Wednesday, January 15, 2014


I'm writing this from the comfort of a new year. 2014. A year that doesn't involve counting above 700, carry-on luggage, wearing dirty laundry or dealing with stubborn Aleutian plumbing.

Last year was full of surprises - an erupting volcano, a car crash, being eaten alive by ticks in Minnesota, and the biggest surprise of all - discovering there's no prize money for doing a big year. Seriously! And so, I suppose it was only fitting that the end of the big year ought to be a surprise too. A surprise, that is, in the form of an actual surprise party last Saturday. Well, it wasn't entirely a surprise: Gerri's terrible at keeping secrets. Especially a secret that involves her baking a lot of cakes for a mysterious and nebulous *other* party, while simultaneously cleaning the house and texting furtively. But after expecting a surprise birthday party a couple weeks before, I'd Iearned not to get my hopes up. And so, I went out for drinks with my friend Bill, and returned home late enough to assume that it wasn't going to happen.

"Gerri. Why are there so many shoes? Have you been on a massive shoe-buying spree?"

There were an awful lot of shoes. And in the next couple of minutes, after the cries of "surprise!" had died down, I was met by a house full of dear friends and the relief that all those shoes belonged to other people.

Surprise Party - good food and good company.

The biggest surprise was meeting Jeff and Liz Gordon of the ABA, who'd flown in from Colorado. And my friend Jay, who'd driven (!) from Cinncinnati that morning (13.5 hours) arriving only 15 minutes before I did. In all the crazy chasing of 2013, I don't think I ever drove that far. I was thankful for all the driving practice his big year gave him. It was great to see Jay, as well as lots of local birding friends, and friends from my previous job. Thanks to Gerri, Bill and Jackie Campbell and Jim McCoy for organizing the party. Great job!

Talking to Jeff Gordon (center), President of the ABA
(Jim McCoy left, me on the right)

Gerri had printed pics from my blog, so we were surrounded by all these birds - the stars of the big year. While I wanted to circulate and chat, I also wanted to work my way through these pictures. I'd never seen them all together, and the effect was mesmerizing. Like seeing childhood friends after years apart. Each picture was not only a bird, but a story, an adventure. 

The next day, Jeff and Liz returned, with local birding friend Jim McCoy, and we talked about birds and birding. Jay and I were interviewed, and were honored to reveal the ABA's Bird of the Year…

(And yes, I did see this bird in 2013!)

And so, it's January 2014, and I'm still dealing with the fame and fallout of a (successful) big year. I guess I shouldn't be surprised how much interest this has generated - but I still am. So far, I've made front page on the Boston Globe and the Homer News (in their 50th anniversary issue!) as well as appearing in USA TodayI've done a live interview on Irish National Public Radio as well as an hour long interview for the More Than Birds podcast. And - I'm giving a talk in April for the local Brookline Bird Club. And I wrote a guest blog for Leica's Travis the Traveling Trinovid. He's a pretty witty pair of binoculars - although my cat wasn't so impressed...

Khiva Cat is not amused. 
Unlike the inanimate object next to her, she does not have her own blog. 

The interviews have helped me make some sense of last year. It's forced me find logic and reason, when at times both were severely lacking. In some ways, it's easier to apply that logic with hindsight - that knowing the end somehow gives a sense of inevitability to the story. It certainly never felt like that at the time, though.

Sitting in a TV studio in Boston, live with Dublin.

One of the questions I've been asked is "what was the hardest part of the big year?" Perhaps the obvious answer was the physical nature of it -  the travel, the exhaustion, being away from home for so long. But, especially towards the end, I became aware of the psychological discomfort. I didn't really commit to a Big Year until April. If you'd asked me then what my target was - I'd have told you, "umm…too see some birds" rather than an actual number. As April gave way to May, and the blog took on a life of its own, I was thinking 550? 600? 650? Passing each target required a ratcheting up of the bird expectation dial. And the run up to 700 was shear adrenalin (and frustration - the biggest number of misses last year seemed to happen between 699 and 700!) For big year birders 700 is the holy quail (I mean grail - wow, how did I miss that for a blog title?) Before this year, only 12 people had ever seen more than 700 birds in the ABA region in one year. I was number 13. I crossed that threshold in late August. That meant I still had over 4 months left.

