Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rio Grande Valley, Texas

I returned late last nite from a birding trip to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas--one of the country's meccas for winter and spring birding. My local birding buddy Pam went with me because she had never been to this area to bird. I went because I wanted to see the black-vented oriole that was first found before Christmas at Bentsen RGV State Park.

The bird fortunately found a better food source at the RV park next to Bentsen, and I was able to get the photo above (double click on it to enlarge). I say fortunately because it was much harder to find at Bentsen, but is easy to locate at the RV park. Airfare was too expensive and travel in general was too difficult to race down to the valley after Christmas, so instead I made the trip now. The oriole is a code 5 bird that has been found in Texas just 5 times since 1968, and is an ABA area life bird for me.

We arrived about mid day last Friday and first went to Estero Llano Grande SP to look for the also very rare (code 4) white-throated thrush. We were quite lucky to see it within 30 minutes of staking out a water feature in which it likes to take baths. Unfortunately the bath site is under a dense canopy and I was not able to get a photo of the thrush.

We also took some time to walk part of Estero, and I did get photos of a large group of mostly black-bellied whistling ducks plus a few fulvous whistling ducks (photo just above). The photo just below was of an very cooperative sora. While taking the photo we ran into a local birder that I had met in the fall on a west coast pelagic trip. He and his wife had also gone to Antarctica for 2+ weeks in November to see penguins, albatrosses, etc.

After seeing the black-vented oriole, we walked into Bentsen RGV and saw the most common oriole in the valley, the altamira oriole (photo just above).

On Saturday before sunrise we went again to Bentsen RGV in hopes of meeting up with Red and Louise Gambill. They are in their 80's and spend the winter in the valley, and the summer back in Ohio. I had met them last January when I was doing my big year, so I knew that they bird Bentsen every morning during the winter. We had a nice time catching up, and hearing all about the extensive flooding in the valley that occurred last summer, the effects of which were still very evident. The green jay (just above) is common throughout the valley in the right habitat and is certainly one of our most colorful birds.

After walking Bentsen we drove over to Laguna Atascosa NWR to look for the rufous-backed robin that has been there for awhile. This bird is also a Mexican vagrant which shows up regularly in Arizona but not in Texas. We did not end up seeing the robin because for some reason they decided to work on the water source at the refuge that it preferred to visit. This really was a stupid move since rare birds bring in needed revenue to a refuge, but if people hear the bird is no longer being seen, then of course they don't make an effort to visit.

From there we went down to Sabal Palm near Brownsville. This refuge was managed by the National Audubon Society for years, but with the hard times of the past 2 years it had been closed to the public. It just reopened last week, but is now being managed by a local non-profit. With the resaca still being refilled, plus it being late in the day, we saw very few birds, but we did have an encounter with an armadillo.

After leaving Sabal Palm, we stopped at Fort Brown in Brownsville to see if we could find any green parakeets that normally roost there. We did have 2 pairs of red-lored parrots flying around, but no parakeets. So on Sunday morning before sunrise we went up to the corner of 10th and Dove streets in McAllen where green parakeets gather on the wires with lots of grackles. It was windy as the light came up, and there were no parakeets about at first. Then we saw a very large group flying off to the west, and finally a single bird flew into the wires.

After a quick breakfast, we then headed over to Santa Ana NWR to see what might be there. We walked out to the hawk tower to look for hook-billed kites. This was one of my most difficult birds to find last year. When we arrived at the tower we found 2 other birders, one of whom--Dennis Vollmar--I had seen at least twice last year including in Arizona when I saw the baikal teal. They had spent several hours during their trip to the valley looking for the kite because it was a life bird for both of them. After about 15 minutes we had the good fortune to have a female hook-billed rise up out of the trees to our west, and fly with good views for maybe 15 seconds before it dropped back down into the trees. This prompted high fives all around.

