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.