"Birds on a wire." A cookie interpretation by Gerri.

Big years are spectator sports. I didn't know that at the beginning. I started a blog - mainly for my own benefit, to immortalize my own experiences, to remind myself in years to come with grainy, out-of-focus digiscoped pics.  I mean - who else would read this stuff and how would they even find it? But somehow they did. I started getting comments, followers, hundreds of views per day, and when I was wearing my Red Sox hat in the field, recognition. "Are you that guy doing the big year?" Or more worryingly, "Are you the accidental person?" Invariably, they were disappointed that I wasn't as funny, as attractive or as tall in real life.

Rufous-necked Wood-rail - Christmas tree ornament - a gift from Marcia Poling.
One of the 3 provisional birds I saw in 2013.

And so, with over 4 months to go, there was only one obvious goal after exceeding 700: the record. Sandy Komito's solid 748 species from 1998. A year of the El Nino effect and the best birding Attu - perched on the western end of the Aleutian chain - had ever seen. Heck - there was even a movie and book about that year. What did it mean then, that on the pace I was on, I might accidentally stumble towards that record? 

And suddenly the world was watching. What started as a personal accident, was now a public spectacle - with near daily updates. And that, for me, was the hardest part of the year. Not the driving, flying, or sleeping in tiny, cold cars. But dealing with the expectation and the hope. Because now, for the first time, I could fail at this. Before, it was just about the experiences - the birds and the writing. Now, there was a binary result - I'd either beat the record, or I'd fail. I was in the unusual position of seeing almost 750 birds in a year, traveling the country, meeting some pretty cool people, and somehow failing at a public goal I'd never really set myself.

A gift from Lynne Miller brought to to the party by Liz Gordon.
Great Skua decoration - see pic below.

As the year marched relentlessly on, and fall turned to winter, I was thinking a lot about John Vanderpoel. He narrowly missed the record by 4 or 5 birds back in 2011. I carried his list with me wherever I went. I knew what he'd seen on which days. And although I've never met John, only communicating by email, I felt like I knew the man from his birds, and from his travels. I was walking, driving, flying in his footsteps. I knew which birds he'd seen and which he'd painfully missed. By late fall based on John's 2011 pace, I thought I could get to 735 - behind John and behind the record that so many had started to think was now in play. I wondered what it must have felt like for John - to succeed at a big year and yet perhaps to fail at the end. To come so close, and to know that a few birds here and there might have made a difference to the history books. (Do big years even fill the tomes of history? Probably not. Wikipedia, I guess, then.)

Great Skua Christmas ornament - by Marcia Poling. A gift from Lynne Miller.
Seen on Dec 29th off Hatteras, this would be my last bird of the year.

Another popular question: "What would you do differently?" The obvious answer is: start at the beginning of the year (I can't stress now how important the "year" part of "big year" is!) Or do some proper planning *before* the big year. The annoying truth is that the best practice for a big year is actually doing a big year. Which wasn't much consolation for me as I knew I wouldn't be doing this again anytime soon (big reveal: there will be no accidentalbigyear2014 or even deliberatebigyear2014!) And so, for much of last year, I would look back on all those birds at the start of the year - Citrine Wagtail, Gray Heron, Spotted Redshank, Siberian Accentor etc - that could have made the difference between a record and finishing second or third. They haunted me at night. The frustration of putting in so much time, and effort and resources and to know that if I'd started at the beginning, I might have actually beaten the record. I'm thankful that I had such a great Nov and Dec that they seem less important now. (I'm no longer having dreams about Citrine Wagtails with knives in spooky houses where the lights don't work. Just the regular nightmare now with the White-cheeked Pintail maniacally laughing at me.)

