Winding Up the Ground Game–31 Dec

IMG_4753Today is the last day of the 2015 Backyard Big Year.  Only a few more hours to add any new species in real time.

I currently have 161 species observed–including 155 personally observed and reported in eBird, 4 additional recorded by the NFC microphone, and 2 unresolved species groups (tern sp. and Swamp/Lincoln’s Sparrow NFC).  155 species ranks me 22nd in the 2015 eBird Yard Listings for the country, and 5th in New Jersey (though it looks like two of those NJ sites are not actual yard lists) and the best away from the shore.

I was able to find all 49 Code 1 and 40 Code 2 birds.  So far I’ve documented 54 Code 3 species, 15 Code 4 species, and 1 Code 5 local rarity.

So barring a last minute addition–what’s next?  I’m still adding species from the NFC recordings.  Most recent addition is Short-billed Dowitcher (Code 5) recorded on 29 May.

So what will the final totals be?  Hoping to have a much better idea as I go through the recordings over the next few months.

So stay tuned here for more additions–as well as analysis of the year.

And look for the book of my world’s smallest big year 🙂

November 2015 Update

IMG_3981At the end of November, the 2015 Backyard Big Year is entering the home stretch.  Back when I started the year, I predicted that I would add 2 new species to the total in November–which actually happened with Winter Wren and Northern Goshawk this past month.  I wish I had been as accurate in all my monthly predications!

I was hoping to be farther along at this point, but I still have most of my night recordings to go through, so there will be more birds added as I do so.  Meanwhile in November I birded 25 days in the yard for nearly 55 hours–an average of 2 hrs and 10 minutes a day.  That’s a little below normal for the year, and as the year winds down I wonder if I spent enough time in the yard.

My eBird total is 150 species so far, with an additional 7 birds so far recorded by my OldBird21c mic.  When I started I predicted that I would add 2 more species in December.  Here’s hoping for something good.

Pulling Birds Out of a Hat


Keeping fresh fruit and hummingbird feeders out just in case a rare western vagrant wants to stop by the yard.

With just over a month and a half left in my backyard big year, getting new birds is going to be tough.  I’ve only got one Code 2 bird left to find–Great Horned Owl–and that one typically is just a one night wonder that wakes me up in the night when it visits my neighborhood and calls.  Hope I don’t sleep through it!

Otherwise, everything else I could see is either rare or I have no good strategy to be able to find.  Sparrows and waterfowl are still moving through in their fall  migration–but unless a White-crowned, Lincoln’s or Swamp Sparrow makes a stop over in my yard, I’m not sure what else I can do.  At the beginning of the year, I was hoping to find some secret waterfowl or shorebird migratory path or daily movement that I could pick up from my yard–but I’ve only seen glimmers of that.  Unless I get lucky with a direct flyover, or something lands in my neighbor’s small stock pond, I don’t have a good strategy for finding any of these flyovers.

So perhaps more time in the yard will result in a few more flyovers or other surprises.  But it’s going to be tough to pull too many new birds out of the hat.

My best bet for new birds is to start mining the thousands of hours of overnight recordings that I’ve been doing all year.  I’ve only just barely tapped into my OldBird21c mic recordings.  There are sure to be some goodies in there.  But the laptop time and effort to dig them out is daunting.  Mining the recordings fills me with dread.  Its as if I’m finally facing the fact that its time to say goodbye to my daytime birding adventures and enter the Mines of Moria!


Winter Wren


Drizzly fall morning in the backyard, 5 Nov.

Exactly a month after getting my last new yard bird for the year, I finally managed to spot and sound record a Winter Wren in my western side yard this morning about 8:50am.  Not the best recording, but actually pretty amazing since it was recorded on my iPhone6 using RØDE Rec LE.  All in a morning’s fun!

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Screen capture of spectrogram of one of the Winter Wren call notes.

It was a drizzly overcast day, and I had just finished digiscoping a Great Blue Heron that flew in and landed on my neighbor’s small stock pond.

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Great Blue Heron digiscoped with #PhoneSkope #iPhone6 and #Kowa883 at 60x.

Now Great Horned Owl is the only missing Code 2 expected bird for the year.  Everything else is tougher to get–though this one’s apparently playing hard to get as well!  I’ve done a few owling attempts over the past month, both for Great Horned as well as migrating Saw-Whet Owls.  So far, no dice.

Not a lot of bird species in the yard, but a nice hour and a half of yard birding nonetheless (eBird checklist here).

MIA Code 2s

With the addition of Blue-headed Vireo and Golden-crowned Kinglet on October 5, I’m down to just 2 missing Code 2 Birds–birds that are hard to find, but expected in my yard.  The MIA birds are Great Horned Owl and Winter Wren.

