Tuesday 4 December 2012

2012 photographic Big Year

While doing my big year, I decided partway through it that I would try and photograph as many species as possible this year. Since I was already going to try to see as many birds as possible, why not try to photograph them as well? I had a couple of reasons for this:

1) Having photographs is proof. There is no rule that says a big year is only valid if all the species are photographed. But, since I wanted my big year attempt to be as legitimate as possible, having photos of all the species, or as many as possible, certainly wouldn't hurt!

2) If I ever did a photographic Big Year, this would be the year to do it!

3) It would be cool to say I photographed 300 bird species in Ontario in one year. Well, maybe not that cool, but I would think that it was cool.

As the year went on, I used the same strategy for photographing birds as I did for seeing them. Get photos of the rare birds, and the easy ones will take care of themselves. Because of that, I was able to photograph most of the tough birds, the codes 3 to 6 birds, and I left the codes 1 and 2 birds to "take care of themselves". Getting photos takes a fair bit of effort, though, and a lot of the easy birds did not take care of themselves!

A code-5 bird (Gray-crowned Rosy-finch)

 Blue Grosbeak - a code 4

Barn Swallow - a code 1

So, how did I do?
I currently have photographed 297 species this year. It sounds like a relatively high number but I look at it as 344 - 297, or 47 species I was unable to photograph this year. There were several reasons why I missed photographing almost 50 species.

1) Getting photographs wasn't my number one goal. Seeing the bird was! I probably only had my camera with me 50 to 75% of the time when I was out birding. There were several species where I missed opportunities simply because I didn't have a camera with me. For instance, I rarely had a camera with me, ready to be used, when I was doing work surveys this summer, or when we were sea-watching at Netitishi. The Yellow-crowned Night-heron was certainly photograph-able if I had my camera with me.

A Netitishi rarity that was photograph-able! (Western Kingbird)

2) Birds are hard to photograph, and the codes don't "line up". A Virginia Rail is a code 1 species, but that doesn't mean it is easy to photograph. I rarely saw one this year, let alone photographed this secretive species! The same goes with owls, nightjars, Connecticut Warbler, bitterns, etc. If I had made up a coding system for how easy/difficult a species was to photograph in a given year, a Virginia Rail would probably be a code 3, for example. Boreal Owl, a code-3 bird, would probably be a code-4 photograph-able bird.

Easy to hear, tough to photograph (Eastern Screech-owl)

Does the photo have to be "good?"
Nope! Only identifiable. However, for something like a Willow Flycatcher (generally not identifiable unless you hear it call/sing) the photo counts as long as I heard it vocalize and was able to confirm its identification. Just by looking at the photo though, you would not be able to tell whether it was a Willow or an Alder Flycatcher. While I did have a number of great photographic opportunities, most species' photos are kind of crappy.

Typical crappy record shot (Blackburnian Warbler)

A bit better, but still crappy record shot (Le Conte's Sparrow)

The only exception I have this year was for Northern Fulmar. The photo is far from identifiable, but I know that the dark smudge in the frame is the bird! And I'm counting it, just because I want to. :)

too poor to be a record shot (Northern Fulmar)

What were my biggest misses?

My biggest miss is currently Rock Pigeon (yes, I know, laugh all you want). For some reason, most of my sightings of this species included birds flying by at a distance, or birds I saw while driving. I rarely bird in big cities where they are abundant and easy to approach. However, I still have faith that I will add this one this year.

The following species are a sample of common birds which I missed, and which I will not have any more chances with this year.They are ranked roughly from abundant to not as abundant but still common.

Warbling Vireo - that is a head scratcher.

Alder Flycatcher - one of the most abundant birds near wetlands in northern Ontario. I spent a lot of time in northern Ontario, but somehow didn't think to photograph one?? I actually tried to photograph one in the autumn, but the only candidates refused to call and I couldn't tell whether they were Alder or Willow Flycatchers...

Nashville Warbler - I have no excuse for this one.

Orchard Oriole - another one where I can't find a good excuse. They were abundant  in Pelee this May, but I guess I was more focused on bigger and better targets??

Baltimore Oriole - much easier to photograph than Orchard Oriole

Marsh Wren - one of those "more easily heard than seen" birds

Black-billed Cuckoo - not a commonly seen bird. I actually targeted this species on several birding trips this summer and despite several sightings, was unable to grab a photo!

At least I got one of the cuckoos. (Yellow-billed Cuckoo)

Wood Thrush - I didn't see too many of these this year. Most sightings involved birds in poorly lit understories of thick forests (not ideal for photos)

Virginia Rail - a common marsh bird, heard more often than seen

Like a Virginia Rail, but easier to photograph (Sora)

White-eyed Vireo - not too common, but a conspicuous bird when they are around. Most of my sightings were when I had no camera handy

Mourning Warbler - it is related to Connecticut Warblers, and Connecticut Warblers are impossible to see (they may in fact be invisible), so that's my excuse. By the way, I did not photograph the poorly-named Connecticut Warbler either.

Sedge Wren - this species is common in Rainy River, and despite hearing dozens, I rarely saw one for more than a fraction of a second!

Hooded Warbler - one of the "uncommon southern warblers" that still shows up regularly. I had a very poor year for Hoodies, only seeing 3 all year.

One of the "uncommon southern warblers" that I did photograph! (Prothonotary Warbler)

American Woodcock - not super easy to see, but come on, I should have had this one! Fun fact of the day: It is also known as a Timberdoodle (source: http://timberdoodle.org/)

Not a Timberdoodle (American Golden-plover)

What is left to get?
I am currently 3 species shy of 300 photographed this year in Ontario so that is the goal. Fortunately that should be relatively easy, since I have some simple ones left! For instance, I still need photos of Thayer's Gull, Red-throated Loon, Ring-necked Pheasant, Tufted Titmouse, and my biggest miss: Rock Pigeon! Other honourable mentions include Barrow's Goldeneye, Golden Eagle, Black-headed Gull, Northern Hawk-owl, and Boreal Owl. Maybe 305 is possible.


David Bell said...

I find it funny that I've photographed most of your 'big misses' in the hand this year! lol good job though, you should get 300 within a week or so!

Tyler said...

That is a nice Blue Grosbeak