Bigby Surprise – Common Redpolls

21 01 2009

Northern Cardinal - Jamie Van Acker

I was thrilled to add a most unexpected yard and BGBY bird to my list for the year in the shape of a flock of Common Redpolls. I had popped outside to digiscope a Red-shouldered hawk that was loafing around the yard and managed to spot a flock of finches fly in. To my surprise they turned out to be a little flock of Common Redpolls. Bigby year bird 38 and yard list bird 106.

There haven’t been many Redpoll reports this year thus far in Connecticut but I was mentioning to people last weekend that they are creeping ever closer to us, still I was surprised to find the flock here. So far the birches in the yard have made up for the lack of filled Nyjer feeder but today I popped out to get some seed to fill her up. Of course the little buggers didn’t linger long enough to get there photo taken, ditto the camera shy Sapsucker that flew across the yard.

As I don’t have a picture of the Redpolls, I thought I’d post this picture taken by my friend Jamie Van Acker. I think this partially leucistic Cardinal looks kind of cool.

BGBY List – 38 Species (highlights in bold):

Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Coopers Hawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Barred Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, COMMON REDPOLL, House Sparrow.

Blue Jay Wahay!!! – Weekend Bigbying

11 01 2009

Ice Storm - Luke Tiller

Ice Storm - Luke Tiller

My Bigby list had majorly stalled since last weekend and wasn’t being helped by the ice storm which left me feeling like  just hibernating for the next couple of months. I just couldn’t come up with anything new the handful of times I popped out anyway. Most amazingly 10 days in I still hadn’t managed to track down a lousy Blue Jay. The last time my dad was here he was amazed by the beautiful birds we had in the yard like Blue Jay and Cardinal. Sadly it usually takes an outsiders eyes to remind you how special those common or garden birds are, however 10 days into my BGBY and my first pair of Blue Jays was a real right for sore eyes. Pre-storm (although this one was a bit of a non-event 8 inches of predicted snow rapidly turning into about 1 and 1/2) on the Saturday the yard was pretty hopping and I also added American Tree Sparrow as a new species, Pine Siskins were flitting around in the birches (one was even picking up grit from the road) and there were about 15-20 Eastern Bluebirds in one giant flock picking at the Multiflora Rose and Cedar berries.

Today I took a stroll out to Meadow Ridge, a nice healthy walk with lots of pulse quickening hills gave me some decent exercise. Between here and Meadow Ridge I managed to find a total of 3 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers which I thought was pretty good (although they seem to be generally increasing in regularity here in winter). I was impressed by how well their mottled black, brown and white backs mimicked the craggy barked trees and nicely broke up their silhouettes as they foraged. A nice addition to my BGBY list. Onwards towards 40 species!!!

New Bigby Species: AMERICAN TREE SPARROW, BLUE JAY!, YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER for a total of 36 species.

Birding Bridgeport & Afternoon BGBY

3 01 2009
Bonaparte's Gull - Captains Cove

Bonaparte's Gull - Captains Cove


Popped out this morning to do some birding with Tina Green, Penny Solum and Sara Zagorski in Fairfield and Bridgeport. Results on the day were kind of mixed with no luck on the Snowy Owl or the gull flocks at Seaside Park but we did do nicely at the  Captains Cove in Bridgeport. Highlights there included a pair of fantastic NORTHERN PINTAIL (the hen is really just exquisite in my opinion and the drake is no slouch in the looks department either). We also managed to locate  a few LESSER SCAUP, PEREGRINE FALCON and a couple of BONAPARTE”S GULLS (which are named for Charles Lucien Bonaparte not his slightly more famous uncle Napolean).The only other real birds of note were a couple of AMERICAN PIPITS at Ash Creek.

Also a little note to people searching for Rough-legged Hawks, just because you have a hawk hanging in one spot don’t immediately assume it’s a Rough-legged, we had at least two Red-tails ‘kiting’ on the day which gave a very good impression of being ‘hovering’ Rough-leggeds. Hovering is a good clue to picking up Rough-leggeds, as is their propensity to sit right on the tippy-top of trees (they use these slender branches due to a small talon size and always look slightly humorous to me precariously perched on these thin branches) but confirm some field marks to be sure.


After getting home and making a couple of essential phone calls I popped out for a bit of ‘bigbying’. Perhaps one shouldn’t be allowed to bigby on the same day that one has been out in the car (a moral conundrum for me to contemplate)?

