Listening to Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds Radio Show Tomorrow

Just a reminder that tomorrow morning at 9:30 eastern is the special radio broadcast celebrating the 500th show of Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds [this link isn’t working for me at the moment], live from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  You can listen tomorrow online with live streaming or via podcast. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. One of tomorrow’s guests is  Smithsonian ornithologist Bruce Beehler. I’ll be on the show too, and I’m sure Ray and crew will have some other surprises!

Here we are earlier today, after checking out the Q?rius Theater at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; from left to right, associate producer Emma Morgenstern, me, Ray Brown, and executive producer Mark Duffield (photo courtesy of Talkin’ Birds Instagram),

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 4.01.15 PM

More about Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds:

Yesterday’s interview with Ray Brown, at Nicholas Lund’s blog, The Birdist (Nick will be here tomorrow, too)

Boston Globe article by Linda Matchan

Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds website

Talkin’ Birds podcasts at iTunes

Talkin’ Birds on Facebook

Talkin’ Birds on Twitter

Talkin’ Birds on Instagram

Talkin’ Birds Tumblr

Ray Brown, beyond the birds

Interview with Jeff Gordon, Baillie Birdathon celebrity guest birder

This year’s celebrity guest birder for the Bird Studies Canada annual Baillie Birdathon is Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding AssociationI’m very pleased to give you today my interview with Jeff, especially during what is a very busy time of year for him with travelling, ABA presidential duties, and spring migration

Jeffrey watching the annular solar eclipse near Bernalillo, New Mexico, May 2012 photo by Liz Gordon

Jeffrey watching the annular solar eclipse near Bernalillo, New Mexico, May 2012; photo by Liz Gordon

You can find Jeff’s Baillie Birdathon page here; his Birdathon goal is $15,000!

Prairie Birder: Please tell us about yourself.

Jeff: I’ve been interested in nature, especially wildlife since I was a tiny kid. I didn’t catch the birding bug until I was 12, but I caught it hard. When I was a young birder myself there weren’t young birder clubs or social media, but I still managed to find a lot of support and mentoring through organizations like the Delmarva Ornithological Society and the Delaware Nature Society. One of the things I liked best about birding at that age was that in just a year or two, I could hold my own with the adult birders and really make a contribution to the group. Now, I’m not saying that I was as good or as seasoned as the long-time birders. But I was sharp enough to pick things out and add something. One of the things I like best about birding is that it’s truly an all-ages, lifelong activity in a way that few things are.

I went to college at two schools: the University of Delaware and Earlham College in Indiana. While at Earlham, I spent a trimester in Kenya as part of a field study program, which was the single most educational experience of my education, if you will.

After college, I worked at places like Acadia National Park in Maine and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas before landing my dream job of being a bird tour leader, with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. I did that for 12 years and thoroughly enjoyed showing people wonderful birds and places and sharing the experience with them. It was an amazing gig.

I then spent a few years freelancing in the birding industry, writing for BirdWatcher’s Digest and Houghton Mifflin, speaking, working birding festivals for Leica Sport Optics, as well as a stint managing a nature center in southern Delaware. During that time, I was involved peripherally but significantly with the American Birding Association, helping with their conventions and chaperoning many of their youth birding teams.

In late 2010, I took the job of President of the ABA. Hard to believe it’s been almost four years, but it also still feels very fresh and new.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to make a career out of birding. I genuinely love the birding community, the amazing people who share this passion and zeal for birds and the outdoors. It’s a privilege to serve them.

PB: How did you get involved in the Baillie Birdathon?

Jeff: I was invited by the folks at Bird Studies Canada. It was a huge honor to be asked and even though it’s a particularly busy time of year, of course, there was no way I could turn down the offer!

PB: Where and when will your Birdathon take place? Is your wife Liz, an ABA staffer, going to be able to join you?

Jeff: I’ll be birding with Jody Allair and others on Saturday, May 10th, wherever he takes me in and around Port Rowan and Long Point [Ontario]. Though I’ve birded Rondeau and Pelee and all the birds will be familiar, this will be my first time around Long Point. Having heard so much about it for so many years, I’m very much looking forward to finally seeing it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for Liz to come this time.

