Sunday, 6 January 2013

Thanks to all for a great year

Our big year ended last Monday with a New Year’s Eve dinner with our wives and a get-together at Phil’s to bring in the new year.  I observed carefully but still no wild humans to add to the list!
Our team celebrating the year - back: Brian, Phil, Mike, Ray  front: Jo, Barb, Rae, Agnes
The big year was a major undertaking and we couldn’t have done it without a lot of help.  First and foremost on the list is our wives who put up with our many absences and looked after the household while we were away.  My wife Barb said to me afterwards, “I’m glad you did it but I don’t want you ever to do it again!”
Our wives sporting their Fur & Feathers tshirts - Agnes (Ray), Barb (Brian), Rae (Phil) and Jo (Mike)
The four of us worked well as a team – I took the lead in planning, Ray made most of the contacts with other birders, Phil handled travel logistics and Mike chipped in with his extensive knowledge and experience.

Planning was a big task and we used as many resources as we could.  J. Cam Finlay’s 2000 revised edition, “A Bird-Finding Guide to Canada” helped in the initial planning stages and we also used it occasionally on the road.  One or more of us belonged to 9 different provincial internet groups – these were a great source of information about rarities in the areas we would be visiting.  Thanks to all of the contributors for making these groups a success.  In particular, I’d like to thank a couple of professionals whose regular contributions over the years were very helpful in the planning process – Bruce Mactavish in Newfoundland and Chris Charlesworth in the BC interior.  Russ Cannings’s BC Bird Alert and his personal blogs were also very helpful and Russ also provided us with a fair bit of BC bird finding info in person and by email.
The four of us are competent birders but we found it very helpful to enlist the help of experienced local birders whenever we could.  James Hirtle in Nova Scotia, Anne Hughes in Newfoundland, Dick Cannings and Rick Schortinghuis in BC all went out with us on multiple days and helped find almost all of our target birds – thanks a lot, guys.  We also had some help from Rob Woods, Dorothy Poole and Johnny Nickerson in NS, Cameron Eckert in the Yukon, Ron Jensen in SK, the two Jeremys – Gatten and Kimm – on our west coast pelagic and the Masset gang – Margot Hearn, Peter Hamel and Martin Williams – on Haida Gwaii.  Along the way, we met many other friendly birders who also were very helpful.  In the Calgary area, our friends were aware of our big year and passed along useful sighting information – thanks Bob, Ray, Dan, Bob, Malcolm and Joan.  We’ve had a lot of help from a lot of birders so my apologies if I’ve missed a name or two.

I’d also like to thank the many feeder watchers across the country that made their yards accessible to us and other birders.  There are too many to list but some of our best birds like Dickcissel, Yellow-throated Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, Costa’s Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker and Northern Wheatear were seen in people’s yards.
Hepatic Tanager - Wadena, SK
Blogging was new to us and turned out to be a lot of fun.  Your comments made us feel connected with our readers.  We even experienced 30 seconds of fame when we were recognized in Point Pelee by a nice group of ladies from Calgary (who teased us with their American Marten sighting – we finally saw one a few weeks ago for our final mammal species of the year).

The blogging stats gave us some idea of how many people were looking at the blog and how they found us.  Our 36,000 page views pales somewhat in comparison to the "eagle snatching a kid" video but it was never our objective to go viral.  Thanks to all fellow bloggers had links to our site (I was somewhat remiss in not posting reciprocal links); some of the main traffic sources were Bob Lefebvre’s Calgary Birding blog:, the Prairie Birder, Charlotte Wasylik: and Josh Vandermeulen in Ontario (congratulations Josh on setting the Ontario big year record):
In August of 2011, I announced our big year intentions as well as a number of personal goals.  I’m happy to say that all but one were achieved.  With 507 species, our team surpassed our goal of 500 bird and mammal species in Canada (revised upward from an initial 450 objective).  We did get to all 13 provinces and territories and saw some special places along the way.  My favourite places – places I’d like to take my wife – were les Iles de la Madeleine (thanks for suggesting it, Blake), the Dempster highway in YT, the Arctic (of which Repulse Bay was a great example) and Haida Gwaii.
Coastline near Old Harry, les Iles de la Madeleine
Cruising through the ice near Repulse Bay
Queen Charlotte City, Haida Gwaii
I think we were successful in doing a “relaxed” big year (if one ignores the crazy 20 hour overnight trip to SK for the Hepatic Tanager!).  We all have remained happily married though our points balance is in need of replenishing.

My Canada bird list now stands at 460, 10 ahead of my 450 target.  I photographed 470 species or 93% of the species we saw which surpassed my target of 90%.  My missed target – the Yellow Rail was only heard, not seen … maybe this year.  Although not a goal, we had some fun with ATPAT (all territories and provinces added together).  ATPAT provided a secondary focus when there weren’t many new species around and Ray, Phil and I all surpassed the old record for Canada “ticks” in a year.

We are in the final stages of preparing a photo book of our big year.  This is not a commercial endeavour but just for our own memories.  However, when it is ready, I will post a link to the book so that you can browse through it.
Where to from here?  This will be my last post to this blog (other than posting the photo book link); the others may post their reflections on the big year.  I have started up my own blog:  Fur and Feathers 5000 so perhaps some of you will follow my new adventures.  Check it out at:

Thanks again to all of you who have supported us and good birding.


  1. Congratulations on your Big Year, it was a great inspiration! I'm going to miss all your posts, but am looking forward to following Brian's blog.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your adventures. It was great to see the photos and maybe to dream of some similar trips in the future!

  3. Congratulations on your Big Year! Thank you for sharing your adventures with us and inspiring Alberta birders. Look forward to your photo book. Will you be making any presentations to birding groups on your big year?

  4. Congratulations on your success! I really enjoyed reading the posts and always was eagerly awaiting the next trip report!