I tried a little secret area just up my road and was thrilled to have it pay off in a big way. First I picked up on the little two noted chip of a WINTER WREN and it greeted me with some jaunty scolding. After that I picked up a scolding Titmouse and as I hiked up the slope to investigate the cause of its ire, a BARRED OWL, flopped out of the Hemlock stand that the Titmouse was in. The Owl sat out on the branch of a deciduous tree for a good 15 minutes and soon became oblivious to my presence – what a treat! To round off the brief bigby walk I also added a Hairy Woodpecker. Three new species for the list – not bad for a quick stroll.  Add that to the PINE SISKINS  in the birches in the yard at about 6:45am and it was another fine bigby days work. Still no Blue Jays though!

BGBY – Let Battle Commence!

1 01 2009
Digi-binning - easier at feeders

Digibinning - easier at feeders!

So I started my Big Green Big Year, or BGBY as it shall henceforth be known, less than bright and early today. First bird of the year was a somewhat prosaic Dark-eyed Junco (digibinned above). My dad thought the name sounded cool – the bird itself is probably a bit of a letdown considering the rather flamboyant name.

I then took a quick break after amassing a sad 9 species in the yard to go meet good birding friends Penny Solum, Joe Bear, AJ Hand and respective families for some brunch. Post brunch we went for some ‘dirty brown’ birding 😉 but I quickly called it a day with frostbitten toes after the 1st stop at Stratford – leaving the rest of the boys to complete their days birding. In the 20-30 mins at Long Beach though I managed to see a couple of ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS, a 1st cycle GLAUCOUS GULL and a similarly aged ICELAND GULL.

Already home by early afternoon I decided to renew by BGBY by going on a short walk down to the local pond which will be my waterbird mainstay for the year. It was frozen solid but I did manage to collect a few nice birds along the route including a highlight of 2 BLACK VULTURES before I even left the yard and then a lingering Great Blue – which we missed off of the Wilton Xmas Bird Count the other week! Best sighting of the day though were two super cute Red Squirrels which were hanging out near the back of the school – it was there that I discovered how tough digibinning (taking pictures through your binoculars) is without the aid of a feeder to draw in your subject matter – especially with shaky cold hands.

I have already discovered what I love about the BGBY, and that is that it a) makes you start to get inventive about where you might find birds and b) that it brings a whole new level of unexpectedness into your birding world. That’s the same thing I love about the Christmas Bird Count – it makes you start to think of where you might find birds in places that you might never look at any other part of the year. Going off the beaten track like this can produce the most unexpected gems and rarities and if it wasn’t for that little nudge to try something different those birds might never be discovered. OK it’s not like I have ever found anything super rare that way, but at the same time who would have expected to find a Yellow-breasted Chat at a feeder behind the 7th Day Adventist Church in Wilton like we did last year on the Christmas count. Those little out of the ordinary finds though to me are as exciting as chasing a rare bird that is staked out  somewhere across the state.

23 BGBY Species in all for the day – more tomorrow I hope. I think I will knock together a Google Map for my BGBY just to see where I get stuff over the year.

BGBY List:

Great Blue Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Coopers Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, American Crow, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, House Finch, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, European Starling

Big Green Big Year

21 12 2008
Big Green Big Year

Big Green Big Year

Last year I managed the Connecticut ‘Big January’. Aimed at getting birders out in one of the more unforgiving birding months and to introduce a little friendly competition, the ‘Big January’ is designed to see which individual birder can see the most bird species over the month. I have taken part a couple of times but being away for the start of January last year a couple of local birders volunteered me to take over the adjudication process.

Listing, whether it be at your local patch, in your yard, across the state or around the globe continues to at least be part of the motivation for many birders. Of course driving up and down the state burning up fossil fuels is probably defeating the point for many birders who have their other eye on conservation issues. Well now I have the perfect solution for all those competitive listers who are also conscious of their carbon footprint in the form of a BIGBY or BGBY. The ‘Big Green Big Year’ is a big year that counts only birds that you can see a) by walking to find your birds or b) seeing birds when you are self-propelled: bicycle, canoe, kayak etc. You can also opt to do a public transport Big Year.

Details are on the following site,  it sounds like a fun and environmentally friendly bit of fun. I am going to do a self-propelled big year starting January 1, as long as I can dig my bicycle out of the shed and it’s still in one piece. I’ll post updates on how I am getting along. If anyone else wants to pick up the gauntlet and join me in this challenge drop me a line at It sounds like great fun and also is a good excuse for me to get some much needed exercise!

It seems like some Boston MA based birders have been giving it a go this year and are doing quite nicely indeed.