PB: How much have you birded in Canada, in general, and at Long Point in particular?

Jeff: I’ve birded Canada more than any other country but the US. I’ve made something on the order of 10 trips each to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Manitoba. I’ve been very fortunate to visit Nunavut multiple times, with two trips to Pond Inlet on Baffin Island and another to Wager Bay. I’ve visited the Vancouver region a couple of times, as I have the aforementioned Pelee/Rondeau area and have stayed a couple of nights in Ottawa. I also made a memorable November birding trip to Quebec. No Long Point, no PEI, no Alberta or Yukon. So I guess I would say that I’ve made a good scratch in Canada’s surface, but man, there’s a lot of ground to cover.

Celebrating seeing White-tailed Ptarmigan, ABA Camp Colorado, July 2013

Celebrating seeing White-tailed Ptarmigan, ABA Camp Colorado, July 2013

PB: Do you have a target number of species you’re hoping to see during your Baillie Birdathon?

Jeff: Jody tells me that a total of around 140 or so will be good for the Long Point area. As for target birds, I have no targets in the sense of lifers or near-lifers. But I’m very excited about getting to see and hear a bunch of old friends. And who knows what may turn up? My dream bird in the region would be a “Cory’s” Least Bittern, but I bet I’m not alone in that dream!

PB: Kenn Kauffman wrote a few years ago, just before you became president, that when the ABA first started (and when he first joined), “it served a unique role in connecting the active birders of the US and Canada”. Do you think this is still true? 

What would you tell Canadian birders in 2014 who want to know what the ABA can offer them?

Jeff: No question, yes, the ABA serves a unique role in connecting birders of the US and Canada. I think that role has evolved a lot over the nearly five decades of the ABA’s life and it continues to. Early on, there was a huge need for basic bird finding and identification information which has partially but not nearly wholly been filled by the internet. Of course, the ABA is still providing that information, too. Our Facebook Rare Bird Alert, to cite one small example, has a stellar track record of breaking news of ABA rarities. At this point, it’s the place to watch for this sort of info. Today, I see the ABA playing more of a role in being the center, or perhaps a center in this decentralized age, of birding culture and community. And I think we are THE center of birding culture. What it means and how best to go about being a birder — that’s right at the heart of what we’re about and that’s not true of any other North American organization, though there are a number that certainly do a great deal that is of value to birds and to birders. But as far as standing up and being counted as a member of the community of active, passionate birders? That’s the ABA.

For Canadians specifically, I think the ABA is unusual and worthwhile in that we define our core area of concern as the US and Canada. Right there, that encourages a shared vision and perspective. Of course, the ABA and its members’ interests extend beyond the ABA area, around the hemisphere and the globe. But there is an undeniable shared US/Canada outlook and community that the ABA fosters.

One thing I’d like to emphasize: we are always looking for Canadian content for our publications online and off. If you have stories to tell about birding Canada or birding as a Canadian, I guarantee they will get a fair hearing. Folks can email me at and I’ll pass you along to the proper editor or manager.

Jeff co-leading, with ABA Board Member Carl Bendorf (just right of me wearing ABA cap), an Iowa Young Birders field trip,

Jeff, far left, co-leading a field trip with ABA Board Member Carl Bendorf (just to the right of Jeff, wearing the ABA cap) for the Iowa Young Birders Club. Photo by Helen Lindhorst.

PB: What sort of relationship is there, formal or informal, between the American Birding Association and Bird Studies Canada?

Jeff: Well, I hope that it’s a growing one. I’m doing the Baillie Birdathon this Spring and Jody Allair has an article about Bird Studies Canada that will be published later this month in our first-ever Birder’s Guide to Conservation and Community. So far, we don’t have any formal partnerships but I’m hoping to meet lots of folks and generate lots of ideas during my upcoming visit. I would also add that we all strongly suspect that many of the ABA’s Canadian members are also members of Bird Studies Canada and that offers natural opportunities for collaboration.