Since there were still many valley birds for Pam to see, on Monday we drove 70 miles west before sunrise to the small town of Salineno to look for muscovy ducks. It was foggy when we arrived, but there was a good amount of bird life flying about, and up and down the river. The photo just above is of a ringed kingfisher--a valley specialty. We had not been long at the river when a van pulled up with several birders down from Ohio. The group was led by Larry Richardson, a very good birder from Ohio that I met for the first time 2 years ago during a visit to Magee Marsh during spring migration.

We did not see a muscovy duck after 2 hours of closely watching the river for one to fly by, so we walked to a bird feeding station located at an abandoned RV park just up from the river. There we were able to pick up 2 more orioles for our trip. The photo above is of an Audubon's oriole--another valley specialty. We also got a bonus oriole--a nicely marked male hooded oriole (photo just below).

Our next stop was Falcon SP to see if we could find the groove-billed ani's that have been reported there this winter. We checked with the local park hosts who told us where the ani's were being seen, but we had no luck that day. We did see lots of greater roadrunners, and was even able to get the photo above of this usually shy bird.

While at Falcon we were called by American Airlines telling us that our flight that afternoon had been canceled because of the snow/ice storm in the southeast. We got rebooked for Tuesday, and so we were able to continue birding the rest of the day. By late afternoon we were back at Salineno to try again for the muscovy duck.

We ran into 2 birders there from outside of Philadelphia who we had seen the day before at Estero when we were all looking for and found a tropical parula. One was a professional guide that I had met last fall in California on a Debi Shearwater pelagic trip, and then saw again at Yosemite looking for great gray owls. They had come to south Texas to see the tufted flycatcher at Big Bend NP, but could not find it. They had more success with the black-vented oriole and white-throated thrush. We saw both gray and zone-tailed hawks while we looked for the muscovy duck. They finally left to drive back to El Paso to fly from there over to California next to look for the brown shrike.

At dark thirty we drove east to McAllen to stay one more nite there. We were up before dawn to visit Bentsen again in search of a green kingfisher, a groove-billed ani, and a blue bunting. Unfortunately the beautiful, sunny 80+ degree day we had on Monday turned into a windy, overcast 46 degree day on Tuesday. After walking around with Red and Louise for 3 hours, we were chilled to the bone and did not see any of our target birds, or many birds at all because of the weather.

We packed it in and headed to the airport in hopes of getting on an earlier flight. We did for the leg to Dallas, but everything else was overbooked to Raleigh, so we ended up waiting for 6 hours at DFW to catch our scheduled flight home. We saw 140 species in 4 full days of birding, and Pam added 26 life birds. All and all, a very nice few days of birding.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bird and Birding Highlights of My Big Year

Now that the big year is completed, I have moved the travel map to the top of this post (click on any photo to enlarge). The next photo was taken on the inside of a bathroom door in California. The juxtaposition of a Boy Scout ad with a bail bonds ad just struck me as one of the oddest/funniest combos I have ever seen, and I have been waiting to share it. While most of my year was about birds, in traveling all those miles you run across all kinds of people and odd things people do including the 3rd photo above of the "boot/shoe shrine" I found in Nevada.

The rest of the pictures above are of various owls I saw during the year. I decided to repost these because I get asked often what was my best bird of the year. I can't possibly pick just one bird, but since I have great fondness for owls, I instead will pick owls as a group. Some of my favorite days of the year involved finding owls; and one of the very best days of the year was when Wes Fritz and I found the family of great gray owls in Yosemite NP. For the non-birders reading this, the bottom photo just above is of a great gray owl.