But really -  I wouldn't change a thing. I think the only way my big year was going to happen was if it was accidental. If I'd planned it back in 2012, and really thought about what I'd be doing - all the travel, expense, days away from home - I'd have booked a flight to Nepal and climbed Everest instead! (Or, more likely, Mount Washington, which unlike Everest has a rather nice range of commemorative car stickers.) And while I missed a few birds, I had the type of year of which many birders can only dream. And non-birders. A lot of the latter came along for the ride, excited about the places and birds I was seeing. 

Finally - an ABA hat of my own! Thanks Jeff and Liz!

Another surprisingly tough question: what number did you end up on? After keeping such meticulous lists on my blog, it should have been a fairly straightforward question. It wasn't. It's my fault there are various numbers floating out there in the media write-ups. Even several days into 2014 I was still pondering that profound big year philosophical question: Aplomado Falcon - to count or not to count?

Aplomado Falcon is on the ABA list - but it really isn't. After being extirpated from the south in the 1950s, its reintroduction program (dating back to the 1980s) hasn't been successful enough for Texas to add it back onto its list (the population is being sustained even now by additional releases.) It's theoretically possible to see the bird as a natural vagrant from Mexico. That was Sandy Komito's argument in 1998. And faced with potentially breaking the record in 2011 and knowing that every bird counted, John Vanderpoel counted it too - arguing that that would make his list comparable to Sandy's. 

When I saw the Falcon, back in April, I wasn't thinking about Sandy's record (or John) and so didn't add it. But now, at the end of the year, I had to make a decision - since my number would likely tie or set the new record. I received lots of feedback - most of which was along the lines of, "Add the damn bird!",  "Sandy did and so did John. The top two big year birders did - so you should too for comparison purposes." and, "Just add the damn bird." I wasn't happy with the argument. And if I'd easily overtaken Sandy, I probably wouldn't have added it - I'd love to have set a new precedent, a new era, where Aplomado Falcon doesn't exist. But that was a luxury I couldn't afford - I couldn't predict how many of my provisionals would be accepted - and so, I added the (damn) bird. It would bring me to my final number: 747+3. One provisional accepted would tie the record, two would beat it. And so the Aplomado Falcon was here to stay.

Owl Cup Cakes - made by Jackie Campbell
(No owls were hurt during the preparation.)

So far I'm enjoying 2014. I was worried about the come down - how do you suddenly switch from big year mode to non big year? From the adrenalin of constantly chasing, hoping, dreaming to the mundane? To be honest, I don't think I've come through it yet - I'm still clinging to 2013 through interviews and articles that 2014 hasn't really become much of a reality. But when it does - I think I'll be fine. I'm still checking NARBA and eBird daily - reassuring myself that I didn't miss anything by a few days and the technicality of a new year. (I didn't.) I'm already planning a trip to Hawaii - my Christmas present to Gerri for putting up with so much last year. (And yes - I hear they have some pretty cool birds there!) 

Scarlet Tanager - from Steve Grinley and Margo Goetschkes.

Perhaps one of the more recurring questions I got through the year from the "fan base" (which by the end of the year had doubled to an impressive 4), was "When's the next blog post coming out? Why don't I know where you've been and what you've seen?" If trying to see over 700 birds in a year isn't hard enough - try doing that while effectively writing a book. And sleeping. Something had to give. The blog became both the bane of my big year, and its greatest salvation. I relished all the time I spent out in the field, alone with birds and nature. Constantly honing my skills, always something new to learn. And the blog gave me permission to relive those moments, to step back in time, to see it from a different perspective. It was like reading a detective novel, and already knowing who did it. Reworking it allowed me to see and appreciate details I'd overlooked at the time. Writing about places and history and birds forced me to learn about them properly - and greatly magnified my own pleasure and understanding of what I was seeing. But, like the birding, it wasn't easy. Each post was predictably the same - there was a bird, I was chasing it, I either saw it or I didn't. How do you write that same story - over 100 times - and make it interesting? The posts weren't long, but took a surprising amount of time and thought. I understood now exactly what Mark Twain had meant when he said, "I didn't have time to write a short letter so I wrote a long one instead." 

