Monday, December 31, 2012

Conservation Big Year: January Game Plan

It's time for my Conservation Big Year to begin! My goal this year will not be focused on out-of-range rarities that are common somewhere, but on species of conservation concern as defined by the American Bird Conservancy, with a few additional species that seem to me to be declining seriously. So my “target list” includes about 177 species. Some are found only up in the Arctic, which I just can’t afford to travel to this year, so I don’t expect to see anywhere near all of them. I’ll be looking at every bird I can find as I search for those target species, and by year’s end, I hope to have seen at least 500 species and to have taken at least marginal photos of most of them. I’d set my goal at 600 if I had more money and time and no family. Pursuing so many birds will involve a lot of travel, which not only will keep me away from home more than I really like and use more money than I really have—it will also exact a high cost in terms of using natural resources. I’ll be doing my best to minimize my use of energy and water in other ways this year, and whenever possible I’ll try to carpool to birding destinations. I’ll keep track of every mile I travel for birding by every means of transportation. At year’s end I’ll try to donate at least a penny per mile to the American BirdConservancy.

  Varied Thrush, Duluth CBC 

 In January, I’ll mostly be focused at home in Minnesota and in Florida, where I’m headed for the Space Coast Birding and Nature Festival. I’m hoping the Varied Thrush found during the Duluth Christmas Bird Count will stick around long enough for me to see it on New Year’s Day. Varied Thrushes are vagrants to the Midwest and East, but they’re of conservation concern in the Pacific rainforest, where they’re declining. Two gulls that have been appearing regularly in the Duluth-Superior harbor, Thayer’s and Iceland, are also ranked of conservation concern. And one of my favorite birds of all, the Evening Grosbeak, is dangerously declining. 2012 was the fourth year in a row that not one appeared on Duluth’s Christmas Bird Count, but fortunately a handful have been regularly appearing in the Sax-Zim Bog.

  Evening Grosbeak 

 At mid-month, I’ll be driving to Florida, where it’s theoretically possible that I could see over 25 species of concern. Many of them are uncommon, but I expect to see at least a dozen, and, being an optimist, I have hopes of even more. So I’m setting my January goal at a total of 150 species, including at least 15 that are of Conservation Concern. I’ll be keeping a detailed field notebook and entering all my sightings for the year into eBird, too. That’s going to involve a level of self-discipline I haven’t mustered up in years.

  Black Skimmer 

Minnesota and Wisconsin Target Birds: January 1­–13
  • ·      Thayer’s Gull
  • ·      Iceland Gull
  • ·      Varied Thrush (If the CBC bird is still hanging out in my neighborhood)
  • ·      Evening Grosbeak

Florida Target Birds: January 18-29
  • ·      Mottled Duck
  • ·      Northern Bobwhite
  • ·      Magnificent Frigatebird
  • ·      Masked Booby
  • ·      Reddish Egret
  • ·      Black Rail (This is my one shot at a lifer for the month.)
  • ·      Clapper Rail
  • ·      King Rail
  • ·      Snowy Plover
  • ·      Wilson’s Plover
  • ·      Piping Plover
  • ·      Marbled Godwit
  • ·      Red Knot
  • ·      Sanderling
  • ·      Western Sandpiper
  • ·      Black Skimmer
  • ·      Razorbill (I might get lucky—a lot of them have “invaded” Florida this year.)
  • ·      White-crowned Pigeon
  • ·      Red-crowned Parrot
  • ·      Red-headed Woodpecker
  • ·      Red-cockaded Woodpecker
  • ·      Loggerhead Shrike
  • ·      Florida Scrub-Jay
  • ·      Bachman’s Sparrow
  • ·      Saltmarsh Sparrow
  • ·      Seaside Sparrow
  • ·      Painted Bunting

VERY Provisional Itinerary:

January: Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, Florida, mostly around the middle, from Sarasota to Merritt Island and the Viera Wetlands, and one pelagic trip with the Space Coast Birding and Nature Festival.

February: Duluth area, and 9 day trip with Kim Eckert’s Minnesota Birding Weeks to South Texas

March: Wide open. Suggestions?

April: 13–21st to Colorado with Kim Eckert’s Minnesota Birding Weeks. 27th I’ll be speaking in Kansas near Cheyenne Bottoms.

May: First week I MIGHT be speaking in Oklahoma. That would be SO exciting! Then I’m off to Delaware for at least a week (I’ll have one speaking opportunity), and then moving up the coast to Machias Seal Island, and then across northern Michigan for Kirtland’s Warblers and back home. The Wisconsin Society for Ornithology is having their annual meeting in Ashland, and I get to speak there, and then I’ll be teaching my usual Elderhostel (oops—“Road Scholar”) birding class with Troy Walters at Trees for Tomorrow in Eagle River, WI.

June: Up in the air. Suggestions? Any chance it’s not too late for Colima Warbler? Southeastern Arizona and/or Grand Canyon?

July: Up in the air. Suggestions? (Minocqua, Wisconsin, on the 27th and 28th.

