• Avery Meeker

My Big Year of Birding (so far)

Updated: May 18, 2020

This year I started a new and exciting quest, to have my biggest year yet and bird watch like crazy. While I have ended up in a precarious situation, I will continue to birdwatch through the pandemic to reach my goal of 1,000 species seen this year!

As of May 12th, 2020 I am doing pretty well with 376 species seen since January 1st. A few weeks ago I left Australia where I managed to tick off 154 species (most were lifers) across the east coast. Coming home in the middle of stay at home orders has been a little rough, but I've managed to find about 80 species locally so far. The highlights are a American Bittern flyover in Kent, and a Great Horned Owl yesterday in Skagit Valley (Wiley Slough). I have been surprised how difficult the species hunt has been in my own backyard, woodpeckers are holed away raising young and it's been hard to see some migratory species that I know are only here for a limited time. Shorebirding has been rough (as always) and there are not many great coastal areas around here to find them currently. What I've learned best is if you don't show up, then it's hard to get new species! So just getting outside and making the most of a walk or nature stroll can wield surprising results (never forget your Bino's!).

So how did I manage to get up to 376 species so far? Well I started the year in Berlin, during the cold dark days I got a few species. I packed up my things and migrated to SE Asia, where I birded for a little over a month. I started in Singapore (read this for more info!), then took a quick detour up to Japan, Vietnam, and finished in Indonesia. Vietnam yielded the highest amount of new species (76) and being alone and in birding mode made it easy to focus each morning. Indonesia (Bali & Gili) was the most difficult, as the population size and city planning doesn't make for much green space, but I still manage to find 35 more species (read more about birding the Gili Islands!). Then I set off for Australia, where I began one of the wildest birding treks of my life.

Once in Australia I hung around Sydney and Melbourne for the first week, seeing some amazing city birds that were completely different than anywhere else I have birded. Parrots hang from tree's in parks and lapwings sit idly in small grassy patches. The birding in Australia was some of the best I have experienced. Species here tend to not be shy and are very comfortable around humans (because we didn't hunt them to near extinction). This means great photos and memories to take home. I rented a van with my partner and we headed south of Melbourne along the great ocean road. Here I picked up a few forest and oceanic species (Pacific Gull and Black-faced Cormorant), then we looped up towards Sydney. On the way we stopped, birded some really lively spots before hitting the coast and working our way north. After 28 days in the van we decided we should bunker down for safety and growing hostility towards travelers so we settled in Noosa, a beautiful surf town north of Brisbane. There we surfed, explored the National Park and casually birded. It was a weak month because we were stuck in one spot, but I still got a few extra species (highlight was a black-breasted Buttonquail).

We eventually got a repatriation flight because all the airlines kept canceling our return flights. I set off to the town I grew up to relax, bird and set up my upcoming online coffee company (Big Year Coffee, coming soon!). Since then it's been backyard and suburban birding for the most part. Fortunately we have lots of great parks and I may start to venture outside my bubble soon.

My aim is to reach 500 species by the end of May to get ahead of the lull in late summer. Hopefully I will have plans to return to Europe by then, which should help me add to my totals. Then, if I can manage one birding trip outside of Germany, I can probably reach up to 800 species. Finally, I will return to the US to get the last 200 species, and if possible make a last minute attempt at Costa Rica if I'm desperate. All in all it looks very possible I can still

get to my goal. I did set a secondary goal of being in the top 1,000 birders for 2020, so that should add to the excitement. Currently I am ranked 1,275. Stay tuned for more updates and exciting birding to come!

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