Monday, 26 December 2011

Just six days to go.....

Unlike Brian and Ray, who had contemplated doing a Canada Big Year for some time, I hadn’t ever thought about doing one. I took up birding as a retirement hobby, building on an interest I had little chance to develop while I was working. I joined the Calgary Bird Study group and took part in the Calgary 2000 birding competition, which introduced me to the birds, birding locales and birders in the city. I started birding on family vacations, went on an organized trip to Texas in 2001, then my first international trip, to Costa Rica in 2002. (The leader of that trip was Mike Mulligan, the other member of our Big Year team; although we’ve birded a lot around Calgary together, the only other trip I’ve done with Mike was a short pelagic on a cruise ship from San Francisco to Vancouver in 2009.) Since 2002 I’ve made one or two overseas trips a year. My first international trip with Brian was to Malaysia, including Borneo, in 2007, and we’ve made three more trips together since then.

While birding is something I obviously enjoy for its own sake, I treasure the friendships I’ve made through birding and the experience of visiting new places. When my birding buddies indicated they’d be pleased to have me come along on their Canada Big Year, and as I’ve birded very little in Canada outside of Alberta, I soon made up my mind that that’s how I wanted to spend 2012.

Fur and Feathers 500 will be an ambitious but definitely achievable target. (Perhaps we’ll have to keep track of other life forms such as fish and frogs to get to 500.) Brian has put together a master plan which should put us in the key birding locations in Canada at the right time of year to maximize our chances. Recently we made the decision to travel to all ten provinces and three territories in our quest.

We will start the year right here in Calgary, taking part in the annual Fish Creek Provincial Park New Year’s Day count. With luck, we’ll have 20 bird species ticked off by this time next week, along with a mammal or two. We’ll then put in one or two days birding around the Calgary region. The top winter targets in Alberta, based on Brian’s planning spreadsheet, are Gyrfalcon, Snowy Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.

On January 5th we’ll be off to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Ray’s son Rob lives near Halifax, NS and he will join us for two days, and introduce us to other Nova Scotian birders. Working from Brian’s spreadsheet, I developed the following targets for our January East Coast trip:

Must Get Birds: There are six of them: Tufted Duck, Purple Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Iceland Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Dovekie. These are critical species, which would be hard to find elsewhere or at other times of the year, but they should be around. Statistically we would expect to get all six of them.

Hope To Get Birds: There are seven of them: King Eider, Northern Lapwing, Yellow-legged Gull, Slaty-backed Gull, Boreal Owl, Redwing and Dickcissel. These are also key birds to find, but the odds are slimmer. Statistically we would expect to get two of them but hopefully we'll do better! And we will also hope for other accessible, vagrant species which we learn about through Christmas Bird Count results, local contacts and/or the provincial birding bulletin boards.

I am not sure about key mammal targets, except for wintering Caribou in Newfoundland.


Friday, 9 December 2011

Getting Close

Brian introduced our 4-man team and our 2012 Big Canada Year plans in his opening post on August 15th. Now, suddenly, we are very close to getting underway. To help prepare my wife for what lies ahead in 2012 I took her to see the movie "Big Year". I believe she enjoyed it but I haven't heard her clamoring to join in - certainly not on our first trip of the year which will be to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in January! That trip isn't likely to pass her double digit test which means temperatures above 10 deg C.!

The four of us undoubtedly have slightly different objectives for this Big Year adventure. For myself, first and foremost will be to get my Canada list up to a more respectable 425 from where it currently languishes at a mere 394. I am also hoping to visit all 13 provinces and territories. The Yukon is a must because I've not been there previously, but there's a few key places in the other 12 I'd like to visit too, such as the Queen Charlotte Islands in B.C. and Churchill in Manitoba. And I've not been to Nunavut since it became Nunavut. Finally, I'm hoping to see and learn a bit more about some of Canada's mammals. Brian's earlier post spoke of a combined target for mammals and birds of 450. Lately we've been musing about a more ambitious number of 500. It has a better ring to it!

Ultimately however, it's about seeing more places in this magnificent country, meeting some new and interesting people and spending time with some good friends, doing what we all love to do.......go birding!

Looking forward to getting started..................Ray

Monday, 15 August 2011

2012 Big Year Plans

In 2012, four Calgarians - Phil Cram, Mike Mulligan, Ray Woods and me (Brian Elder) - will embark on a leisurely big year for both birds and mammals.  I say leisurely because we would all like to stay on good terms with our wives and also have time for other pursuits.  We have set a modest goal of 400 bird species and 50 mammals but, of course we will be hoping for more.

In 1994, I tried to do a big year while working full-time and helping to raise 3 young children.  Needless to say, there was not time for everything and I stopped half way through the year.  Now retired, as are my friends, I look forward to completing what I set out to do many years ago.

Ideally, we would like to visit every province and territory but budget constraints will likely prevail.  We will be focusing on regularly occurring birds in Canada but will happily count any vagrants we should come across.  Some of us have become interested in mammal sightings, thus their inclusion in our plans.

Each of us has some secondary goals for the year.  I would like to get my Canada list to 450 from its current level of 433.  There is a possibility of a few lifers including Yellow Rail - this bird is commonly heard less than 1/2 an hour from my house but I have yet to see one ... next year for sure!  I am also a keen photographer and would like to photograph most of the birds that we see.  I'll let the others explain their motives in their own words once I figure out how team blogging works.

During the course of our big year, we are looking forward to meeting many birders across the country.  We would also like to enlist your help in identifying possible locations for some of the rarer birds.  As we get further along in our planning, I'll post a list of these birds.  For now, you can look at our list of bird possibilities to get an idea of what we are hoping to see and what our challenges might be.

Good birding!