With the blog, I wanted to entertain and educate. I wanted to capture a moment that I knew was ephemeral - and that if I didn't catch it, and pin it down, it would quickly wilt and wither into the past, lost among all those other half-remembered days. And so, while birding, or driving, or on the edges of sleep, I'd be rehearsing the next post, hoping that I hadn't run out of ways to tell the same story. I'd like to think I didn't.

Boston Globe - essential reading for cats.

What should have been apparent from the seemingly endless blog posts was that a big year involves more than one person. Specifically, I couldn't have done it without the support of Gerri - who, among other things, successfully kept both our cats alive and drove me back and forth to Logan Airport at cruel and unusual times of the day. A big year is a long time - even if you don't actually start in Jan - and it would not have been half as much fun if I hadn't met some very talented, funny and generous people along the way. Some quick shout outs. Thank you: Jay Lehman, for your terrible puns and constant friendship; for Hans de Grys for convincing me to go to Nome and making me laugh so much when I got there (and for awarding me an 11 on your proprietary hard-core birding scale); to Chris Hitt for lively discussions, good meals, your superb meta blog slowbirding, and for generally keeping me on my toes all year; to Debi Shearwater, for showing me the Pacific and not attacking me with a knife; for Brian Patteson and Kate Sutherland for an awesome end to the year; to Aaron Lang, for showing me the beauty of Alaska; Paul Lehman for your generous time, expert advice and general good humor; and Scott Schuette and Doug Gochfeld on the Pribilofs for finding so many great birds; to Sean Walters in Colorado for my only Long-eared Owl of the year, and probably for being the first to predict the record attempt; to John Puschock for being a funny guy with a bassoon; and to Jon Baker, my biggest (and probably only) fan in Wales. There are way too many others I need to thank. You know who you are. Thank you!

Which brings me to the end. It's no longer 2013. The accidental year is over. I'm not sure what to do about this site. I'll continue to write about birds and birding, but not sure whether that should be under the banner of the 2013 blog. And in a desperate attempt to cling further to the recent past - I'm considering turning 2013 into a book. Although given how slow my blogging has been I wouldn't hold your breathe! Whatever happens next, I'd like to thank everyone that was a part of the big year experience - whether you were birding with me, finding birds and posting them, putting up with me snoring next to you in coach class, or sending supportive messages on the blog. Or just reading the blog because you had nothing else better to do. 

Thank you for reading.

+ + +

BIG YEAR LIST: 747 + 3 provisional (Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Common Redstart, Eurasian Sparrowhawk)

Saturday, December 28, 2013


"What can I get you, sir?"

"Umm. I'll have the Great Skua, please. I believe it's medium rare. And I'll have a side of Tropicbird. Oh wait - that's probably out of season. Albatross?"

At least, that's what I'd like to say. But I don't, because (a) I'm hungry, (b) it's the only place in town that's open, and (c) they're about to close. I'm also wearing a Red Sox cap, and I don't want to give them another reason to not serve me. And so I play it safe.

"I'll have the grilled tuna."

I'm back in Hatteras, North Carolina. It's my 4th time to the Outer Banks this year and Great Skua is on my big year birding menu. (And yes, they are medium rare.) And while I'm eating my non-skua dinner (and apparently forgetting the advice about not drinking alcohol the night before a boat trip) I'm thinking about the next day - a pelagic trip on the Atlantic looking for the only currently chaseable bird in North America that I haven't seen this year - the Great Skua. And like many of the trips this year, I'm nervous. Will I see the bird? Will everyone else see it except me? Will I fall overboard? Did I leave the iron on back home? Is tuna normally this tough, or did I *actually* order the skua?

I should also mention that I have new traveling companion on this trip - Travis (the traveling trinovid.) I've been birding with him already this year - in Barrow and Adak. He's also doing a big year (he's over 600), and keeping a blog here. Travis - I should mention - is a pair of Leica Trinovid binoculars. After having a blast with him earlier in the year, I was very happy to be asked to look after him for the final week.

Travis (on the left.) Looks like he ignored the no drinking rule too. 
(And what's that? The remains of a Skua dinner?! Typical!)

