The Big Year

(In which I try to break the North American record
for the most bird species seen in one year.)

In one of the first issues of Birding, the publication of
the American Birding Association, I read where Ted Parker III,
had set a new North American record for the most species seen
in one year. This was a new enterprise, the only previously
recorded attempt of such a strenuous undertaking
was chronacled in the book,
Wild America by Toger Tory Peterson and
James Fisher ((Houghton Mifflin, 1955, 1997). In their travels
around the continent, they recorded something like 575 species of birds.
Ted Parker III, a young man just out of school, observed 626 species
in one calendar year.

So it was that during the first few months of 1973, I flirted with the idea
of taking a whack at breaking that record. I already had a good
start. Early in January, a group of my birding buddies and I had birded our way
around Florida and some of the keys. Then, in March, my birding friend Peter Post
and I drove to the East Coast in an attempt to see the Ross' Gull
that had been seen in at Newburyport, Massacusetts . We ended up birding along the oceaN from
New Jersey to Maine. We never did find the gull, but we saw a lot of other
great birds such as Red-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Snow Geese, Mute Swan,
Greater Scaup, Oldsquaws, all three Scoters, Harlequin Duck, Ipswitch Sparrow,
Purple Sandpiper, European Cormorant, Brant, Common Eider,
Black Guilumot, Iceland Gull, Great Gray Owl, Hawk Owl,
Gray Jay, Northern Shrike, Red Crossbill, and Evening Grosbeak.

Purple Sandpiper

About the middle of April, my companion Ruth Osborn and I drove to Galveston
on the Texas gulf coast and leisurely birded our way all the way to Brownsville,
and then up the Rio Grande to Big Bend National Park.
Boy, oh boy! Did I ever see a lot of new birds!, including the rare Mexican Ground Chat!,
orioles galore, Swainson's Hawks, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Greak Kiskadee, Tropical Parula, Black-throated Sparrow, and so many more.We visited all the hot spots: Lagoona Atascocia, Santa Ana,
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Falcon Dan, Bentsen State Park.
About this time I decided to go for the record

Scott's Oriole

In May, Ruth and I visited the East Coast again, this time with one
of my young sonsand one of his friends in tow. Picked up a few species I had
missed the first couple of times around.

In June, I flew to Tuscon, rented a car and did a loop through the southeastern
corner of Arizona, including Rustler's Gilch, Patagonia, Nogales, and many stops
in the scenic Chirichua Mountains. Oh, the many wonderful new birds I saw!
Green Jays, Hummingbirds galore,including the beautiful Rivoli's Hummingbird, Coues' Flycatcher and its
wonderful little song, "Jose Maris," Mexican Junco, Gambel's Quail, Roadrunner, Elf Owl,
Lesser Nighthawk, Acorn Woodpecker, Townsend's Warbler, Red-faced Warbler,
Painted Redstart, Western Tanager, and on and on.

 

Chirichua Mountains.

Next came a long journey with Frank Bader, a birding colleague, to Winnipeg, thence
by plane to Churchill, on Hudson Bay. What a wonderful experience! The
multi-colored tundra, the tamarack bogs, the ice sculpture along the shore, the nesting birds.
After flying back to Wennipeg, we drove to Kenmare, North Dakota,
where we participated in the very first national get-together of
the American Birding Association - with Roger Tory Peterson as the
featured speaker. In the high school building where we convened
(and slept on the gym floor in our sleeping bags), Peterson had
the new paintings for his
Filed Guide to the Birds of Mexico pinneup on the walls.

 


Roger Tory Peterson (on the right), and your guess is as good as mine as
to the other gents I think one of them might be Joe Taylor.

In July, Ruth and I were off again, this time to the Rocky Mountains
with my young son, James, in tow. Yes, it is possible to do some fairly"serious birding
combined with a vacation. This trip worked out fine and I added a goodly number of species to my list.
Included were Black-billed Magpie, Dipper, Steller's Jay, Prairie Falcon,
Clark's Nutcracker, Pigmy Nuthatch, Violet-Green Swallow, and many others.

 

In August, I flew to Anchorage, Alaska, by myself because I couldn't
find anyone else to go with me on short notice. I hobnobbed around Anchorage
the first day, soaking in the atmosphere, which included my first
experience with strip clubs, the downtown earthquake park,
and the distant sight of Mount McKinnly off on the distant horizon -
like a mirage. The second day, I rented a car and made the scenic and enjoyable
drive down to Homer, where I stayed overnight. Then back to Anchorage and off on
Alaska Airlines to Nome and then to Kotzebue, above the Arctic Circle.
I especially enjoyed Nome, the site of historic gold rushes. I rented a ancient
car with man miles on the speedometer and investigated the
two or three roads that led out of town into the countryside.
Along the Snake and the Nome rivers there was still evidence
of some of the early diggings for gold, every now and then
the remnants of an old cabin. In one such place, my first gyrfalcon
flew up close at hand. Noe mad a comfortable little hotel which
had a nice dining room and a sociable little bar. On this particular leg o the trip,
I was traveling with a group of astronaughts wives. and one day while we were
waiting for a bus to take us to the airport, I extricated a drunken young
Indian or Eskimo from the old-fshioned phone booth that was in one
corner of the lobby. He couldn't figure out how the folding doors worked and
i Had the devil of a time getting him untangled. For my good deed,
I won a round of applause from the gals. Felt like a hero, I did.

-

In September, another trip to Florida to pick up seasonal birds that weren't around the
previous winter. Then I would up the year with a trip to California - from Point Reyes
all the way down the coast to LA.

What a year! I felt like a migratory bird? I boke the old record by about ten species,
but Ken Kauffman and another chap whose name eludes me did even better -
but who cares? What a year!


Scouring for birds in Hocking County (from left to right),
Rick Counts, Rich Meyer, Ernie Limes, unidentified,
and the author.