Animal Perspectives - All Things Environment, Nature, & Bird.
AnimalPerspectives.Com is a website that I created with the intention to provide reliable information about wildlife — nature is for everyone! Animal Perspectives currently focuses birds and ornithology (the study of birds). My mission is to provide information about the environment, wild birds, and nature in the United States.
A state big year can be a great, and exhausting, way to bond with your state’s birds. At first, planning out a big year can feel overwhelming but with these five tips you’ll be ready to add to your list in no time!
One: Organize Your Big Year by Making Lists
In total, you’ll have six lists, or one list broken down in six ways. Read on!
Grab a pen and paper, or use a spreadsheet, and designate space for the following column headings: winter, spring, summer, fall, resident. Under each column, jot down all of the birds that you see without any effort. Once you’re finished with that list, start another list.
This second list will have the same column headings: winter, spring, summer, fall, resident. It will be different though because on this list you’re going to put down birds that are more difficult to see. Birds like rarer migrating warblers, unreliable birds (birds that you see every other year, but not yearly), and birds that are just tough to catch as they migrate through. In my state, good examples are Black-bellied Whistling Duck and Upland Sandpiper.
The third list is for birds that are more difficult to find. Not necessarily rare birds, but birds that you might need to travel long distances for. It’s important that you follow tip number two (utilize eBird) to alleviate the stress associated with scooping up these birds!
The fourth list a goodie list — a list of birds that you’ve never seen in the state.
The fifth list should include birds that only have a few state records, so MEGA rare birds.
The sixth list should be left blank. These are the birds that didn’t make it on your list because you never thought you’d see them. You will see these birds and when you do, add them to this list!
Next, it’s time to do your homework.
Two: Utilize eBird
Utilizing eBird will maximize your time in the field. eBird is an incredibly powerful tool that can give you anything from frequency and distribution charts for specific species, to directions to find those birds. If you’re planning to do a big year, you’re probably already familiar with eBird. If not, it’s time! Click here to learn all about eBird.
If you’re planning a big year, you should already be able to identify most birds on your list with ease, or at the very least be able to capture an image or audio for when you are having trouble IDing a bird. Be sure of your bird ID before you add a bird to your list — don’t guess. Otherwise, you’ll miss the magic of certainty.
Three: Join Facebook Groups for Your State
Find Facebook birding groups for your state. They are typically listed under the state with the added word “birding” or “notable”. You will also want to join the “ABA Rare Bird Alert” group. If you’re not on Facebook, it’s worth getting an account just for birds.
Joining these groups will help you meet other birders in your state and learn some details about a sighting that you might find interesting. These groups are good places to ask well-researched questions.
Four: Visit Your Local Bird Club
Your local bird club is a great place to network, meet other birders, make new friends, and learn the history of birding in your state/county. In addition to joining your local bird club, get involved. Go on field trips, lead bird walks, and give back when you can.
Five: Pay Attention
Even before your big year starts, you should always be on. What does that mean? It means never leave you bins behind and always pay attention to habitat. Birds happen, anywhere. A King Rail in a city parking lot — happened. A Purple Gallinule on a window ledge in D.C. — happened. A Snowy Owl on the roof of the Museum of Natural History — happened. A Northern Saw-whet Owl perched on a vacuum cleaner in someone’s garage — happened!
It’s up to you to organize and plan your big year, but more importantly, it’s up to you to keep your eyes (and ears) peeled! With these five tips you’ll get off to a great, and organized, start.
This summer, scorching temperatures made birding past 9 a.m. somewhat difficult. I strayed away from my “enter an ebird list daily” goal and focused on other things, like swimming, reading, assuming an editorship, and planning for fall migration (i.e., staying close to the AC).
(What’s ebird? We’ll get there in another post.)
The toughest birding day of my summer yielded the best results. While I’m not going to share everything from that day (I’m still digesting it), I will share this photo of a Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia).
Bank Swallows are a commonly misidentified bird. Often, young Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are mistaken for them because of their plumage and, what I like to call, their “false collar”, add to that, the fact that they flock together — joy!
My rule of thumb is, “If you’re not sure of the collar, it’s definitely not a Bank Swallow.” Why? Because, as you can see below, the collar is obvious, complete and extends down the center of the chest. Also, they have a very round head and they look like they have two black eyes. When you see a Bank Swallow for the first time, you’ll go, “Ooooh, so that’s what she means…” — promise.
Image Credit: Animal Perspectives. Bank Swallow.
If the image below looks fuzzy it’s either because of the haze from the heat, or this Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) chick was just too fluffy (I’m going with the latter). Killdeer are a dime a dozen over the summer, and in some areas they’re year round residents, but who can resist sharing an image of a chick?
Image Credit: Animal Perspectives. Killdeer chick.
Great White Heron
I often say, “You can definitely have too many photos of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias).” (I do!) But now I ask myself, “What about a Great White Heron?” The answer is “no” — obviously. This bird took several visits to finally see. It’s a rare occurrence to see a Great Blue Heron white morph in Maryland. I’ve always wanted to see one. It was spectacular!
“Great Egret!” was what some were saying when an image of the bird below was posted to Facebook. NO WAY, JOSE!
I immediately knew it wasn’t a Great Egret (Ardea alba). What sold me (for better or for worse) was that heavy bill. Regardless of whether or not this bird is “countable” (I’m a birder first), I had to see it for myself.
The bird spooked very easily, but not just from the birders stopping on the side of the road. It had some competition from another Great Blue Heron, high-speed traffic zooming past, and plenty of activity from the grazing animals.
Other notable field marks are the straight culmen, short head plumes when compared to Great Blue Heron (Sibley, 76), leg color (Great Egret leg color is black, Great Blue Heron white morph color is not), and the off-white plumage (brownish/rosy on some parts).
It was a “Great” experience with my best birding buddies. Added bonus: it was in my county!
Image Credit: Animal Perspectives. Great Blue Heron, White Morph.
Wood Storks (Mycteria americana) live in the Southern United States, Central America, and the Caribbean. Birds that travel outside of their normal range are known as “vagrants”. Having a vagrant Wood Stork in Maryland was quite a treat! The bird was out of sight when I arrived but then, all of a sudden, it emerged from behind a large mound of dirt. This bird was found on private property and the property owner graciously allowed Maryland Birders to visit.
It was a struggle to get to this bird, even though it was only about an hour away from where I live. Parking was at the bottom of a big hill and I was sick with wicked cold (horrible cough included). Thankfully, I have good friends and was dropped off at the top of the hill so that my lungs could be spared. In the rain, with a fever, a terrible cough, and because of the team effort, I was able to capture this bird.
Check out this range map, it will give you an idea of how rare it is to see a Wood Stork in Maryland!
Henslow’s Sparrows (Centronyx henslowii) are compact, secretive sparrows. This photo was made possible because of hormones! Seriously. This Henslow’s Sparrow remained on this perch for about 30 minutes, belting out its short, metallic, hiccup of a song — it was incessant! A few weeks before I took this photo, I had visited another location with several individual birds and they were not as vocal as the birds in this field. I walked past this one twice because I couldn’t believe it was so visible. Here’s a link to my Instagram photo of the bird.
Fun fact: John Stevens Henslow, for whom the sparrow was named after, was a good friend of John James Audubon and a teacher of the Father of Evolution, Charles Darwin.
Image Credit: Animal Perspectives. Henslow’s Sparrow.
All birds are good birds, but the birds in this post are particularly good for Maryland and great for my Big Year! Don’t forget to follow my hashtag #BigYearO across all social media platforms to keep up-to-date with my progress!