And so the next day - today - starts like most potentially great birding days with what never feels like enough sleep. And while it's still too dark to actually see any birds.

6:30am. Hatteras, NC.
Brian and Kate preparing the Skua - our boat for the day.

There are 7 of us on the boat. As well as Brian Patteson, the captain, and Kate, chief chummer and bird spotter, there's Lynne Miller (of the ABA), Nate Swick (birding superstar and ABA blogger), and Bruce Richardson - who has a ton of experience birding Australia as well as the US. Jay Lehman and I are the big year birders on board, with only days left in our quest.

Lynne and Bruce. Both hoping for a Great Skua lifer today.

As the sun peaks over the watery horizon, the ocean in all its splendor and horror is quietly revealed to us. An ocean that is completely bird-free. But not for long...

Whoa! Where did all those gulls come from?

It always amazes me how fish offal and beef fat can transform a completely dead, bird-free ocean into a gull feeding frenzy. You have to respect a creature that can not only smell beef fat from a great distance, but then fly over to investigate and pick fights with other gulls just so that it can eat the disgusting stuff. (A not dissimilar phenomenon can be seen in the UK with humans at kebab vans on a Friday night.)

Chum - beef fat and fish parts. Just add gulls.

As well as the many Herring Gulls that are now trailing the boat, we start attracting other species too...

Black-legged Kittiwake (immature) - a nice surprise and a state bird for Nate Swick

Manx Shearwater - dark upperparts with bright white underparts

Northern Gannet. Preparing to dive-bomb into the sea.

As well as the birds, we also spot a Hammerhead Shark and Loggerhead Turtles.

Loggerhead Turtle. One of a pair. 
Notice the barnacles on its back.

We're having a great time - we've seen a very impressive range of birds and sea creatures. The screaming cacophony of gulls continues to flap, dive, glide, beg and even use my shoulder as a bathroom (that's lucky, right?) In fact, the gulls are doing everything except what they're being fed to do: attract a Great Skua.

Skua is the only bird name derived from the Faroese language. And no, that's the not language used by Ancient Egyptian rulers. Think further north: the Faroe Islands - a rocky archipelago belonging to Denmark that's actually closer to Norway and Scotland. Great Skuas breed there, as they do in Iceland, Norway and Scotland (where they're called Bonxies.) They're large, heavy gull-like birds, that are chocolate brown. They winter in the Atlantic Ocean and survive on a piratic lifestyle - harassing gulls and gannets, scaring the hell out of them until they drop their food, which the Skuas greedily scoop up.

"Damn it! This map doesn't have Skuas on."

Despite the season and the snow I left behind in Boston, out here at least, it's a beautiful, balmy day. Blue skies. Warm breeze. I'm just thinking about putting on some sun block, and whether I really did leave the iron on, when...


It starts so softly that I first think it's that's voice in my head, the one I'm mentally practicing for when I spot one and can shout it out. Or that I'm mentally willing someone else to shout. And then again, much louder...

"SKUA! Dark bird, white in the wing."

The shouting is coming from Nate, and he's pointing at the back of the boat. This is it. It's really happening. (Must pay attention!) Kate immediately gets on the bird. 

"Going left. Below the horizon. Going away from the boat."

I'm not on the bird. Did she say away from the boat? Still not on the bird. Away doesn't sound good. Maybe this is all we're going to get? What if I...and then I see it. A dark speck moving left.

Great Skua (in red circle). Enjoy!

It's a terrible view, and I'm aware that Jay is not on the bird. Hey you ungrateful Skua! Come and check out all the gulls we've been feeding! And then, it's almost like the bird hears my thoughts. It banks and starts beating its heavy wings in our direction. We watch as the bird circles and starts chasing gulls. Even without my binoculars, I can see the bright flashes of white in the wing. As the light hits its back I can see the beautiful gold flecks. And, like a July 4th pyrotechnic display, I can hear "oohs" and "aahhs" coming from some very happy birders around me. 
Great Skua. Oooh! Ahhh! 