PB: How would you describe the differences in the various organizations: ABA, Bird Studies Canada, National Audubon Society, and even Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology?

Jeff: The ABA strives to inspire all people to enjoy and protect wild birds. We do that in a wide variety of ways and many of the other organizations you mention, all fine ones, overlap part of what we do. But I think one key difference is that the ABA is fundamentally in the business of promoting and supporting birding, where most other organizations emphasize birds, or conservation, and/or ornithology. Supporting birding is something they do to advance those ends. We support birding and we firmly believe it leads to good outcomes for birds, for habitat, and for society. We know it does for individuals. So while I see all these groups as having compatible and complementary goals, I think the ABA is the single place to register your identity and passion as a birder and to join a community of birders.

PB: What percentage of ABA members are Canadian? Are you looking to encourage membership from Canadian birders, and if so, how? 

Jeff: Our Canadian membership generally runs about 10-12 percent, which closely mirrors the population of the two countries. We are looking to encourage membership from all birders, but if you or anyone has suggestions for ways to better reach Canada, I’d be delighted to hear them. We also try to have representation on our board and committees that at least approaches that 10-12 percent benchmark. Currently, we do not have a Canadian board member, so please get in touch if you’re interested or know someone who might be.

PB: You became president of the ABA in 2010. Shortly before that, you wrote, “The question for ABA is whether it’s going to adapt and change and once again lead and inspire the birding community.” Since you became president, how has the ABA been adapting, changing, leading, and inspiring, in both the US and Canada?

Jeff: Hands down, the biggest “mechanical” change is that we’ve gone online and are active in many social media spaces. But that increased online presence has been in the service of an even more fundamental change — making ourselves more accessible and responsive to our members, as well as giving them a number of useful forums where they can exchange information and discuss issues. We’re also accomplishing a real shift, I think, where we full-heartedly embrace both the purely recreational aspects of birding and the more legacy-building, conservation impulse that nearly all birders feel. In the past, I think there’s been a tendency for something of a rift to appear there, at least part of the time. But I find that today, perhaps most especially with younger birders, it’s all seen as essential parts of a larger whole. Birding is and ought to be a big tent for many approaches, for people of all ages and types. I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made toward promoting that vision and making it a reality.

*  *  *  *

Thank you, Jeff, for the opportunity to interview you and good luck on your Baillie Birdathon!

An Interview with ABA Big Year Birder Neil Hayward: Part 2

(Here is Part 1 of my interview with Big Year birder Neil Hayward).

PB: What sort of preparations did you do to make the most of your time?

Neil: I spent a lot of time on eBird earlier in the year trying to optimize which sites to visit to pick up the most species. It’s important to know which species to ignore, knowing you can find them later, as it is knowing which ones to focus on. I had a rough schedule of what I’d be doing in each month, and which birds I’d be getting when and where. As I got closer to each month I’d refine my strategy. The first part of the year — getting all the regular birds — requires a lot of planning and strategizing so that by the second half of the year you have enough time to suddenly abandon trips and chase rarities. You’re always thinking in terms of time — getting a bird early can save you time later in the year (time not spent at home, but out chasing something else!).

PB: Which field guide(s) did you use? Printed books or field guide apps?

Neil: I always had the National Geographic [Field Guide to the Birds of North America] with me. I love the 6th Edition (link here). I’ve never really used the Nat Geo before — mainly as I haven’t liked the illustrations. The 6th edition has much better images, the subspecies range maps are fantastic, and the text is very educational (at least for me — I always learn something new whenever I leaf through it).

I usually have a Sibley with me. I think the illustrations are better, but there are many species (the rarer ones, as well as some of the recent splits, like Cackling Goose) that aren’t in Sibley. In order to keep it concise and clear, there’s also no real discussion (or naming) of subspecies, which I think is a shame.

As for apps, I really prefer having a book (even though that takes up packing space), although I do have and use the iBird app [link here]. I find the calls on there very helpful.

