Friday, January 24, 2014

My Big Year by Numbers

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Oak Openings 1/24/2014
So 2014 has proven to be relatively busy so far.  I'm working nearly every day, which is good.  I'm getting my face known in a new school as well as continuing at Four County Career Center, so hopefully something full-time might open up for me at the end of the year.  On top of working, my two little girls and I have kind of felt under the weather for the first few weeks of the new year.  Hopefully my wife can avoid any sickness that's floating around out there.

Anyways, it's taken me this long to sit down and analyze my year.  Although the biggest joys of my Big Year can not be quantified, numbers are nevertheless seemingly significant in such an endeavor.  Here are a few that I thought were interesting enough to mention.

320:  At the beginning of the year I was interviewed by Pat Eaken of The Press newspaper.  I stated then that I would like to average a bird a day.  Although I never mentioned an exact goal by picking a number, I guess I indirectly chose 365 as my end game.  I fell short of 365 by 45 species, but 320 ain't too shabby.

111: Some birders keep lists and others do not.  My dad writes down what he sees on a given day, but he does not keep a life list.  I generally don't record my sightings every single time I go out, but if I see something new, I check it off my life list.  This year I added a 111 new bird species to that list.  The vast majority of those birds I know I have never seen before.  Others I probably had seen before, but simply didn't take the time ID them.  For example, I probably have seen a Willow Flycatcher before, but since it is very similar to 4 other species, I just didn't bother narrowing it down.  To ID birds like this, I was forced to spend a lot more time listening to bird calls, since that is often times the only way to differentiate between two or more similar species.

13: I have been to quite a few places throughout the state of Ohio, but this year I got to visit a few more new locations.  One Ohio highlight was the day we spent with Greg Miller down in Holmes and Tuscarawas Counties.  Greg helped get us a couple of Barn Owls and a lone Blue Grosbeak.

8: At the beginning of the year I had recorded 209 different kinds of birds in my birding "career."  Of that number, 8 evaded my 'nocs' this year.  I missed a couple of warblers, the Northern Saw-whet Owl, and the beautiful Evening Grosbeak among a few others.  Oh well...

4: My Big Year, in reality, wasn't a true Big Year.  I have said before, this was a diet Big Year.  People doing the real thing often times spend thousands of dollars, and travel across the country several times.  Regardless of whether my Big Year was true to form, I still got to go to quite a few new places.  I saw the Everglades, Whitefish Point, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  I took boat trips on Florida Bay and in Cleveland Harbor.  I traveled to a relatively large number of places this year, but still managed to enjoy Spring migration in Northwest Ohio as much as ever.

Baby in a headlight
2: On August 1, 2013 my daughter Audrey was born.  I now have 2 beautiful little girls.  I could not be luckier.  Ruby is hilarious, and is already a birder.  She's also a wonderful big sister.  Audrey smiles at her all the time.  Not surprisingly, the number 2 stands out above all the others.

Coming down from the high of being able to do something you love for an entire year can be a little hard at times.  I am working a lot lately, and am starting to actively look for full-time employment again.  Because I'm having a difficult time of letting go of last year's obsession, Elissa has agreed to go birding with me once a month at Oak Openings.  My favorite hobby at my favorite park with my favorite girl.  You can't beat it.  Because we had to reschedule a couple times already, we're going to squeeze in our January trip next Wednesday on the 29th.  Perhaps we'll see you out on the trails!  Happy birding.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thank You for My Big Year

My girls
Lets face it.  Doing a Big Year is an incredibly selfish thing to do if you're playing the duel role of husband and father.  There were certainly times during the course of 2013 where I could have been a little more attentive to my family, and a little less obsessed with birds.  It is for that reason that I would like to thank my wife, Elissa, and my daughters, Ruby and Audrey, for putting up with me these past 12 months.  During my latest stint in Texas, their absence made my heart ache.  I love my girls so much, and I am undoubtedly the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

As I have mentioned before, my Big Year was made possible by great people as well as great birds.  I joined two organizations this year that I plan to be a part of for years and years to come.  The Toledo Naturalists' Association allowed me the opportunity to bird with some of Toledo's foremost bird experts.  Field trips led by Dr. Elliot Tramer and Matt Anderson helped nab me a few more birds for the list.  Bird Girl Sherrie Duris was so generous in giving me the heads up anytime she spotted a rarity.  I met the Woodlawn Warriors by way of the Naturalists'.  Last but not least, I got to bird with Greg Links.  I learned so much from Greg in just a short time, and for that I'm very appreciative.

Joining Black Swamp Bird Observatory was well overdue.  Multiple people associated with BSBO including Kate Zimmerman, Kelly McKinne, Megan Reynolds, Mark Shieldcastle, and Kenn and Kim Kaufman made my year much more enjoyable.  I plan to volunteer for BSBO next year.  I hope I get to do something fun!

Additionally, I would like to mention the Facebook group, Birding Ohio.  It put me in contact with some of the previously mentioned people as well as many other great birders.  Although next year won't be as crazy, I'm happy to be a part of a great online birding community.

The Texas Crew
Looking back on the year, it's quite amazing to think about the places I've been and the things I've done.  I took a tour of Florida Bay by boat during a stop in Everglades National Park.  I saw birds and crocodiles up close.  A trip to Muskegon, Michigan yielded Long-tailed Duck and White-winged Scoter, and it also provided a nice getaway for me and my wife.  I enjoyed another Spring in Northwest, Ohio, explored Holmes County with Big Year birder Greg Miller, braved the cold weather to experience Whitefish Point for the first time, and went out in the cold yet again to take part in a Lake Erie pelagic trip in downtown Cleveland.  Lastly, of course, I spent three amazing days birding in the lower Rio Grande Valley.