Like selecting 1 bird as the best of the year, picking one birding time or place as the best is also not even close to possible. For me birding all year was a chance to "live one's passion" in depth and at great length. There definitely were some higher moments than others, but no single one day or bird clearly tops the list. For those who like lists and specific highlights, I offer up the following:

The week I spent looking for grouse and prairie chickens with my sis in Colorado in late March

Finding a bar-tailed godwit in the Everglades in April with 2 other birders--Bob and Dex--who I realized while looking at the godwit that I had met in 2006 at Gambell, AK

The birding days in April in the High Island area of Texas that I spent with Dave Allan--a brit stuck in Texas because of the Iceland volcano

The 4 days I spent in south Florida and the Dry Tortugas in late April with my local birding buddy Pam

The 4 days of birding the spring migration at Magee Marsh, Ohio in early May

The 4 days of pelagic birding off of Hatteras, NC in late May

A morning in late June when my wife and I birded in Rocky Mountain NP with a mother, her 2 sons and a friend of theirs

Many of the days spent on pelagic trips off the west coast

The day I spent in the Everglades with Pete to see 3 flamingos

Hiking in southern Utah in September with my friends Marty and Craig

The intense back to back chases of the cuban pewee (FL) and the plain-capped starthroat (AZ); the black-tailed gull and taiga bean goose (CA); the fork-tailed flycatcher (CT), Ross' gull (CO), and pink-footed goose (MA); and the tufted flycatcher (TX) and streak-backed oriole (AZ).

The 3 days spent in northern California with Wes when we found the brown shrike, gyrfalcon, slaty-backed gull and arctic loon.

In general, it was so great to be able to bird at different times throughout the year with a few of my long time friends (Marty, Craig and Renee, and Dottie) and my wife and children. While there are more birders that I met this year for the first time than I can possibly list, I also have fond memories of meeting both new birders for me (Bob and John, Rob and Ricki, Doreene, Ken, Adrian, Jimmy, Diane, Red and Louise, Steve and Jane, Tim, Dave, John, Martin, Jean, Gary, and Wes), and birders who I have met and gotten to know over the years of my birding travels (Dan, Melody, Steve, Todd, Paul, Brian, Debi, Jay, and Larry).

In all my traveling around I also was able to spend some time with friends from around the country who are too numerous to name, but they certainly know who they are. Thank you so much for sharing this year with me, and often giving me a place to stay.

Finally, 2 posts ago I explained how it was possible for me to see 704 species in a calendar year. Beyond my willingness to put in the time and money, and the high number of rarities that visited the lower 48 states in 2010, I have left out until now the most important reason--the huge number of dedicated birders, and the instantaneous communication via the internet. Without the North American Rare Bird Alert (Narba), all the state bird listservs, and the legion of birdwatchers who are out birding everyday, it would not be possible to find out about enough rare birds in time to be able to chase after them successfully. So my final thanks is to the vast birding community who so love to be out of doors looking for whatever birds they can find.

I am going down to south Texas tomorrow with my local birding buddy Pam who has never been to bird in that area. The black-vented oriole is still being seen plus there are many other new birds for Pam to add to her life list. When I return I will morph this blog into just Slowbirding. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Big Night Review of My Big Year

Shifting over to the Big Night part of my Big Year, as long time followers of this blog know food was an integral element of my birding adventure. I particularly was focused on a few special meals around the country and as it turns out, Italy too, plus hamburgers and wood-fired pizzas.
Except for the burger category, I think in the end I did well with this part of my year long agenda.

In the pizza category, I probably had fewer wood-fired pizzas than I had hamburgers, but I had much better luck at finding great pizza, and wished that I had found more. The photo at the top, taken at Via Tribunali in Seattle, is of one of the 5 best pizzas I ate last year. My overall ranking of pizza places would be Cafe Italiano in Florence and Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix tied for 1st, followed by Via Tribunali, Il Pizzaiolo in Oakland, and Franny's in Brooklyn. All of these have the key elements of a great wood-fired pizza--a perfectly cooked chewy but not too thick crust, a simple tomato sauce that is not over applied, fresh mozzarella cheese, and a modest use of toppings all baked quickly in a very hot oven.