A Red-necked Stint, Massachusetts (photo by Neil Hayward)

A Red-necked Stint, Massachusetts (photo by Neil Hayward)

PB: What did you pack, and what gear do you recommend? Is there anything you packed in 2013 that you would not bring along on another Big Year? Is there anything you did not pack that you wish you had?

Neil: I never checked luggage. I couldn’t afford the extra time waiting to collect it, or the possibility of it being delayed or lost. (And — these days you often have to pay for checked luggage.) I had a large enough sports bag that I could pack my tripod, scope, camera together with a minimum of clothes (including full thermal underwear). I took my scope with me everywhere — since almost all my photos were digiscoped, it doubled as my main camera too. My other bag had bins, laptop and books (bird and fiction). I got pretty good at packing the bare essentials. By the middle of the year, I was toting a neck pillow, which was wonderful on flights as well as doubling as a pillow when sleeping in rental cars! If I could pack anything else, it would have been some books on tape or more NPR podcasts. Somehow I never seemed to have enough time to plan that!

PB: Were your non-birding family and friends understanding about the demands on your time?

Neil: Yes! My girlfriend especially so. She was very supportive and understood that we often couldn’t make plans for even the following day, as I could be on a plane chasing something. It would be hard to imagine doing the year without having her support and help.

PB: What were some of the bird highlights of your year?

Neil: All of them were special! But seeing Red-necked Stint in my home state was pretty special (I’d chased this bird several times, here and in the UK, and it was turning into a bit of a nemesis bird!). Also — Mountain Quail, which seemed to take forever before I eventually tracked them down.

Adak was [such] a big risk in terms of time (being away from the rest of the US with the possibility of being stranded there) that coming over a rise on the second day, and seeing those three Whooper Swans made it all worthwhile. That was a great moment.

I spent almost eight hours sitting in front of Kubo Lodge in Madera Canyon, AZ waiting for Berylline Hummingbird. Despite (or because of) the wait, it was a wonderful day — watching the other hummers come in to feed while chatting with visiting birders. And when the Berylline finally appeared around 6 pm, it was one of the most stunning birds I’d seen all year.

Also — all the wonderful breeding bird colors in Nome. The Red-throated Loons were spectacular, as were the Steller’s Eider, Bluethroats, and Long-tailed Jaegers.

One of my favorite birds was Emperor Goose. They’re so delicately patterned with such an interesting reversal of light and dark on their necks, and such silly bright legs. I had some great views of them on Adak. We always stopped the vehicle for Emperor Geese!

A Kirtland's Warbler, Michigan  (photo by Neil Hayward)

A Kirtland’s Warbler, Michigan (photo by Neil Hayward)

PB: What were some of the highlights of your year, in terms of experiences rather than birds?

Neil: One of the real highlights was making lots of new friends. One of my favorite trips was in Nome in June where I met Hans de Grys [link here]. We were similar in age and birding experience. He was ending his (mid-year to mid-year big year) as I was less than half way through mine. We got on immediately, and had a lot of fun.

I also became good friends with Jay Lehman — the other calendar year Big Year birder in 2013 [link here]. We ended up meeting in lots of places, chasing the same birds and sharing lots of information. It was a real joy spending time with Jay. While some may think that Big Years are competitive, they’re anything but. Only those doing a Big Year are aware of the exhaustion and stress involved, and as such, we spent a lot of time trying to make it easier for each other. I’m still in touch with Hans and Jay, as I am with many other birders I met during the year.

PB: Aside from busy times chasing after birds, a Big Year means lots of down time while traveling and waiting around for that rarity. What did you think about besides the next bird(s), and what did you learn about yourself from doing a Big Year?

Neil: I spent a lot of time thinking about the next birds! There wasn’t as much down time as you might imagine. Often, I’d be driving all day, and in the only time I had free I had to eat, plan the next day or two, and then think about pelagics and Alaska trips later in the year. Oh — and download and edit photos and write an interesting blog post. But… when I wasn’t doing any of that, I read a lot of fiction.

