society on March 27th, we found a flock of Red Crossbills at Cowan’s Gap State Park – an excellent species for southern PA. Around that time, I also picked up various new species around PA that might be tougher to get later in the year like Short-eared Owl and Ross’s Goose.

Red Crossbill; Cowan's Gap State Park

April 15th, Anna and I went to the Hawk Migration Association of North America’s (HMANA) Conference in Duluth, Minnesota. I managed to get Penn State to pay for us to go since we would be presenting a project there comparing two hawk watching sites in central PA. We went on a few field trips with other conference attendees and on April 16th, I saw my 200th species of the year – Trumpeter Swan. Other highlights of the 4 day trip to Minnesota were Great Gray Owl, Northern Hawk-Owl, Gray Jay, and Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Great Gray Owl; Sax Zim Bog, MN

April 23rd, Anna and I drove down to Kiptopeke, Virginia to begin our spring job – catching, banding, and attaching satellite transmitters to Whimbrel. I was easily able to pick up most of the eastern shorebirds as well as many other cool species like Swainson’s Warbler, Chuck-wills-widow, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and the three coastal Ammodramus sparrows – Nelson’s, Saltmarsh, and Seaside. Our last weekend of work for the Whimbrel job; my boss, Anna, and I went up to Cape May, NJ to help catch Red Knots, Sanderlings, and Ruddy Turnstones. On the Cape May – Lewes Ferry, we picked up Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. The next day, Anna and I began our road trip to Blythe, California, where our next job was based out of.

Whimbrel; captured on the Eastern Shore of Virginia

I strategically planned our drive to Southern California to pass some birding hotspots. The drive throug Texas really helped out my list by adding classic Texas species such as Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, and Swainson’s Hawk. A stop at South Llano State Park for just a few hours landed us 19 new year birds, 16 of which were lifers for me! A quick detour into Gila National Forest in New Mexico added Black-throated Gray Warbler, Grace’s Warbler, and Acorn Woodpecker as well as about ten more new species. Once we hit Arizona on June 8th, I was closing in on number 300; a lone Say’s Phoebe perched on a chainlink fence was it. It was really starting to feel like we were in the southwest; Gambel’s Quail, Common Ground-Doves, and Anna’s Hummingbirds were everywhere. Our job for the rest of the summer would be to survey for the endangered southwestern subspecies of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo along the Lower Colorado River. Anna and I would work for 10 days, then have 4 days off. This was perfect for taking nice, long birding trips.

Burrowing Owl and Gambel's Quail; El Paso, TX

The first trip was to Southeast Arizona starting on June 20th. We addded 39 new year birds, most of which were also lifers. In one day we managed to find10 species of Hummingbirds including Berylline and Lucifer! Other highlights of this particular trip were Mexican Chickadee, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Arizona Woodpecker, Phainopepla, Gray Hawk, Varied Bunting, and Five-striped Sparrow to name a few.

Elegant Trogon; Madera Canyon, AZ

Magnificent Hummingbird; Ramsey Canyon, AZ

The next 4 day trip was to Southern California on July 3rd. 26 new year birds, 20 were lifers. Mountain Quail, Black Oystercatcher, Western Scrub Jay, Heermann’s Gull were some of my favorites. A quick stop by the Salton Sea got me Yellow-footed Gull.

Mountain Quail; San Jacinto Mtns, CA - PHOTO BY ANNA FASOLI

I was hooked on Southern California and couldn’t wait to get back over to the coast. I planned on going on a pelagic birding trip out of Santa Barbara on August 1st, but the boat was overbooked, so Anna and I couldn’t go. Wes Fritz, a California Birding Guide told us to meet him at his house and he would take us on a day long, guided tour to pick up some California specialties as a consolation for not being able to get on the pelagic trip. I highly recommend doing a bird trip with Wes; in one day we managed to pick up 15 lifers including Yellow-billed Magpie, Chestnut-sided Chickadee, Tricolored Blackbird, and Western Screech Owl! Anna and I also got onto a Whale Watching trip out of Santa Barbara, which we made into a makeshift pelagic tour, adding some awesome species like Pink-footed Shearwater, Parasitic Jaeger, Cassin’s Auklet, and Northern Fulmar to our year list, among others. Year bird #400 was a Warbling Vireo.

Northern Fulmar; off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA

August 15th, Anna and I began our drive back home to Pennsylvania. While driving through Oklahoma we picked up Mississippi Kite and Upland Sandpiper. Late August, I was settled in up at State College, PA and making the most of it; birding almost every morning before class at Scotia Barrens, racking up 13 species of warbler that I didn’t have for the year yet.

5 Species of Warbler in one picture! - Magnolia Warbler (two - red), Chestnut-sided Warbler (two - blue), American Redstart (yellow), Tennessee Warbler (purple), Black-and-white Warbler (green), plus a Tufted Titmouse (white); Scotia Barrens (9-1-10) PHOTO BY ANNA FASOLI.

I spent most weekends during the fall hawk-watching in Bedford County, PA and then birding in my free time during the week. I was picking up new year birds here and there (like Lincoln’s Sparrow, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Gray-cheeked Thrush) but it was clear that my big year was coming to an end since there wasn’t a whole lot more to see. October 28th, I finally picked up Golden Eagle for the year.

For the Thanksgiving Break, some of my friends and I took a trip to Cape May, NJ for a few days. American Bittern was year bird #450. I added 3 other species over the course of the trip.

American Bittern; Edwin B. Forsthye NWR, NJ

Then it was December. Last minute rarities were my best bet for new year birds. A Northern Wheatear in Delaware and a Golden-crowned Sparrow in Maryland made for a nice half-day road trip with some birding friends of mine. A flock of 9 Greater White-fronted Geese in Berks County, PA were another nice addition, and a particular species I had seen every year for the past 3 and was thinking I was going to miss out on in 2010. A last minute trip down to Florida to visit Anna, who is working in the Lake Placid area, catching Crested Caracaras, got me five new year birds; including Snail Kite, which is a species I have really wanted to see my whole life.

That brought my 2010 Big Year to an end with a grand total of 463 species. To see a complete list of the species I saw this year and the first location I saw them at, check out my 2010 Big Year page. If you are interested in seeing lots more photos I took this year, please visit my Picasa Web Albums.