August–December: Up in the air. I’d like to go on at least one and maybe two Shearwater pelagic trips. Which would be best? And I’d like to get somewhere to see Yellow-billed Magpie and other California specialties.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Starting to plan again

<Crested Caracara

 How can it be November already? This has been a hectic year for me, with an unexpected book project and a loss of focus due to dealing with an aging family member's needs. I'm still plotting out plans for 2013. So far, I know I'll be in Florida for the Space Coast Birding and Nature Festival in January and trying to take in some other birding spots while I'm in the state.

  Northern Hawk Owl

 I'll be birding for a week or so in northern Minnesota in February and then going on one of Kim Eckert's Minnesota Birding Weeks to cover south Texas. (I figured this tour would get me to a lot of great places, and even though it will be too intense to spend time talking to people working on conservation, I didn't see a more inexpensive and realistic way I could cover that ground, and no one from Texas has contacted me about conservation projects for this anyway.)

  Against the wind

 March and April are fairly open--I want to get somewhere to observe both prairie-chickens and also Sharp-tailed Grouse and both sage grouse. I'm not sure how I'll manage to swing these trips financially, but they'll have to be pretty low-key. My income for all of 2011 was less than $10,000, and this year will be marginally better but not by a whole lot, so I'm working on a tighter budget than Greg Miller was doing his Big Year. 

I'll be spending the first and second weeks of May in and around DelawareBombay Hook and Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuges, and Cape Henlopen State Park (which has a protected beach area for nesting Piping Plovers!)—and the mid-Atlantic coast. This is one of the coolest invitations I've had so far--I'll get to visit with people from the Delmarva Ornithological Society and maybe get to tag along with a team for their Bird-A-Thon. If I do that, I'll be asking for pledges to help raise money for this conservation-oriented fund raiser where ALL of the proceeds go towards helping acquire or preserve vital migratory shorebird habitat in Delaware. So far, they have raised over $193,000 and helped acquire 274 acres of habitat in their first five years. This is EXACLY the kind of project I hope to highlight!

  Prothonotary Warbler

 En route home, I'll certainly stop at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. I'll be missing the Biggest Week in American Birding, but any time there is time well spent, and I want to highlight their great work. I'll be home just in time for the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology's annual convention, which this year is in Ashland. Then I'll be teaching a "Road Scholar" class at Trees for Tomorrow in Eagle River, Wisconsin. When that's done, if there's time I'll head to Michigan for a quick visit to Kirtland's Warbler habitat. (I'm also hoping to see one in Wisconsin, where they now breed!!)

  Kirtland's Warbler

I'm hoping against hope that I'll be able to scrape up the funds and will get to go on Kim Eckert's Minnesota Birding Week up to Churchill in June. I could see a lot of important northern species up there! Otherwise June is open--it will be hotter than Hades down in Texas, but I've never seen Colima Warbler, and my only Golden-cheeked Warbler has been in Guatemala. These birds deserve highlighting! Also, I'll want to see Black-capped Vireos. I've seen them in Oklahoma (where, in 2013, I hope to see Lesser Prairie-Chicken), but not in Texas. But I'm not sure I can swing that yet.

  Black-capped Vireo

 And for the rest of the year? It's still open. The one thing I want to schedule is a trip or two with Debi Shearwater. Her passion for conservation as well as birds is important. There are SO many places to go! I'd love to spend a day or two in the Sierra Nevadas when the Cornell Lab of Ornithology holds their Sound Recording Workshop, but that will probably overlap with Kim's Churchill trip. Oh, well--if I don't get into Kim's class that will be an alternative. There are a lot of important Western species I hope to see and highlight, so I'm hoping the second half of the year will open up some of those opportunities.

That's how the year is shaping up so far. Any suggestions or offers for birding gigs that can help me get to more places are welcome!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

BirdWatching Magazine: great resource for seeing prairie grouse!

The current issue of BirdWatching (the one in the mail right now) has a fabulous article by Noppadol Paothong, "Prairie Dancers," that has information about where and when to watch these amazing birds displaying. Great photos, too! I'll have to get out to the Waunita Watchable Wildlife Site to see Gunnison Sage-Grouse in Colorado, and there is also a possibility I can see it east of Monticello, Utah. That's the one lifer I could add among the five species.

I saw my lifer Greater Sage-Grouse in the Arapaho NWR (south of Walden, CO)--I'd like to get there again, just because. But I want to pick places where I'm most likely to get good photos with a 400-mm lens, and where strong conservation work is happening.

I got my lifer Lesser Prairie-Chicken in Campo, CO--I'd also like to see this splendid bird at the Selman Ranch in OK, and wherever else strong conservation work is happening.

The flock of Greater Prairie-Chickens that I added to my lifelist on April 30, 1976 is now wiped out--no more prairie chickens exist in Michigan. But I want to see them in Wisconsin at the Buena Vista Grasslands, at one of the great Nature Conservancy spots in western Minnesota, and somewhere else where strong conservation work is happening to protect this amazing bird.

Greater Prairie-Chicken

I'll of course have to return to the Sharp-tailed Grouse blind near Solon Springs, in Wisconsin, where I've gone a few times to see this cool bird.

Sharp-tailed Grouse

I'll also want to get to the West to see the Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse, the subspecies of highest conservation concern.