The long road distances did mean I had plenty of time to think though. When I wasn’t listening to the radio (mostly NPR), I’d think a lot about what the whole Big Year thing meant. It’s not something to enter into lightly. It’s a huge time and money commitment. I often asked myself why I was doing it. What I wanted to achieve.

A Red-throated Loon, Alaska (photo by Neil Hayward)

A Red-throated Loon, Alaska (photo by Neil Hayward)

PB: I know you have only just finished your Big Year, but do you think you might write a book about your year, as Sandy Komito did?

Neil: One of the things I enjoyed most about my Big Year was keeping a blog. At first, I thought it would be a hassle, having to document everything, and something essentially I’d be doing for other people. But as the year progressed, I looked forward to each post. How would I tell the same story differently? What angle should I take? How do I make it interesting and engaging for a non-birder? Writing forces you to do some research and understand your subject better. I learned a lot more about birds, geography, and culture by writing about it. Without my blog, I’d have missed a lot of the other things that were going on in the year. While I was always thinking about the reader, it became something I wrote primarily for myself.

A lot of people have asked about a book. Of course, I’d love to be a published author and have a book. Who wouldn’t?! Unfortunately, that means writing it! It’s a completely different format from a blog, and requires a different way of structuring the material and presenting it. I’m guessing it would also take another year. In terms of getting a publisher interested, I’d have to demonstrate that there’s a market for this type of book. I’m writing a couple of articles for publication now, which should tell me whether I like sitting at home all day and writing!

An Interview with ABA Big Year Birder Neil Hayward: Part 1

Seeing over 700 species of birds in North America in one year is no small feat. In fact, only 13 people have ever seen more than 700 species in the ABA region in a single calendar year. Now one of those birders is Neil Hayward.

Sandy Komito and Neil Hayward, Halfmoon Bay CA. Photo taken by Debi Shearwater and supplied by Neil Hayward

Neil Hayward (at right) with Sandy Komito, Half Moon Bay, California; photo by Debi Shearwater and graciously provided by Neil Hayward

Neil had quit his job in 2012, and spent the beginning of 2013 traveling and birding. He started blogging about his sightings on January 18, 2013 at Accidental Big Year.

By the end of December, Neil made headlines when he broke the standing ABA Big Year record of 748 species set by Sandy Komito in 1998. A sighting of a Great Skua on December 28th put Neil’s final total at 747 species +3 provisionals, the three provisionals being a Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Common Redstart, and Eurasian Sparrowhawk, since these have never been seen in the United States before and have to be accepted by the ABA. The acceptance of one species would tie the record and the acceptance of two would beat it.

Through 2013, Neil birded through 28 states and seven provinces, flew 193,758 miles, drove 51,758 miles, spent 147 hours at sea, and lived195 nights away from home.

In the last few weeks while reading Neil’s blog and also reading articles about his Big Year in The Boston Globe, USA Today, and The Homer (AK) News, I thought it would be fun to interview him here to learn more about his year.

Even though Neil has a lot on his plate, he took time out of his very busy schedule to be interviewed for this blog. I’m very excited to have the chance to interview Neil and learn a little more about his year. here’s part one of the interview, with some of Neil’s photographs (part two will be up tomorrow).

PB: First, please tell us a little about yourself.

Neil: I grew up in the UK. I was born in Oxford, which is pretty much in the middle of the country and about as far from the sea as you can get on what is a relatively small island. I studied Biochemistry at Oxford University and then did a PhD in fruitfly genetics at Cambridge University. I took a year out after my PhD to travel through Russia and Central Asia (I was interested in the Silk Road and had learned some Russian before going). When I returned in 2001, I joined a start-up biotech company, called Abcam, which became very successful. I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to head up the US office for the company. I grew the company here, setting up offices in San Francisco as well as an Asian office in Tokyo. After 11 years in the company, I decided to leave in 2012 to become a consultant.

PB: How and when did you first become interested in birding?

