My Essex County “Big Year”

I started birding in May of 2011 but only started taking it seriously last Fall.  I found myself picking up ID features and a few calls but was determined to learn more – I was hooked.  I spent a lot of time on the hawk tower at Holiday Beach last fall and I found myself birding at every opportunity and keeping track on e-bird (you should be too if you’re not!).  I didn’t care what the weather was, it was just great to be outside and I was loving the challenge of IDing new birds.  I’ve also joined a few birding organizations – Holiday Beach Migration Observatory and OFO – it really is an addictive pastime.

I went out to see the movie The Big Year with a large group of local birders.  It got me thinking and asking the question – How many birds could I ID in one year in Essex County?  I knew I wouldn’t be able to travel all over North America but I could definitely swing my own ‘backyard’.  With areas like Point Pelee, Ojibway Park, Holiday Beach, and Hillman Marsh in my territory, I figured I should go for it.  I knew I wouldn’t be breaking any records, but I needed a new challenge and it would force me to study the birds.  I set a goal in March of 250 birds – just an arbitrary number.

Well, low and behold, I’m right on track (fingers crossed) to hit my target.  As of last night, I hit 247 species that I was able to ID myself either by call or visual.  The last two birds being a Virginia Rail and a Northern Saw-whet Owl.  Both species that I was trying hard for early in the year and through the spring.  I “knew” in my brain that I saw a Virginia on Pelee Island in the spring, but the view was so quick and no one else in the group noticed it, I didn’t count it.  That one was really bugging me all spring and summer because I wasn’t seeing or hearing any in the area.  They were being reported, I just didn’t find one.

I ran into Dwayne Murphy the other day at Point Pelee and he mentioned that he had seen a Virginia off the marsh boardwalk.  I was determined to get that bird.  I tried for about 30 minutes with no luck – lots of Soras though.  The next morning, that bird was my goal – this time I wasn’t disappointed.  It popped out of the reeds 2 times for me.  First time I got enough on it to call it but I stuck around to get a better look.  I didn’t get any good pics but I did get my “ID” shot – good enough!

The next night I got word that Northern Saw-whet owls are on the move in the area.   I headed out to the banding station to help out.  I knew I couldn’t count the bird if it was in the net, banded, or released but at least I could get a look at these little guys.  Well just before the banding process was set up and started, one started calling!  Tick!  Bird number 247.   Two new birds in 2 days.  Both Lifers.  What a great week.

Even if I don’t hit 250, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish so far, especially since I’m just a year and half in to my birding “career”.  I’m hoping for some snow in December – I still need that pesky Snow Bunting!  They eluded me in the area last winter.  It won’t be a lifer, but a new winter bird.

In case you’re interested, here’s a list of my birds so far…

Next bird prediction – Golden Eagle (or a Swainson’s Hawk would be nice!)

8 thoughts on “My Essex County “Big Year”

  1. Kory, brilliant list for the year so far. Just as impressive is your note- keeping. Glad to help out with the Virginia Rail. That Saw Whet Owl is just the cutest ball of feathers I’ve seen. I would love to see one this month!

  2. Great post, Kory! 247…so close! I wanna at least get you one year bird before the year end around here.

    I’ll be on the lookout for Long-billed Dowitcher, Black-legged Kittiwake, or another Red Phalarope. Golden Eagle you should get for sure at Holiday Beach once they start coming through in more numbers.

    Arghhh Summer Tanager was one of my misses in Pelee this year as well despite many tries.

  3. Hi there. Just reading your great posting regards banding the two Northern Saw-Whet Owl. Great picture! I live in Toronto, and this past Friday, my wife and I came upon an adult Saw-Whet Owl out in the bush. This was the first time as birders that we had ever seen a Saw-Whet Owl. Fortunately, we had our camera with us and got some good pictures and video. We have posted them for anyone interested at:

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