Not A Big Year, A Massive Year

We (and our luggage) arrived safely in Raleigh Durham last Thursday evening and for that I am grateful. Our dealings with Qantas have continued to disappoint to say the very least. It has been a steady decline in their service and services in the almost 20 years we have flown with them. I do not need to go into it here. It just is what it is now. As a good friend said, “Qantas is now a shell of what it used to be.” I could not agree more.

It’s been close to two weeks since I posted a blog entry. We are here in the USA and a lot of things need to be sorted out. These are the kinds of things that set my anxieties ablaze, burning through my brain leaving scorched earth where creativity could normally grow. Even if the growth were only some “thought weeds” pushing up between the blackened cracks, they would at least be spots of green amongst the darkness.

So as I wait for returned calls that do not come, or as I attempt to deal with any of the overwhelming organizational tasks at which I am less capable than most Golden Retrievers, I thought I would try to write something in here. Yes, that was all one sentence.

Over the last several days, I have managed to start a rewrite of the beginning of the "book" about the year. I am searching for the voice in which I will write it. It will of course be my voice, but it will be a bit different from the blog. I am also working out how detailed and personal I want it to be. Getting it going may be a slow process (see the scorched earth hyperbole above). But one of the things that I possibly can write about at this time is the notion of a “Big Year” in relation to our year of birding and our Couple’s Year List.

As birders know, a Big Year is when a person(s) attempts to see as many different species of birds in a specific area as they can in a year. The year usually would run from 1 January through 31 December. Because of our time situation, we began keeping a list on 20 August and stopped on 18 August since we did no birding after that. So the dates in themselves would make it a pretty unconventional “Big Year.”

Non-birders often point to the fact that occasionally we twitched a bird, or birds. Twitching is traveling a distance specifically in hopes of seeing a rare or unusual bird somewhere. That we did. But these were usually not too terribly far out of our way and never involved air travel. Real Big Years involve many flights for twitching rarities.

We also only did four pelagic birding trips during our year. Anyone really gunning for numbers will all but grow fins in pursuit of the deep ocean specialties. We missed many a pelagic bird, which a trip or two more would have probably provided. But those trips are not cheap and are often uncomfortable and we chose not to do an excessive number of them.

And believe me, we birded hard, very hard, but even then you sometimes dip. There were basically three bogey birds of the year. The baddest bogey being Black-breasted Buttonquail (alliteration anyone?). We put over five days into searching Inskip Point for that damn bird without a glimpse. The second bad bogey was Yellow-rumped Mannikin and last but not least, the Wandering Albatross. These were all birds that we put serious time and travel into, but did not see. It happens. It has to. If you don’t have a bogey bird (or three) you are not really birding.

We basically “let go” of quite a few birds that would have added numbers for us. We knew that Pheasants on Rottnest Island were a tick, but decided not to spend the money to get over there. We did not drive an hour off our route to tick the Ostriches near Barham, NSW on our way to twitch the Laughing Gull in Venus Bay. And speaking of twitching, we did not back-track for the House Crow near Perth, nor the Ringed Plover in Carnarvon, nor dash ahead for the Franklin’s Gull in Darwin (we tried but were late). I could go on, but I shouldn’t. I am not whinging, I am only giving a few examples of our not “big yearing” it.

Make no mistake, the year itself was massive. It was the biggest and most wonderful year of my life and I will be grateful for the rest of my days for the experience. We accomplished something that few people have. We birded the entire continent of Australia. God, I love that place and those birds.

Although it was so difficult to choose which ones, here are just a very few of my favorite non-bird photos from the year. A few I have posted previously...

My favourite photo of the year. The unposed pic of Lynn listening for (and hearing, then seeing) Sandhill Grasswren with Uluru in the background. This is as good as it gets.
Second favourite, Lynn and I crossing the King Edward River in Troopi (for the second time).
Early in the year, Lynn and Matilda at Hattah-Kulkyne NP
Lynn catching a bit of mobile signal at Chilli Beach, Cape York, QLD        
Birding on Norfolk Island
21 November 2015, our 25th Wedding Anniversary at Jamberoo Lookout, NSW
And I love this photo too... nine days later and heading for Tassie.         
Just one of the many faces of Tasmania. This is on the east coast.
Kangaroo Island gorgeousness.     
Troopi base camp in Gluepot.
The Great Australian Bight near the Nullarbor Roadhouse. It actually looks unreal.   
In the Stirling Ranges with Lily and Mike, dear new friends.
I particularly love this photo of Lynn. Just wow. This was our base camp in Carnarvon.
And one of my very favourite photos of Lynn. This was at the Broome Bird Observatory and it was that hot. I think she looks absolutely beautiful here.
Looking at White-quilled Rock-Pigeons in the Kimberley. There was a lot of rock-hopping.
This was taken just after we had crossed the King Edward River. Lynn and I went swimming in it.      
A lot of climbing and crawling, but we got Kalkadoon Grasswren! Mt. Isa, QLD
The road into a piece of heaven... Kingfisher Park Birdwatcher's Lodge.
I. Love. It. There.
I really felt a bond with that Laughing Gull. 
Looking back at Troopi from near where we saw the Short-tailed Grasswren. I loved the Flinders Ranges.        
One of the last days of the "year." Lynn birding back in Victoria in the You Yangs.
Stay tuned, there will be a lot more to come in the coming days. But I really needed a look back at this year right now. Sending much love from North Carolina at present.

Couple’s AUS Year Total: 638
Peace. Love. Birds.