Neil: When I was a kid, probably seven years old. I was fascinated by the birds coming into our yard feeders — Greenfinches, Great and Blue Tits, Dunnocks, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, etc. I really remember being impressed with the Green Woodpecker. I wondered what they did when they weren’t coming to the feeders — where they lived, what their social structures were, what they thought about. My parents had field guides at home as well as binoculars which helped me learn about birds. And when I started high school (11 years old) I made friends with a couple of other birders, and we started exploring local habitats — by far the best of which was the reservoir (Farmoor Reservoir) which saw a good number of migrant species, and birds very different from those I saw in the yard at home.

A Bluethroat, Alaska (photo by Neil Hayward)

A Bluethroat, Alaska (photo by Neil Hayward)

PB: How long have you been birding in North America? Are there any differences between birding in North America and in the UK or Europe?

Neil: I actually birded in the US before I moved here. I had a summer job as an undergrad in a microbiology lab at Texas A&M University. When I wasn’t in the lab I was out birding. Texas was a great place to start here — I saw so many new species that year. Also, on business trips here, I’d take some time out and try to squeeze some birding in too. But it wasn’t until I moved here in 2005 that I really started birding here more regularly. Although I’d birded in many states, most of my birding time has been spent in my home state of Massachusetts.

Yes — there are differences between the UK and here. Birding is more popular over there (as a percentage of the population engaged in it). It’s also a lot more competitive! It’s not uncommon for birders to suppress sightings so that they can get ahead of others. I’ve not seen that behavior here. I also think it’s more male-dominated (which might account for the competitiveness!). Since it’s possible to drive the whole country in a day or so, it’s common for most birders to have a UK list as well as their county list. Birding the whole country is a lot easier (and cheaper) over there than it is here. So you could say that most of the year listers there are also doing a country-wide Big Year.

Another difference is the type of birds seen. I’d say that, although the number of species on the UK list may be less (currently just less than 600), there’s a lot more variety and potential for rarities. The UK is at the crossroads of a whole bunch of migratory pathways — with birds frequently overshooting from Asia and Africa as well as American birds in the fall. (The direction of the gulf stream and winds means the UK gets a lot of American vagrants, but we [in the US] don’t get the reverse.) That means you’re probably exposed to a wider geographical range of birds.

PB: Why did you start your Big Year?

Neil: I’d had a great start to the year — birding in Arizona, Florida, Texas, Washington State, as well as Canada. I’d seen a number of really good rarities, and, after looking at the eBird Top 100 list realized I was doing quite well (at least, compared to other birders). Since I’d quit my job last year [2012] I had more free time this year [2013], and given the great start figured that if there were a year to do a Big Year, this would be it.

PB: At what point in your year did you think you might possibly beat the standing record of 748 species?

Neil: Way later than everyone else! There was a lot of excitement towards the end of my Big Year, and a lot of people starting telling me that I could break the record. But I had a list of all the probable birds I could still get, and it never looked enough. In the last two months, I knew I’d have to push really hard if I were to have a chance. I went to the Canadian Maritimes which I really hadn’t planned on doing (to Nova Scotia for Tundra-Bean Goose and for Pink-footed Goose, which I’d missed in the spring), and then to Newfoundland for Yellow-legged Gull. It was my first time there, and, being based in Boston, it really wasn’t as far/difficult as I’d imagined. And then I surprised myself and went to Adak, Alaska. I’d long said I wouldn’t do that — it was way too far, I wouldn’t be able to chase anything else while I was there, there were only two flights a week, and at the end of the year there was a good chance of being stranded (I was — albeit for one day). I was well aware of John Vanderpoel’s trip there, which was a bust [link here]. I lucked out with Whooper Swan there and getting the Whiskered Auklet. And who knows — maybe the Sparrowhawk if it’s accepted.

But returning from a very successful trip to Adak, I still needed a lot of luck. And I got it — in one week Little Bunting, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, and Rustic Bunting all turned up, and I got to each in time to see them. There’s only so much you can do — if there birds don’t pop up, you can only wait. I was incredibly lucky with those last few weeks. And even on board Brian’s boat, several hours into the trip, I wasn’t feeling confident about the Skua.