In retrospect, I may have been optimistic to have included these two birds as Code 2.  I’ve only had Great Horned Owl once in each of the past 4 years in the fall and winter (ranging from 3 Oct 2011 to 17 Jan 2014).  Winter Wren has also shown up only 4 times between October and April over the past 4 years and I haven’t seen one since April 2013.

Both of these birds should be possible now, so I’m checking out the brush in my yard for the wren, and even played a GHOW recording the other night hoping to get a response.  Hopefully they’ll both show up here soon!

Pied-billed Grebe

Lots of birds in the yard (40+ species yesterday), but nothing new until this morning, a nice surprise Pied-billed Grebe showed up in my neighbor’s small stock pond.  Here’s a quick documentary photo, shot with my Kowa 883 at x60 and my iPhone 6 with a PhoneSkope adapter.


Pied-billed Grebes are regular in the county, but not expected away from the larger bodies of water, so this is a Code 4 yard bird–only my 14th Code 4 bird this year, and species number 150 for the year!

Hopefully there will be many more show up in the next few months, and I’ll find additional rare yard birds in my nocturnal recordings.

Another Good Fall Morning

I was tired this morning and barely could pull myself out of bed after a late night at ToysRUs for #ForceFriday.  But it was a crisp and brilliant morning in the yard with two new birds for the year–a beautiful male Cape May Warbler high in my side yard, and a Tennessee Warbler.  Unfortunately both got away before I could get a photo, as did a nice adult Yellow-billed Cuckoo that flew across the yard and landed briefly in a walnut tree.

I did manage to get a photo of a vireo for the photo big year.  Unfortunately not the vireo I was looking for (Philadelphia), but at least a recognizable shot of a Warbling Vireo.

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Not the vireo I was looking for.

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Warbling Vireo–AKA Paleface.

Bad Photos of Good Birds

The first few hours of the morning have been good lately, I had a Wilson’s Warbler for two days, and this morning I finally added Yellow-throated Vireo for the year.  Unfortunately it was too quick for me to get a photo.

But I did get a photo of a Black-billed Cuckoo!

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Bill-less Black-billed Cuckoo! Stupid leaf! At least you can see the gray undertail.

OK, the photo is terrible.  The stupid leaf blocked the view of the bill, and its not a great shot anyway.  But it could be worse!  Here’s the shot from the burst just before this one–


Headless and tail-less Black-billed Cuckoo.

Can’t make out heads or tails on this cuckoo–literally!  But once again, could be worse.  Here’s the first shot I “got”–can’t even find the bird in the foliage!


Can you see the Black-billed Cuckoo in the foliage? Me neither!

Just to round out the post, here’s the shot I “got” of the Yellow-throated Vireo.  Let me know if you can see it, because I can’t!


Almost back into the eBird Yard list top 20 for 2015.  More birds to see!

End of August Status Update

As of the end of August, I have 143 species for the yard.  eBird has me at 133, and I have an additional 10 audio recorded species thanks to my OldBird21c microphone.

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North American eBird yard list rankings

I’ve currently seen 49/49 possible Code 1 easy birds and 35/40 Code 2 expected birds–missing Great Horned Owl, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Winter Wren, and Golden-crowned Kinglet (what the heck?!?).  I’ve seen 48/73 possible Code 3 tough birds and only 12 unexpected but hoped for Code 4 birds, so there are still a lot of birds that are possible, but they are increasingly tough to find.

I still have to review recordings from the Spring, and am recording each night again now during the fall, so hopefully I have some more recorded birds in the can, and more to get over the next few months.  My most wanted bird is probably what would be a lifer Bicknell’s Thrush–but that will require luck and a lot of early morning listening to the thrush descent before dawn.

More on my current status and recent new additions at my Birdchaser blog.


New Yard Birds–late August

Last couple of days have had some migrants going through, including new for the year Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Blackburnian Warbler.

This morning three Bobolinks flew over calling, new for the year.  Fortunately it was overcast so I could pick them out in the sky rather than losing them in the blue, which so often happens with these flyovers in the fall.  Here’s a spectrogram and recording of the birds flying over:

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Bobolink flight calls, 30 Aug 2015.

Another good bird for the yard this morning was a Belted Kingfisher that flew over calling.  I was able to record it with the OldBird21c microphone to add it to the audio big year list:

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Belted Kingfisher, with Blue Jay in background, 30 Aug 2015.

Best bird of the morning was a Brewster’s Warbler (Golden-winged x Blue-winged Warbler hybrid).  Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera and it was playing quick hide-and-seek with me in the grape tangles in my side yard.  As a hybrid, it doesn’t count for the Backyard Big Year, but very cool to see.  Now I just need a real Golden-winged Warbler to show up!