Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Graduation Road Trip and 2012 Big Year Review

I am back in Columbia, MO today having driven down from Northfield, MN yesterday.  My wife and I left last Thursday to make the 2 day drive to Northfield to attend our daughter Jess' graduation from St. Olaf College.  Graduation day was unusually hot--92 degrees--for Minnesota, and the graduates, professors, friends and family all suffered under the afternoon sun. 

After recovering from the heat, we drove into Minneapolis to have a celebratory dinner with Jess at 112 Eatery--a really good restaurant that we discovered 2 years ago during my big year.  It has one of those menus that makes it almost impossible to decide which dishes to order.  The duck with radicchio salad (above), and the razor clams with hearts of palm (below) were both superb.  We also loved the blue prawns with rooster mayo, the grilled asparagus with lardo, the pan-fried gnocchi with parmesan, and the sea scallops with oyster mushrooms.  The wines by the glass were not as interesting as the food--sauvignon blanc from New Zealand and verdejo from Spain.

My wife flew home yesterday, and Jess and I drove the 500 miles to Columbia to visit today with friends and family before continuing our road trip back to Chapel Hill, NC.  This morning my friend Marty and I went birding at a fine conservation area near here called Eagle Bluffs.  When we visited the area during the first week of May we were pretty well skunked as far as birds that day because of the very high water levels.  Today was almost the opposite as far as water levels which meant that we were able to see, and actually study close at hand some late migrating shorebirds including semi-palmated, white-rumped, and pectoral sandpipers.  The best "bird" of the day was 2 sandhill cranes (I did not have my camera but the photo below is of a sandhill crane I had seen last year--click on any photo to enlarge).

Since it is almost the end of May, which is also pretty much the end of the spring migration, I want to reflect on this year's big year efforts that I have been following thru the various blogs listed on the NARBA home page. For starters there are 2 "junior big years" being undertaken by 2 young birders who live in Colorado.  They seem to be having fun and getting out a fair amount.

I have enjoyed following Sara and Simon who are a trucking couple that are birding as they deliver their cargo around the country.  Their YTD is at 288.  Blake and Holly Wright are currently in Arizona as part of their photographic big year, and have seen 345 species YTD.  Then there is the father and son team, Eddie and Liam Ehrman from Ohio, who have covered a lot of ground including one spring trip to AK in April.  Their year to date count has reached 367 birds.

Next up is John Hargrove whose blog is being written by his wife Beverly. He has been in Alaska for the past 2 weeks birding at Attu and Adak with the Z tours group led by John Puschock.  He is now headed to Gambell with a Wings group.  He has hit 500 birds YTD, and Beverly says he is shooting for the full ABA area big year target of at least 700 species.

And finally there is the low budget big year effort of Renee Rubin and Michael Delesantro.  They have a budget of only $10,000, and are only driving around in their Toyota Prius.  They have spent a little more than half of their budget, but have already seen 586 different bird species.  In their most recent post (Slow Birding (apologies to Chris Hitt)), they have asked for assistance with an upper midwest trip in June to find a good list of birds that they still need.

Here is what I would suggest they do.  I assume that they subscribe to NARBA to get info on mega rarities.  They also should be daily checking birdingonthe.net to get up to date info most easily on recent bird sightings.  As for their routing, drive thru St. Louis, MO on their way north to pick up the Eurasian tree sparrow.  They also might try to contact Edge Wade in Columbia, MO who is a very good birder.  She might be able to help them find a Mississippi kite.

After MO, next up is Michigan to bird near Mio and Grayling to see the Kirtland's warbler on its breeding ground.  After that head to the UP to pick up American woodcock, black-billed cuckoo, spruce grouse, winter wren, boreal chickadee, least flycatcher, gray jay, and CT and Mourning warblers (the ABA Michigan bird guide is a very good source for finding birds in MI).  If they miss any of these birds in the UP, then they can keep looking in northern WI and northern MN above Duluth.  At Sax-Zim bog and Aitkin County they can also find CT warbler plus leconte's sparrow; willow, alder and yellow-bellied flycatchers; ruffed grouse, black-backed and northern 3 toed woodpeckers. Great gray owl and even northern hawk owl are also possible.  For assistance in MN they might contact Kim Eckert, and definitely use his bird guide.

From MN they should head into North Dakota to find Baird's sparrow, sharp-tailed grouse and gray partridge.  Next stop is Colorado to see black billed magpies, dusky, greater and lesser sage grouse, greater prairie chicken, and white-tailed ptarmigan.  If they missed northern 3 toed woodpecker in MN, they can pick it up in CO plus boreal owl, and possibly evening grosbeak and Lewis' woodpecker.  John Vanderpoel who did his big year in 2011 could be of assistance with all of these birds. Finally, another place to look for Mississippi kites is in Kansas on their way back to Texas.

In their last post they were pleased with their YTD total, but not surprisingly were seeing a definite slowdown in adding to the list.  I had seen 605 birds by the end of May in 2010, and only saw another 99 birds over the next 7 months.  Once they finish their upper midwest swing, things will really slow down for them.  They said they had originally expected to see between 600 and 625 birds given their low budget limitation.  I think they can get to as high as 650 depending on how many more rarities show up in south Texas where they live, and how they apply the remaining dollars in their budget.  No matter what number they end up with, they will definitely end up spending less per bird seen than anyone who has done a big year other than Kenn Kaufmann when as a teenager he hitch hiked all over the U.S. doing his big year.

I will be driving home over the next 2 days, and then will be there for the month of June.  My next birding adventure will be when I leave on June 29th to spend the month of July birding in East Africa.  More about this in my next post.  Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Thanks for all the great advice! We were happy to see that your suggested itinerary is very close to our plans. It's always nice to know that we are doing something right!

    Renee and Michael