Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Drum roll please.....and year bird number 400 is?

I started 2012 off with the idea of seeing 400 or more bird species before December 31st. I had successfully "booked" at least four months of "vacation" in the southwest so I knew I would at least hit the 300 mark. I would be travelling across the country working on various bird research projects throughout the year. When I left Pennsylvania at the end of February I had seen 72 birds.

White-breasted Nuthatch in Indiana County, PA on 6 January 2012.
I made my way across the country to Lake Havasu City, Arizona and added 19 more species to my list en route. I conducted bird surveys along the lower Colorado River in both Arizona and California from March to June and visited various birding hotspots such as southeast AZ and the Salton Sea. These four months flew by and I picked up 229 species. I birded relatively hard during those four months and saw many lifers and year birds, but also made some great friends. Nutting's Flycatcher, Barrow's Goldeneye, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Heermann's Gull, various southeast AZ specialties, and Crested Caracara were highlights.

Nutting's Flycatcher 3-2-2012
Nutting's Flycatcher at Bill Williams NWR in Arizona on 2 March 2012.
In June, I headed northwest to the Kern River Valley in California. I birded less there than on the LCR, but I did see some new birds for the year. I was stationed in Weldon, California, working with Yellow-billed Cuckoos, for a little over two months and added only 14 new species for the year. California Quail, Flammulated Owl, and Clark's Nutcracker stole the show in the KRV.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo 6-20-2012
Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Kern County, CA on 20 June 2012.

On the way back East, I didn't stop but two new species slid onto the list, one in Oklahoma and another in Tennessee. Before I started my next bird job, I spent a couple of weeks in Pennsylvania catching up with friends and spending time with my fiancee and family. I did squeeze a few days of birding in here and there. I added 23 new species to my year list.

Red-headed Woodpecker 8-29-2012
Red-headed Woodpecker near State College, PA on 29 August 2012
I then moved to southern Delaware to start yet another bird gig that would last two months. Visits to Cape Henlopen State Park, Prime Hook NWR, and Bombay Hook NWR yielded many year birds, 33 in all. Nelson's, Saltmarsh, and Seaside Sparrows were all good birds in southern Delaware and great additions to my year list.

Nelson's Sparrow, Sussex County, Delaware 10-1-2012
Nelson's Sparrow at Prime Hook NWR in Sussex County, DE on 1 October 2012.
Hurricane Sandy came up the coast and forced us out of southern Delaware a few days sooner than anticipated, and I found myself back in Pennsylvania for two weeks. The hurricane pushed many sea going birds inland which in turn produced several lifers and year birds; A Pomarine Jaeger and two Red Phalaropes at Yellow Creek State Park just to name a few. The winter finch irruption was heating up and I  picked up a few species throughout Pennsylvania before departing again.

Evening Grosbeaks, Indiana County, PA 11-1-2012
Evening Grosbeak in Indiana County, PA on 1 November 2012
I started working in Newark, Delaware and am still there as I am writing this post. I have made several trips back and forth to western Pennsylvania for various reasons and stopped by any rarity locations on my way. Highlights include Pink-footed Goose, Allen's Hummingbird, Greater White-fronted Goose, and Red-necked Grebe.

Pink-footed Goose, Bucks County, 18 November 2012
Pink-footed Goose at Peace Valley Park in Bucks County, PA on 18 November 2012
All of the travelling gave me 397 year birds. I've been birding around Newark for the past two weeks and many stops at the Newark Reservoir gave me a Long-tailed Duck for number 398. A few fellow birders and I headed south for a Seawatch at the Indian River Inlet near Rehoboth, Delaware this past weekend with hopes of finding a rarity, vagrant, or in my case year birds. Upon arrival at the inlet, I immediately scanned the jetties for Purple Sandpipers. After a few minutes, year bird 399 was in the bag. What would 400 be? Two hours passed at the seawatch with nothing noteworthy nor exciting. We decided to leave and work our way north towards Bombay Hook NWR. I checked my phone for new emails and one read "Eurasian Wigeon at Prime Hook Rd." Would this be year bird 400? Would we get there in time?

I got into the car and headed north towards Prime Hook NWR, but had to make a quick stop by Dogfish Head Brewery to pick up a few tasty Christmas gifts. I got to the refuge and had to follow the directions to the wigeon's location. Alright, "the west end on the north side." I parked, walked to the west end and saw a huge raft of ducks on the other side of the pool. One scan through and I didn't see the bird. Others pulled up to the parking area as I was making another scan and, "BOOM!" I found the bird! Year bird 400 and lifer 435 was in the books!

Eurasian Wigeon, Sussex County, DE on 8 December 2012
Eurasian Wigeon at Prime Hook NWR on 8 December 2012.
The guy who reported the wigeon actually had two individuals, but the flock got flushed by a Bald Eagle before we got there. We were only able to find one of the Eurasian Wigeons and that bird could have easily left with the other after being flushed by the eagle. Thank goodness it decided to stick around! 

Year birds are becoming hard to come by these days, but I may be able to add a few more species to my such as Great Cormorant, Snow Bunting, and Short-eared Owl before the end of the year. With upcoming Christmas Bird Counts, a few unexpected species may also turn up in the area.

My Year List can be seen for those interested here:

More of my posts can be seen over at Thermal Birding!


  1. Congratulations Tim!
    400 is mighty impressive, and I bet you'll end at 404 before December is out.
    You came away with a lot of great shots too. I hope you raised a glass and toasted to a wonderful year of birding at the Dogfishhead brewery!

    1. Thanks Laurence! There was no celebration after the wigeon because we birded the rest of the afternoon! Although, there may have been a few adult sodas consumed that evening.

  2. I'm very impressed! I am a novice birder and was very pleased to have seen 160 birds this year. Hmmm. I see I can do much better!

    1. You can always see more birds! You just have to get out and look!

  3. I love your site. I love bird watching. Your job sounds amazing. Your pictures are beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Great post and good luck finding more lifers!

  5. Congrats on your fantastic record, Tim! (Congrats also on having such a generous fiancee:-) Wish you many more lifers in 2013!