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)


  1. Neil-

    Good luck with the Skua. And thanks for including a picture of Gerri. Many a partner of a birder are long suffering as we go out and chase birds, and they deserve a ton of credit for being supportive, or just putting up with this strange obsession!

  2. Classy tree ornaments! I love them!

    Your girl friend seems awesome to be able to put up with a "big year" and still do that....

    Enjoy your well earned Holiday!

    Merry Christmas! and Happy New Year!


  3. Gerri is the very best!

    Good luck on the Skua chase. :)

  4. Neil, Good luck breaking the record. It was great birding vicariously all year and meeting you & Jay in San Diego. Safe travels & best wishes.
    Edna Duffy

  5. A-Skua-hunting we will go! Is it meant to be? Stay tuned! Best of luck to you and thank you Gerri for sharing Neil with us.

  6. Your girlfriend probably wants to know if on your travels you've seen the even more elusive Engagement Ring Duck. :)
    Merry Christmas. Hope you get at least 1 or 2 more.

  7. Ahem, of course there is a Rufous-necked Wood-rail ornament. :)
    I have really enjoyed following your adventure and will be rooting for you tomorrow! Good luck!!

  8. Tell Jay that I photographed Gray Partridge in Klickitat Co., WA near Goldendale last year at this exact time. They were rather “easy” there. Not sure about this year. He should contact Stuart Johnston in Bingen, WA. He’d know for sure.

  9. Hope you get to pick up a Grey Heron in Newport RI on your way down to NC! It would be great to see you break the record by 2+!

  10. Congratulations on such a successful year. I am glad you could enjoy Christmas. :) Best of luck on the Skua chase. Bruce Richardson is a good friend of mine and a super fun guy, and a great birder. I wish I could be on the Pelagic trip!
    -Gabriel Mapel, 14 year old birder, completed "Junior Big Year" in 2011 with 437 species

  11. Thanks for all of the wonderful comments!!! :)

  12. Neil. Give that White-cheeked Pintail another day or two of searching. It's been seen again on 24th. Stick it to 'em!

    Happy Holidays.

  13. Congrats and I hope you get a couple more, sorry about that White-cheeked Pintail, actually my lifer, it took me two trips to get it and I live in West Palm Beach. I have really enjoyed reading about your travels and am so envious. You are a great writer, look forward to the upcoming book, hint. Take care and good luck on the last 4 days

  14. White-cheeked Pintail back in Florida!

  15. I want to add my thanks to Gerri for sharing Neil with the rest of us this year?

  16. Congratulations on the Great Skua and the new ABA Big Year record. It has been an enjoyable vicarious adventure following your quest

  17. Facebook knows no secrets and gave us word of the Great Skua. Congratulations on 746 + 3 and the new record! It's been great fun following you all year via this blog. Thanks!

  18. Neil, Congratulations on breaking the record. I knew Brian & Kate would find your bird. How ironic that SKUA, Sandy's license plate, was the bird you chose to break his record.

  19. Neil,

    Not bad for an "Accidental" big year! Much congratulations. A White-cheeked Pintail was Sandy Komito's last bird of his 1998 Big Year. Just sayin...

  20. Congrats from across the pond. Have enjoyedfollowing your blog and look fwd to the book - should u choose to write one. All the birding best. Martin

  21. Congratulations. Can't wait to hear the story of the skua.

  22. Congratulations! I'll be mentioning your Big Year on my blog, Bird Brainz, tomorrow and how I'm vicariously enjoying it.