On the burger front, I did try lots of hamburgers all around the US but many times I was disappointed in the quality of the burger. As a result, I winnowed down the burger joints I visited to Matt's bar in Minneapolis, home of the juicy lucy, for the best "down home burger" of the year; and Taylor's Refresher in Napa Valley for my best "gourmet burger" of the year.

As for Big Night splurges, I did get to eat many fine meals around the US this year, as well as some at my own home when I was there. I have selected 5 of them as my favorites of the year. The fifth on the list is the chinese dinner I had in December with Bob Ake and Wes Fritz at Hunan in San Francisco. I picked this because for me it was great to share a restaurant that I have eaten at for over 30 years with 2 of my birding friends. The dishes that nite were ones that I have loved for years and qualify for me as comfort food.

Fourth would be the dinner I shared with my 2 grown children, Caleb and Jess, and my wife, CKay, at 112 Eatery in downtown Minneapolis. We had never eaten there, and had one of those very special meals/family sharings. The space was very inviting, the wait staff was excellent, and the food and wine were delightful. This is a restaurant that I wish I could eat at more often.

The 3rd restaurant is Buca dell 'Orafo in Florence, Italy. When I visited Italy in late October/early November with my wife and friends Craig and Renee, we ate 2 meals at this small trattoria that has been in the same family for 50 years. We first discovered Buca in 1996, and have eaten easily over 100 meals there because we were able to live in Florence for 10 months from 2003-04. Giordano is the current generation chef/owner, and like his father and mother who we knew, he continues to please both locals and tourists with his rendition of tuscan food. I had one of the 3 best risotto--featuring finerli mushrooms--that I have ever eaten when we were there in October.

The second place spot goes to Alle Testiere in Venice, Italy. The other photos above were taken last fall when we spent 2 days in that amazing city. There really is no other place quite like Venice, so we always enjoy spending some time there, and particularly because of Alle Testiere, and a second restaurant called Vini da Gigio. We also love visiting the fish market (last 2 photos above) to see the incredible diversity of fish from the Venice lagoon, as well as other parts of the world. We ate twice at Alle which only serves seafood. The perfectly cooked flounder, and the lovely razor clams were just 2 of the many fine dishes we had this last time. One night we arrived at 8 PM and did not leave until after midnite, eating, drinking and for the last 90 minutes visiting with Luca, one of the 2 owners.

The top spot for the year is held by the Magnolia Grill which is owned by our neighbors and good friends, Ben and Karen. My wife and I feel so blessed to know Ben and Karen, and to be able to eat at the Grill as well as at their home. I can say in all honesty that I always expect the best at the Grill, and have never been disappointed eating there for over 20 years. When we went most recently in December, we had in my opinion the best overall combination of 2 appetizers and 2 entrees that I have ever had there, and Karen's 2 desserts were equally outstanding. I only wished that the wine I brought from my cellar that evening had been as good.

My final comment on food for the year is that I did eat more than my share of not great fast food when pressed for time by the birding agenda. I worked hard to keep it to a minimum. And in between the Big Night splurges and Taco Bell, I had many good "small" meals, lots of fresh oysters, steamers and lobster rolls, breakfast tacos, and the delights found at the taquerias that fortunately can be found in many places in Arizona, Texas and Florida where birders spend a lot of time. And most importantly, I was able to share food with friends from all over the US.

Next up will be a discussion of some of the bird and birding highlights of my big year. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why I Was Able to See 704 Birds in the Lower 48 States

I have studied both my schedule and the number of rare birds that I saw this past year to better understand why it was possible for me to see 704 species in 2010 in the lower 48 states. The schedule I developed in the fall of 2009 was based on my years of birding experience plus using the ABA's Birdfinder: A Birder's Guide to Planning North American Trips. This book lays out 19 primary birding trips that can be done on their own, or combined together to create a big year schedule. Each trip lists the key target birds plus other probable and possible birds that you might see. I knew from using it in the past that it provided a good baseline starting point for designing a big year. After finishing up my big year I would still say it serves that purpose with a few modifications.

