Not Doing A Big Year

I'm not doing a big year--just wanted to say that because so many people start them now, but I'm not one of them. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I applaud those who want to, if it trips your trigger, go for it. It's not what I like about birding. I tried the digiscoping big year for a fundraiser, but I just don't have the drive to chase and I'm fascinated by those who do.

Speaking of big years did you see that the guy doing the "Biking For Birds" ended 2014 with 617 (give or take a few depending on records committee acceptance) and 17,830 miles on a bike. Now that guy has drive...or should I say pedal? Hoo boy. There's part of me that looks at that and things, "Yeah, birding for a whole year, on my bike (two things I love) that would be cool."

But I also like sleeping in, dinner with friends, not biking in pouring rain, sipping a bit of scotch late into the night while watching John Wayne in the Quiet Man next to Non Birding Bill on the couch...I do not have the will power for a big year, even as I type this an ivory gull is a mere 7 hours away and I have a 48 hour window to twitch it before I have to fly to an undisclosed location to do a bird survey for work, but I'm choosing to stay home, take a day to relax before work and sharing some chicken pot pie with non birding friends. 

I did do a little bit of birding on New Year's Day. I checked the BirdsEye app on my iPhone and saw there was a Townsend's solitaire reported not too far away in a cemetery and people were seeing snowy owls around the Minneapolis/St Paul Airport. 

NBB tagged along for the car ride. There was a solitaire in a cemetery in 2013 and that was a fun challenge to pick it out among the headstones and I thought it would be a fun bird to pick out. Although, there were already some birders milling about waiting for it show. They had staked out a spot that it would periodically return to and there were taped calls (literally a boom box was used). And I instantly lost interest in the solitaire. I'm not 100% against using taped calls--they have their time and place. But a stake out bird that's been getting called a lot, a boom box played to loud...just not how I wanted to see the bird. We tried driving around the cemetery for other potential spots then gave up on it and headed to the airport. 

I drove down cargo road to where the bird is generally reported. With all the snow, the owl would be a challenge to find. We saw other birders scanning, they hadn't found it yet. Just as we were about to head out, I noticed a small building with what looked like a wedge of snow. I  pulled over, grabbed my binos and said, "Ah, there it is."

I have the binos to NBB and got my scope out of the trunk. While I was doing that, NBB posted this photo and caption to his Facebook page:

He asked, "How did you see that?"

"It's what I do," I said. "This is what I look for on bird surveys."

"You were driving!"

"I just looked for the anomalies," I said.

But it's not just a matter of it being what I do. The secret that many birders know, especially the ones who like to look for owls is that we are looking all the time. We are coming up empty 90% of the time. We never tell people when we don't see the owl, only when we do see the owl.  That coupled with the number of times I've been to the airport and looked for snowys, knowing where they are likely to perch and knowing what all the buildings look like give you an idea of when some thing white is on a building that isn't normally there. 

A very distant snowy owl digiscoped from behind a chain link fence. A Hipstamatic filter added because it's not a great photo anyway.

A very distant snowy owl digiscoped from behind a chain link fence. A Hipstamatic filter added because it's not a great photo anyway.

But I think that the puzzle part of it is what I enjoy most about birding. Finding the hidden the owl, figuring out where the solitaire is going to pop up in the cemetery. Noticing that a large eagle has a dihedral shape and bang, it a golden eagle. I should be into gulls since I like puzzles so much...but not yet.

If big years are your bliss, have a great time. I will admire your determination while I sleep in.