Speaking of the Rio Grande trip, I need to thank a few people there.  First and foremost, I would like to thank my dad.  If it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't have ever given birds a second thought.  You got me outside when I was growing up, and I'm very grateful for that.  The plane ticket to Texas didn't hurt either.  I'm also happy that my godmother, Aunt Woody, got to come with me to Texas as well.  Not only have birds been a common bond between us, but she fostered my appreciation for the greatest baseball franchise in history, the Detroit Tigers.

Texas also introduced me to a wonderful bed and breakfast called the Alamo Inn.  It is centrally located in the Valley near McAllen, Texas, so it really isn't a far drive to any of the birding hot spots.  The inn is owned and operated by Keith Hackland.  During our stay Keith's stepdaughter, Carrie, took care of anything we needed.  She was extremely generous and helpful.  When I visit the Valley again, there is no reason why I would stay anywhere else but the Alamo Inn.
Carrie and your's truly

This year was exciting, enriching, exhausting, and fun.  It increased my interest in birds in many ways.  Ultimately, however, it underscored my responsibility as a husband and a father.  Birding is important to me, but at the end of the day, it's a hobby.  I don't want to be one of those people who obsess over beating a record or have little else going on in their life.  More than anything, I want to be with my family.  They are wonderful in many ways, and I can't imagine life without them.

So today is December 31st.  Am I out by the Ottawa River looking for white-winged gulls?  Am I searching the trees along the bike trail at Maumee Bay State Park for a Saw-whet Owl?  No.  I'm hear, writing this down as my little girls take their nap.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  To all of you who have been following along, I hope you find what's most important to you.  It's comforting.  Happy birding and happy new year!
                                                               - Brandon Brywczynski

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rio Grande Valley: Final Day

Today we went up river for some new habitat.  Stops included Salineno, Starr County Park, and Falcon State Park.  It was an hour and a half drive from our hotel, but like everything else on this trip, it was well worth the effort.

Our first stop was Salineno.  It's a place unlike any other location I've visited.  Salineno Road dead ends into the Rio Grande River.  At first glance, the area looks kind of dumpy.  Birds, however, don't care about curb appeal.  At the river one can find all three kingfishers, American White Pelicans, and Neotropic Cormorants among other species.  The highlight of our river watching was a single Red-billed Pigeon.  Expert birder Mary Gustafson, who was working on a Christmas bird count made the call.  I got a good look at it, but didn't write it down until I confirmed it with Dad's Peterson's guide.  Didn't doubt Mary, but I couldn't write it down on my list unless I identified the bird myself.

Volunteers have been maintaining feeders at Salineno for years.  A wonderfully cheerful older gentleman named Merle is currently taking care of the feeders.  We sat with him and his dog Jake (who was equally as cheerful) for about a half hour.  After a slow start, activity at the feeders eventually began to pick up.  We were able to get stunning views of Hooded, Altamira, and Audubon's Orioles.  We also got unencumbered looks at Green Jay, Great Kiskadee, and Long-billed Thrasher.

After leaving Salineno we went to Starr County Park.  The park is a campground that can be very productive for birds.  Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, and a subspecies of the Yellow-rumped Warbler known as Audubon's Warbler were observed.

We then went to Falcon State Park for our final birding adventure in South Texas.  The park was not extremely active, but Pyrrhuloxia and Greater Roadrunner were welcome additions to the list.  Here are our departing images from the Rio Grande Valley...

Great Kiskadee


Long-billed Thrasher

Green Jays

Audubon's Oriole and Great Kiskadee

Altamira Oriole

American White Pelican

Curve-billed Thrasher

Harris's Hawk

Greater Roadrunner


Three happy birders at the border.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Rio Grande Valley: Day 2

Another fun and exhausting day.  As I type it is 9pm and I could have gone to sleep an hour ago.  Today included stops at Estero Llano Grande State Park and Bentsen Rio Grande State Park.  The group's favorite location was Estero Llano.  We ended up joining a bird walk that took off from the visitor center around 8:30am.  Steve and Susan, our leaders, were extremely helpful.  Others in the group turned out to be wonderful birding companions.

Bentson was a little disappointing.  We did not see a lot of birds in general, but I was able to add Black Phoebe and Loggerhead Shrike to the list.  Here are a few pics from today.  The lighting for photos continued to be poor, but tomorrow will hopefully be sunny and 70 degrees.  Going up river to Falcon Dam.  Once again...I can't wait!  Happy birding.

Green-winged Teal

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite

Least Grebe

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Not a pile of leaves.  Find the Common Pauraque


Green Kingfisher

Tropical Kingbird...probably.

American Coot

Plain Chachalaca

Eastern Screech Owl

Friday, December 27, 2013

Rio Grande Valley: Day 1

Today we visited three spots in South Texas: South Padre Island, Sabal Palm Sanctuary, and Oliviera Park.  I added 16 birds to the Big List.  Here are some pics from today's adventure.  Enjoy!

Green Heron
Black-necked Stilt
Black Skimmers...and others.
Reddish Egret
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Great-tailed Grackle 
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Tricolored Heron
Northern Mockingbird
Laughing Gull
Can you tell Dad likes Brown Pelicans?
Roseate Spoonbills
Eurasian Collared Dove
Black-crested Titmouse
Clay-colored Thrush
Buff-bellied Hummingbird