First, since I did only the lower 48 states, the chapter on Alaska was not needed other than to determine which birds from that trip might still be picked up in the lower 48 states. Of the 31 target birds listed for that chapter, I was able to see 20 of them. And since I did not spend a couple of weeks in Alaska in June, it gave me some flexibility in my lower 48 scheduling for that month.

Second, in order to have the greatest chance for success on the pelagic trips off the east coast I believe the ideal time is May 28th to June 2nd. This is a bit later than the Birdfinder guide suggests. But I also think it is important to visit SE Arizona in May, so I went there the week before my pelagic trips out of Hatteras, NC. This reversed the order in the Birdfinder.

Third, the Birdfinder suggests that you will find lawrence's goldfinches in September in California. My experience says that you really need to look for this bird in CA and AZ in February, or make a special trip into CA in mid to late April to improve your chances of seeing it and potentially reduce the amount time required to find this species. Also, I went to Arizona in late January which is not suggested in the Birdfinder, but I love birding there and I felt it was a good use of my time since I also wanted to spend some time in California in the winter.

Fourth, I also spent some time in New England in January and again in December to work on winter birds. The Birdfinder does not recommend visiting New England except as part of its secondary trips which it lists as a baker's dozen.

Fifth, instead of visiting Big Bend NP in July as recommended in the Birdfinder, I added that to my April swing thru Texas for the spring migration. I was able to see the colima warbler, gray vireo, and montezuma quail then.

Sixth, I went to Colorado in late March to see the grouse and prairie chickens which allowed me to get back into Texas by the beginning of April to be ready for spring migration there. Now I would go to Colorado at the end of March overlapping into the beginning of April because I think it is better for finding the grouse and chickens, and being at High Island the 1st week of April is not as important.

Seventh, it appears that the best time to try for the himalayan snowcock is in August, and I would look for the white-faced storm-petrel in late August off of Massachusetts instead of trying in late August out of North Carolina.

Turning to how it was possible to see 704 birds in the lower 48 states, the first step was that I did not miss any of the birds that a good and diligent birder should see. More specifically, I saw all the code 1 and 2 birds that you should be able to find in the lower 48 states with the exception of thick-billed murre.  This includes breeding and migratory species, and currently totals about 645 birds.

Because the lower 48 states are in the northern hemisphere, finding as many birds in the first 6 months of the year is critical to your overall success in not missing any code 1 or 2 birds. This means being in the field almost daily from January thru July is optimal. I was able to do that so by June 1st I had seen 605 birds, and by July 1st the year to date total was up to 631. During the last 6 months of the year I only added 73 more birds for the year, and as I have said in an earlier post, many of these were seen on pelagic trips off the west coast in August and September.

Next, I had a very good pelagic birding cycle in 2010 (23 total day trips with only 2 cancellations) in which I missed only a few of the rarer but possible code 3 pelagic species such as short-tailed albatross, bermuda, herald and murphy's petrels, white-faced storm petrel and craveri's murrelet. The rare pelagic birds that I did see included great skua (3), fea's petrel (3), white-tailed (3) and red-billed (3) tropicbirds, cook's (3) and hawaiian petrel (4), streaked shearwater (4), and european storm-petrel (4).

Most critical to reaching 704 species was the combination of rarities that visited from both north and south of the border. Overall for the year I saw 42 code 3's, 15 code 4's and 4 code 5's. For starters, there are 25 rare vagrants on my big year list that came to the lower 48 states from their normal homes south of the border. Four of these (orange-billed nightingale-thrush, cuban pewee, tufted flycatcher and bare-throated tiger-heron) were code 5 birds, and 6 more were code 4 birds (red-footed booby, northern jacana, blue bunting, plain-capped starthroat, streak-backed oriole, and crimson-collared grosbeak). The rest were all code 3's including the flamingos in the photo at the top.