Great Skua. Notice the large amount of white at the bases of the primaries, 
and the gold flecking on the chocolate brown upperparts. 
The bird is large and very heavy with a powerful bill.

The sense of relief is palpable. It's a life bird for Bruce and Lynne, and an important year bird for Jay and I.

Very happy big year birders: Jay Lehman and Neil Hayward

Great Skuas are not as accommodating as their cousin, the South Polar Skua. They generally creep up on gulls, then sneak away just as fast. They have little curiosity about boats, and once found, don't stick around for long. Apparently (and thankfully) this bird didn't read the guidebook. We were treated to an amazing show - we watched the bird for several minutes as it flew round in circles, landed on the water, chased gulls, and, in one final and incredible gesture, flew right by the boat. (Thank you!) I've seen Great Skua in Massachusetts twice, and this was by far the best view. 

We continue chumming all the way back to shore, which brings in some new birds, including a Sooty Shearwater:

Sooty Shearwater

as well as large numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls - a very uncommon bird anywhere else:

 Lesser Black-backed Gull. Yellow legs, dark gray upperwings.

And as we get closer to shore, we start seeing pelicans:

Brown Pelican - immature top, adult below

Thanks to Brian and Kate for a wonderful day. They have such an amazing record for finding difficult birds like the Great Skua. It might look easy, but it's not: there's years of experience involved and knowing where and when to chum. Thanks for delivering again!

Happy birders aboard the Skua!
From left: Nate Swick, Lynne Miller, Bruce Richardson, 
Jay Lehman, Brian Patteson, Neil Hayward. Front: Kate Sutherland.

Six hours later, Jay and I are toasting champagne at Chris Hitt's house in Chapel Hill. What are we celebrating? To big years! Chris did one in 2010, and Jay and I are just finishing one in 2013. 

Great Skua was big year bird #746 for me - and very possibly the last bird of the year. There was a lot of excitement today about beating the ABA big year record - set by Sandy Komito in 1998 (who - perhaps ironically for the day - had SKUA as his license plate.) He saw 745 birds, plus 4 that were new to the ABA region (745+4.) Three of those would eventually be accepted by the checklist committee giving him a final total of 748 (745+3.) I started the day on 745+3 and ended on 746+3. Have I beaten the record? Maybe. (It would be nice!) But none of my provisional birds (the 3 species new to the ABA - Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Common Redstart and Sparrowhawk) have been voted on yet, so I'll likely not know definitively until next year.

So. Back to the champagne: to big years! It's fun to compare big years - and even more fun to potentially set a new record (especially one held for 15 years.) I never set out to break a record, and the person I was competing against most of the year was myself. Could I plan things better? (Yes.) Could I be better at identifying birds? (Hell yes!) Could I have done things differently? (Absolutely.) Could I have seen more birds? (Yes - hint: start at the beginning of the big year.) Could I have had more fun, met more amazing people, seen more spectacular places, learned more about myself? Probably not. That's what the big in big year means. 

And so, to a big year! They don't come much bigger than this.

+ + +

BIG YEAR LIST: 746 + 3 provisional (Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Common Redstart, Eurasian Sparrowhawk)

NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Great Skua

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


"Painted Bunting!"


"Red-headed Woodpecker!"

I'm at home, enjoying the Christmas holiday - one of the few holidays that I've been lucky enough to spend at home this year. Gerri is very excited and is doing some indoor birding. 

"There! Right next to the Polar Bear!"

Polar Bear? Home is Cambridge, MA. Not the Arctic Circle. And the unusual rarities are made of glass and not feathers. Gerri's been busy decorating the tree with reminders of my Big Year. 
Red-headed Woodpecker. One of the first birds I saw this year (Jan 10th) -
near the Museum of Fine Arts. Quite a rarity for Boston.

Painted Bunting. Always a fun bird to see - 
and a life bird for Gerri on one of our spring Florida trips.

