Sunday, March 31, 2013

Yes!!!Yes!!!Yes!!! Spreadsheets at last!

Here, I hope, at last, are the links to John's spreadsheets.

Phylogenic order

Order of Sighting

Thanks, to my daughters in Austin and Springfield, MO.

Remember, if you are going to do a big year, have fun! Get your equipment in order, sharpen your birding skills, learn to use every wireless bird locating source.

I do not plan to blog again, but the old blog will continue to exist in hyperspace. Read the archives in order if you want the essence of the whole odyssey.

I have an inkling that my labels make a difference in the number of views, so I am going to add some funky ones John wishes he got to this last hurrah. The Bay-Breasted Warbler that streaked by at 50 mph on Cape May that John got a picture of but not a visual, the Black Noddy that was spotted AFTER John's group left, the reported Fork-Tailed Flycatcher that was a Scissor-Tailed, the Mottled Petrel that might have been seen on the cancelled pelagic, the Hook-Billed Kite that refused to show up, the Streak-Breasted Oriole that left the bridge overpass an hour before John got there.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It's almost here! THE SPREADSHEET!

John finished his spreadsheet and mailed it to me. Chicken that I am, I will wait until we get to Texas and a computer literate child to put a link into this blog. We'll take 6 year old twin boys camping Saturday and Sunday, so I will get her to help me on Monday or Tuesday. Maybe we will even do some birding.

John used other spreadsheets to help him with hisbigyear so we would like to return the favor.

It will be soon!

Saturday, February 16, 2013


I know I promised a link to John's spreadsheet. We are a family of procrastinators. Sorry.

We haven't even figured out how to enter his list to the ABA. Now I need to retrieve all this blog so that I can store it in my computer, just in case John ever self-publishes his pictures.

We have been busy. First we had to recover from the grind of his big year. Miami was disappointing. John will probably drop some fence birds, like the Black-Capped Vireo that he only sort of heard and sort of saw. The final total for his big year will probably about 686 or 687. I will blog it if ever John finalizes it, maybe there will even be a link to his spreadsheet!

My sister visited from Minnesota in January. It was below zero there, but she was chilly here in SOCAL.

I drove back to the Midwest in early February for my 6th grandchild's birth, a boy, and drove myself back. There are long, boring stretches of interstate that I know by heart. At least, a little snow storm livened things up.

I am home now, to nag John about submitting his list to the ABA, do some school tours at our local Audubon and sew up this blog. It has been fun.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Did you hear what I heard?

There will be a link to John's spreadsheet in the next blog.
You can contact me at

Before you start your big year-

Get thoroughly wired

If you don't hear about a bird, you won't see it. John signed up for NARBA alerts to go to his email. BUT he doesn't check his email. Last Saturday, when I signed into his email from my computer, I found the alert about the spindalis. It was morning so we had time to slog out to Key West and get it, with help. Robert, who was also doing a big year, got NARBA alerts on his Iphone. As soon as he got off the plane in New Jersey on Monday, he texted me about the Thick-Billed Vireo just found out on Key West. This time it was noon and we were not interested in doing the driving slog again. That bird might have been 690. Oh well.

Hone your birding skills

We had traveled the world, but not so much the US recently. John was rusty on ABA birds at the start.

Get connected to other birders

John is not naturally outgoing so that wasn't going to happen in his big year. But the more birders you know in more ABA places, the better. Before he started his big year in 2011, John Vanderpoel had been traveling the US filming birds and getting to know local birders. Of course, towards the end, it helped that he was getting close to the record. Lots of people stepped forward to help. He had an amazing year, one short of the record. Ouch!

Get healthy

John was fortunate not to twist an ankle or get a major bug during the year. He would get little sleep and forget to eat. Doing a big year is a strain on your body, especially at the pace you need to maintain to get over 700.

Chase, chase, chase

Hit the ground running. The first few months, John could have done a lot more pursuit of vagrants and sewn up more of the wintering birds. He needed extra time this winter to find some of them and ran out of time to find some of them.

Use your spring wisely

John tried to do this but the difficulty he had getting to the Dry Tortugas cut a couple of weeks out of the prime time. You need to pick and choose destinations. Sometimes, the payback is not worth the investment of time and energy. You only get one spring and those birds are not as easy to find outside of migration. Several warblers eluded him.

Update your equipment

We did not have a decent scope. At least, John had 18 power image stabilized binoculars. John is hard of hearing and choose not to get hearing aids. He never heard the Bell's Vireo, California Gnatcatcher or Gray Vireo. I had to get them to come out and pose. I did get him a recorder and earphones in June. He should have learned to use them before his big year started. He didn't use them much, too awkward.


The more you know about birding hotspots and quirks of various target birds the better. Each new area and bird had a learning curve. John chased the Virginia's Warbler in seven states. He finally saw a wintering bird in November in West Los Angeles. We didn't get it until our second visit to the VA garden. It had been there last winter and he didn't bother looking for it then because he thought he would get it easily somewhere else. NOT!