But what really made it possible to get to 704 was the large number of birds from the north, or eurasia that showed up in the lower 48 states in 2010, especially late in the year. The code 4 birds that I saw included baikal teal, brown shrike, black-tailed gull, common crane, and barnacle and pink-footed geese. Code 3's included Ross' and slaty-backed gull, taiga bean goose, red-throated pipit, curlew and sharp-tailed sandpiper, and great skua. Code 2's that you would normally see in Alaska but not necessarily in the lower 48 included gyrfalcon, arctic and yellow-billed loon, bar-tailed godwit, northern wheatear, hoary redpoll, and northern hawk-owl (bottom photo above).

My final point today is that like 1998 when Sandy Komito set the all time full ABA area record of 745, this year in its own way was another phenomenal year for rare birds. As a result I was able to set a new record for the lower 48 states. I also believe that Bob Ake, who finished his year at 731 for the full ABA area, could have gotten very close to Sandy's record if his schedule had been slightly different, and he had decided to chase birds from the start of the year.

My specific reasons for suggesting this are that I saw 11 birds in the lower 48 states that Bob did not see (bare-throated tiger-heron, blue bunting, red-footed booby, european storm-petrel, fea's petrel, white-tailed and red-billed tropicbird, streaked shearwater, common crane, flame-colored tanager, and plain-capped starthroat). There were 3 more birds that he could have chased successfully--amazon kingfisher, roadside hawk, and bahama mockingbird. And even though he went to Alaska 3 different times, there were at least 3 more birds (mottled petrel, whiskered auklet, and McKay's bunting) he might have picked up there with a slightly different schedule of time and places to bird.

One final indicator of how good the birding opportunities were in 2010 is that when I began the year I estimated that I would pick up 20-25 life birds. By year's end I had added 38 life birds to my ABA area list plus possibly a 39th if the white-cheeked pintail I saw at Pea Island NWR is accepted by the NC bird review committee as a wild bird. If it is, then my YTD will also move up to 705. My next post will talk about some of my top food experiences during the big year. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Birding versus Chasing

I have talked some in earlier posts about birding versus chasing. In particular I have said that my big year was initially all about birding as opposed to chasing, or twitching as the brits call it. By this I mean that I put in hours of work in the fall of 2009 working out my travel schedule for 2010 so that I could maximize my chances of seeing lots of birds by being in the "right places at the right times". The hope is that some rarities will show up where you are already planning to be at the time you are actually there.

This happened quite a bit in the early part of the year. As a result I saw the bare-throated tiger-heron, the northern wheatear, the northern jacana, the brown jay, the crimson-collared grosbeak, and the blue bunting that came to Texas early in the year. But I did not "chase" (meaning alter my travel schedule) the amazon kingfisher or the roadside hawk, so I missed these 2 rarities in the winter in Texas.

While birding in Florida early in the year I was able to see the La Sagra's flycatcher, the red-footed booby and the masked duck that were there. But I did not rush off to see a western spindalis in April, so I missed it by 2 days; and I did not even make an attempt to see the bahama mockingbird that came to Tampa-St. Pete for a week in early May. These would also have been life birds for me, but at that point in my big year I was not committed to "chasing".

But as my YTD bird total kept growing much faster than I had anticipated, and as the number of rare birds showing up in the lower 48 states kept increasing, I began to think that I needed to chase some of the rarities. As a result, I flew to south Texas from Utah in early July to see a yellow-green vireo plus was able to see groove-billed ani and hook-billed kite on the same trip. When the orange-billed nightingale-thrush (top photo above) was found outside Spearfish, SD I made the decision to "chase" it. My posting on that chase is dated July 25th.

