Indiana Big Year 2013

Since the last of the big scheduled trips is over with and the next couple of weeks will be dedicated to myriad holidays, for all intents and purposes my birding in 2012 is not likely to produce any real news. So, I feel like I can now discuss my plans for 2013: a Big Year!

For those not familiar with this concept (like me before I saw the movie (I read the book afterward)), a Big Year is an individual quest to see as many different species of birds as possible in one calendar year: 12:00am on January 1st to 11:59pm on December 31st. The stories that the Big Year movie chronicles are based on true events in the lives of people in the upper-echelon of the birding world, where flying across the entire continent, spending tens of thousands of dollars, and seeing upwards of 700 species are common undertakings. I will not be doing any of those things.

My Big Year will stay confined to the state of Indiana, and with less than 200 species on my entire life list as it stands now, I have no intention (or expectation) of achieving a particularly remarkable final tally. I do, however, expect searching across the state for specific birds will be very fun, and I fully anticipate becoming a better birder from it. Indiana is also a great place to go birding. It may not be as ornithologically thrilling as someplace like Texas, California, or Alaska, but its central location in North America means that it occasionally gets specialties from both the east and west as well as the north and south. The state has recorded over 400 species in its variety of habitats, which include hardwood forests, farmland, a piece of the Great Lakes shoreline, farmland, riparian corridors, farmland, hills, and farmland too!

I will update this blog with my progress like usual, but I will have a running score in the Big Year tab at the top of the page. I think a realistic goal for someone with my knowledge and resources is 250 species, and I am itching for January 1st to get here!

Advertisements

Best Bird of the Year

One of my favorite birding blogs, 10,000 Birds, is putting together a retrospective of its readers’ best birds of the year 2012. To me, “best” is a purely subjective term. I am sure that for most birders the rarest or most unlikely bird that they encountered would qualify as their best. But the single bird that I am choosing as my best is a common bird that was found in its expected range about 15 minutes away from my house.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

Jaime, my amazing wife, took me on a birding excursion on our day off to celebrate me finishing my master’s degree. It was May 8th, and we went to Eagle Creek Park on the west side of Indianapolis for the first time (the park has since become my primary birding home base). I had seen a Summer Tanager for the first time a few days beforehand, so I had Scarlet Tanager on my mind and hoped to see this bird in particular. After walking around for a couple of hours, Jaime and I came across another birder who asked us if we had seen anything good, to which I replied a typical summer checklist of alright birds: Indigo Bunting, Baltimore Oriole, Yellow Warbler. When we asked the same, she told us that she had spotted a Scarlet Tanager. I had already told Jaime about my hope to see this bird, so we single-mindedly followed our informant’s cue to check out some trees on the north side of the reservoir. Within minutes, we were rewarded with our goal bird.

Seeing a Scarlet Tanager for the first time was definitely my biggest birding highlight of the year. Even though I got to see exotic species in places like Europe and Florida, and even though I came across rarer birds in Indiana, this one was special. Jaime stopped and stared at it with me until it had flown out of sight. Even if you aren’t a birder, you can’t help but appreciate the awesome colors of this bird (even though this one in question was an immature male and not quite as red as others like him). The fact that I got to enjoy the experience with my wife made it that much better.

Earlier in the spring, I didn’t even have a life list put together, and when I created one I found that I only had 109 species even though I considered myself a birder. The Scarlet Tanager was one of the first new birds of the year that I encountered, and the experience made me that much more excited to pursue the rest of them. Today, just over eight months after that sighting, my life list is up to 181 species. I feel like this has been the year that I became a serious birder, and the Scarlet Tanager feels like a milestone bird in turning that corner.

#miami

Continuing with the year of travel, Jaime and I were fortunate enough to make it down to Miami for my sister’s graduation and to see the family, celebrate Christmas early, and all of those good things. Additionally, I am sure you would be disappointed if I didn’t spend considerable time chasing birds around and looking foolish in front of all of those gaudily-dressed scenesters, European ravers, and Jersey Shore cast members. Don’t worry, reader(s) behold:

Eurasian Collared Dove

Eurasian Collared Dove

The first significant bird was a life bird for me, the Eurasian Collared Dove. Much like most things in Miami, these birds do not originate in America. They supposedly can be found in Indiana too, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

The Cattle Egret was also a life bird for me, though they are exceedingly common in Florida. They are infamous for expanding their range very rapidly during the 20th century, arriving in the US of their own accord and spreading out from there. Again, these can supposedly be found in Indiana, but I haven’t seen any proof yet.

Mitred Parakeet

Mitred Parakeet

Another life bird were these Mitred Parakeets that had taken their talents to South Beach. Originally from Ecuador or something, these birds are feral and thriving in their new digs. They are also closely related to the Red-Masked Parakeets of San Francisco (and this blog’s) fame, but the Mitred variety has an incompletely red face.

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck

The provenance of waterfowl is frequently difficult to determine when they are unafraid of humans, and I was about ready to give up on the Muscovy Ducks that inhabit the University of Miami’s campus because they are endemic to Central America. However, one of these ugly bastards had a flock of ducklings with it, which let me know that they have indeed established themselves like the parrots above. Lifer.

Magnificent Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebird

The fifth and final lifer of the trip was this Magnificent Frigatebird that was wheeling around the bay outside of our 15th floor balcony. These guys have a truly crazy silhouette that looks like they should be in a Batman movie.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

The award for most appropriately named bird of the trip goes to this Palm Warbler, which was sitting in a palm tree.

White Ibis

White Ibis

I do not know the scientific term for a group of White Ibis, so I will say that this herd of them was busy begging for bread crumbs at The U.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

This Brown Pelican was photographed from our Duck Boat during the Duck Boat Tour of Biscayne Bay. It was not amused.

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

It was impossible to do anything without at least one Laughing Gull looking at you funny.

Unlikely Allies

Unlikely Allies

Even with all of the great birds that were seen in South Florida, perhaps the most unexpected was the Red-Bellied Woodpecker cavorting about with Monk Parakeets in a palm tree in the middle of a busy street. I guess this just goes to show you that what happens in Miami stays in Miami, unless you get photographed and put on the internet.