John likes the flexibility of driving but it takes up too much time. Flying from place to place and renting a  car is almost always better. Just don't rent a car in Chicago and drive it to California. Fly home! More experienced travelers know how to fly cheaper than us, I presume. Booking a last minute trip to Miami over New Year's got us two birds, but cost an arm and a leg. Amazingly, most hotels and car rentals were booked up. Who knew?

Bribe Lady Luck! You will need her on your side. Hiring experts helps too.

Have fun!

We were naive. John jumped into this with only two months preparation. He is blind in one eye and hard of hearing. By September, he was discouraged and close to quitting. 700 was no longer likely. Even though I tried to talk him out of his big year initially, I kept pushing him to complete the task and accompanied him on the last few months. Frustration alternated with elation. He knows a heck of a lot more about birds and birding now. How much did it cost? I'd rather not know. The experience was priceless!

Monday, December 31, 2012

And a palm warbler in a palm tree.

We decided to wait for the sunset at Baptist Hospital, thus the palm warblers and the palm trees. After searching every nook, cranny and cul de sac, park and garden in south Miami, we sat on a bench in the memorial garden and played the bulbul song. Maybe it would come to us?

John got a great picture of a Yellow-Throated Warbler today, and we saw some Common Hill Mynas, not likely countable. Wish we could count the Yellow-Chevroned and Mitered Parakeets. There are plenty of them.

Robert sent a message about 1 PM informing us of the Thick-Billed Vireo out on Key West. We were tired, we would get out there about 4, traffic and drivers coming and going would be problematic. We kissed it off.

I will blog a few more times. John has a spreadsheet of species I will create a link to. I am sure everyone will want to know whether our house is still standing. And I will try to summarize our most blatant mistakes.

Who knows what John's final tally will be? He will go through his sightings and decide which is valid or not. He will try to figure out which species are countable or not. Then he will submit his list to the ABA and wait.

As of now, John's total for his big year is 689. It has been a lot of trouble and a lot of fun. While I traveled with him the last few months, I got a taste of what he has endured this whole year.

Should you do a big year? YES!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My oh my-na!

What a long day, Sunday, December 30th! We looked for lots of birds in the Kendall area of Miami, Florida. This park, that neighborhood, try that dead end street, how about this school, the hospital? John did get some fair pics of Monk Parakeets. He had seen and photographed them in Texas, but was not sure they were countable. Maybe the Common Myna down in Florida City? Again, that street, the next parking lot, how about there?

Mid-afternoon, John decided to change pace and head into the Everglades. First time on the Anhinga trail. Lots of alligators, anhingas, various herons, and great pictures of a Purple Gallinule harvesting a water lily fruit. John had only had a distant poor view of a gallinule last April.

Back through Florida City, we drove through an outlet mall for the second time. Looking across the turnpike, we both spotted mynas but on separate light poles. Scurry around, find ourselves in a Walmart parking lot, locate the light pole and photograph the mynas. 689!!!! Lots more mynas flew in as it got dark.

For the last two nights, we stayed in a Motel 6 in Cutler Bay. Poor thing is stuck right up against the turnpike. Not very much sleep for us. I booked us into a Quality Inn for tonight but only a smoking room was available. We got there about 6 PM. For twenty dollars we could upgrade to a non-smoking room. YES!

We have all day tomorrow to try for one more bird. Come on Miami! Give John a break!

Over the last couple of days, we have been communicating with Robert, the guy who is trying a big year without ever having birded before! Amazing! Close to 600! He happened to end the year here too. He was out on Stock Key without a place to lay his head. I steered him to Boyd's Trailer Park and they had one tent space left. He slept in his car and tried for the Western Spindalis this morning. He got it!! He flies out tomorrow to New Jersey. May add a few birds there.

The places John has gone, the people he has met! What fun!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Going for a spin

-dalis that is.

Saturday morning, December 29th, I logged onto John's email to check our car reservations. NARBA had sent an alert. A Western Spindalis had been reported on Stock Key the 28th, the same day we were looking for one on Virginia Key. Toss any plans aside, start driving down the Keys.

Kind of a long slog, but fun to see several Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring by. Three hours later, we arrived, checked in at the Key West Botanic Gardens, got a map and started out. At the first turn, there was a man in black with binoculars. The man in black said that a man in white shorts, the one who found the spindalis yesterday, had shown him where the bird was. He, in turn, showed us. The circle of life. We tried to leave detailed directions on a map at the entrance. Maybe someone else will benefit. Such a dumpy little bird, non-descript grey with dull white markings, methodical berry picker, but wonderful to see. 688 

John likes seeing naturally occurring birds like the spindalis more than remnant feral introduced species. We will try for some of those listable in Florida over the next two days, anyway. Only need two more species to get to 690 for his big year.

We celebrated with lunch at the Hogfish Bar and Grill on Stock Island. Great spot.