My next chase was down to the Everglades in late August when I heard that a flamingo had been seen. I flew in just for the day and fortunately was able to see 3 flamingos, and was back home that evening (posting dated 8/27). My 3rd chase began as I was just waking up in northern California when I got a call from my birder friend Bob in Florida that a cuban pewee (next to top photo above) had been found that morning in the Everglades. That same day a plain-capped starthroat was found in SE Arizona. The entries for these 2 chases are dated 9/6 and 9/8.

Since by the end of September I had seen almost all the birds one would expect to find in the lower 48 states, October, November and December were mostly about chasing rare birds when they were reported on Narba, or when birders who were following my big year contacted me about the possibility of seeing another rarity. The 3 bottom photos are of the tufted flycatcher, the streak-backed oriole (11/29 posts) and the baikal teal (12/3 post) that I chased this fall and saw.

As I have said in earlier posts, when I began the year I had no intention of setting a record, and did not even know what the record for the lower 48 states was until late September/early October. However, because of the phenomenal number of rare birds that visited from both south and north "of the border", I had the opportunity and good fortune to see over 700 birds in the lower 48 states even though I did not start chasing until July.

The key take-away for anyone thinking about doing a big year--whether it is a full ABA area or just your home state-- is to be clear about your intentions. If all you want to do is have a great year focused on birding, then pursue whatever schedule works for you. But, if you have in mind that you want to set a record, then you need from day 1 to be flexible and willing to "chase" a rarity when it shows up because you never know how many rarities might visit during your "big year". While I have no regrets at this point, if I had started out with that mindset, I know I would have seen at least 5 more birds in 2010 (amazon kingfisher, roadside hawk, bahama mockingbird, red-necked stint, and black-vented oriole).

Tomorrow I will be writing more about my big year schedule, and the amazing number of rarities that visited the lower 48 states in 2010. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

January 2, 2011

The new year has arrived and I am adjusting to not being in a big year mode. Many people have asked me this past month what I am going to do with all my "free time" now that I won't be birdwatching non-stop. I have plenty of backlogged projects such as cutting firewood with my father-in-law for next winter's use plus I plan to begin to learn how to play the oboe in 2011. The photo above I took in North Dakota of a female downy woodpecker.

Today's entry is the beginning of my summing up process about this amazingly wonderful big birding year that I have just completed. It will take a few entries to cover the topics starting with some review of the "numbers".

One question I get often is how many days have I birded in 2010. One way to answer that is to figure out how many nites I spent at home. From January thru June, I was home only 20 nites, and from mid February until early May I did not come home once. From July thru September I was home just 21 nites, but the last 3 months of the year found me home a total of 47 nites. Another 10 nites I was in Italy which meant I was not birding those days. I did do some birding while at home, and made a 1 day trip down to the Everglades in August to see 3 flamingos. Also, some of my days not home were taken up flying places. As a result, I would say that I was out in the field birding about 250-260 days in 2010.

As the right hand side of the blog shows, I walked 332 miles which is fewer than I thought would have been the case. I drove 65,900 miles and flew 81,900 with the majority of the flying miles happening in the 2nd half of the year when I began to chase around the country looking for the many rarities that came to the lower 48 states in the fall. Also, the miles flown do not include my vacation to Italy, or my trip to Columbia, MO in late December.

My expenses for all this traveling around break down as follows:

Airfare: $6,000
Car rental: $3,500
Gas and oil changes: $9,000
New tires for my wife's truck: $700
Gear (camping, etc): $800
Pelagic trip fees, etc: $4,000
Lodging: $16,000

Total: $40,000

I did not put food costs in the total because I concluded that I spent about the same amount as I would have if I had been home eating plus my normal going out to eat budget with my wife during the year. The airfare and lodging amounts would have been higher but I was able to use some frequent flyer miles (200,000 on American built up prior to the big year), and frequent lodger points to get some free tickets and nites.

Finally, chasing around the country in November and December to see the last 16 birds on the list cost about $5,000 of the year total. I will talk about "birding vs chasing" in my next post. Stay tuned!