A Great Skua, North Carolina (photo by Neil Hayward)

A Great Skua, North Carolina (photo by Neil Hayward)

PB: In his recent ABA blog article, Greg Neise wrote, “While the logistics and expense of getting around the ABA area have certainly become more difficult and costly, one thing has certainly changed the way we bird, and has had a huge positive impact on Neil’s effort is he Internet and cell phones. Okay, two things.” How did you use the internet and your cell phone to keep up with rarities and plan your travels? Did you rely on various state listservs, or did you have a network of contact people texting you, or was it something else?

Neil: My cell phone was probably my most important tool. It was invaluable for receiving info about birds. I was getting hourly alerts from eBird for rarities and birds that I needed. And by the end of the year the folks at North American Rare Bird Alert [NARBA] were very helpfully texting me with updates. I was also signed up to all the listervs that I thought might be productive for rarities (Texas, Florida, Arizona, Massachusetts, Washington State and all the California counties). That meant sifting through hundreds of emails every day! I was also receiving texts from other birders who knew which species I still needed.

In terms of logistics, it’s hard to imagine booking flights, accommodation, rental cars, and getting around with GPS without my phone. Having mobile internet access was certainly a huge help in trying to co-ordinate all the planning and logistical aspects of a Big Year.

PB: Advances in technology — smartphones, listservs, Facebook, etc. — have made chasing rarities much easier than in Sandy Komito’s time. But how much does a Big Year birder still depend on the kindness and generosity of others in person, including birders and non-birders?

Neil: That’s a great question! I was incredibly indebted to others — for posting sightings, allowing me access to private properties, giving me rides, and making helpful suggestions. While I spent a lot of my Big Year alone, there were a lot of people involved. I certainly could not have done it alone.

PB: Of all the locations where you birded in 2013, which would you like to return for a more in-depth visit, and more birding?

Neil: Alaska. I loved the rugged scenery and wilderness. This year was my first time to the state, and after eight trips, and almost two months there, I really felt like it was becoming familiar. I felt very comfortable in Anchorage, getting to know the city, coffee shops and restaurants. (And one of the best used bookstores — Title Wave Books — in the US!)

As for the birding locations in Alaska — the potential for rarities is high, which always adds to the anticipation. And although I liked chasing birds, they were always other people’s birds. In Alaska, there was a much better chance of finding your own birds. (And in places like St. Paul, Minnesota, there’s no-one else out there birding, so you’re always part of a group that finds birds.)

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!

Crowdsourcing Bird Science, from Canadian Geographic

Canadian Geographic‘s new issue has an online article by Nick Walker, “Crowdsourcing bird science: Canada’s birdwatchers are making big contributions to science research and conservation”, all about Bird Studies Canada‘s many citizen science programs; read the article here.

Nick writes that BSC’s 20 main programs

every year boast the eager participation of more than 30,000 Canadian birders — mostly regular civilians, not ornithologists or biologists like [BSC biologist and science educator Jody] Allair. They’re the ones gathering the bulk of the data that’s essential to the “real” scientists, and to organizations that make official decisions about which species should be declared threatened or endangered, which land should be designated as conservation areas.

One of the programs included in the article is the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop, which Nick interviewed me about last week just after I returned from Long Point. I’m very happy to be part of the article and also BSC’s programs, since I’m a big supporter of all of their important work in this country. Project FeederWatch, which is detailed in the article, is what really turned me from a kid sort of interested in birds into a birder — a program my mother thought would be a nice add-on for my science studies turned into a wonderful opportunity to observe more, and learn more, from the many birds visiting our yard between November and April, and helped me see how interesting birds really are.

By the way, the current issue of Canadian Geographic (October 2013) features the following articles:

:: An interview with artist and photographer Edward Burtynsky about his latest project, “Water”

:: A look at this summer’s mystery of the paralyzed ravens and crows in B.C.

:: The dramatic population rise of the Ross’s Goose in the Arctic

:: Concerning news about the Common Loon, and the health of Canada’s lakes

And many more…