I'm appreciating the slower pace this week, after the racing back and forth to Alaska over the past month. It's great sleeping in a bed rather than a car / plane / airport. And I'm appreciating eating proper food (apparently, cranberry scones from Starbucks are not proper food.) Also - having more time to check out social media and catch up on communications has shown me just how big this year has been for many people who've lived vicariously through this blog. For birders seeing familiar places and birds, or new places and dreamed-of rarities. And for non-birders, who've hopefully caught a glimpse of what makes birding so special.

OK. Not a bird. But seeing a family group of Polar Bears in Barrow
the most northern city in the US, was definitely one of the highlights of my year. 

Blue Jay. One of the many Jays I saw this year: Gray, Green, Pinyon, Steller's, 
Scrub-jays (Florida, Western, Island) and Mexican. 
And, of course, the Whiskered Jay of Ohio (Jay Lehman - my Big Year buddy for the year.)

And - importantly - the Big Year is not over yet! I still have a week left, and there's one bird in the country that I still need and that's chaseable - Great Skua, a large brown piratic bird of the Atlantic Ocean. It makes its living by stealing food out of the mouths of gulls (which is pretty impressive / amazing / disgusting if you've ever seen what gulls eat, plus all that gull saliva.)

 Owls - if there's any useful advice about doing a Big Year (apart from "don't!")
then it's get all the owls before the end of June, while they're still calling.
One of my favorites was watching a Northern Pygmy-owl eating a lizard in Arizona.

I've been in touch with Brian Patteson, and he's very kindly agreed to run a trip out of Hatteras, NC, on Dec 28th. Brian has had excellent success finding this bird in the past - and Hatteras has become one of the best places to see Great Skuas. And - if we needed any more luck, then we're heading out in a boat called Skua. I'm happy that Jay Lehman is on the boat (he's searching for Gray Partridge over Christmas - presumably scouring pear trees) - as well as Lynne Miller and Susan Jones (both of the ABA) that I met in St. Paul this year. And Bruce Richardson who've I've yet to meet. And, of course, Kate Sutherland will be on board chumming birds in and doing a great job of spotting and identifying distant specks on the horizon. 

Ummm...of course, the Blue Madeupbird?
The similar and distinctly less blue Ring-necked Pheasant ended up taking a long time. 
I eventually caught up with them in Eastern Colorado.

Cedar Waxwing. The last Waxwings I saw were Bohemian - hundreds of them in Anchorage, AK. But...I was too busy looking for a Dusky Thrush to pay them much attention.

I'm also looking forward to spending time with Chris Hitt in Chapel Hill. After completing his own Big Year in 2010 (704 species in the Lower 48) he's become the expert of Big Years, and has been a good friend and supporter this year. 

Porcupine. (Really Gerri? Looks more like a hedgehog to me.)
I was stuck behind a very slow-driving porcupine in Rice Lake, MN this May.
An hour later I got Golden-winged Warbler.
Two hours later, I got a body-coating of ticks.

Whale. I spent 14 days at sea this year, and saw many whales - the most 
amazing of which was the Blue Whale, seen on Debi Shearwater's boat out of Monterey.

Even after a year of being on the road, I'm still excited about the next chase. While North Carolina could well be the last trip of this year, I'm hoping that there'll be some feathered reason for me to dash off after Hatteras to an island off Alaska, up a canyon in Arizona, or on a ferry to the Dry Tortugas of Florida. Anywhere - just as long as the bird isn't a White-cheeked Pintail!

Happy Holidays to everyone that's been reading this blog - and thank you to everyone that's been following online. And a big thank you to Don Crockett for putting together this gadget that's keeping me awake at night...

(from 2014 - it's stopped now - but was counting down the 
days, hours, minutes and seconds)

And thank you Gerri for all your support this year. Thanks for a wonderful Christmas, for all the wonderful bird ornaments (who'd have guessed that no-one makes Rufous-necked Wood-rail Christmas ornaments - surely a great business opportunity for the ABA?)

"Now - where can I hang this cat?"
Gerri modeling the Big Year Tree.
+ + +

BIG YEAR LIST: 745 + 3 provisional (Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Common Redstart, Eurasian Sparrowhawk)