Tomorrow I am planning on birding the Niagara and Hamilton regions with some fellow birders from the Guelph and Waterloo areas. It should be fun! If all goes to plan we should find a Glaucous-winged Gull (though I would probably be happy with an Ivory Gull instead). If that doesn't work out, we should be able to see at least a few of the rarities that are in the area. In no particular order, some potential target birds we could get include Fish Crow, Black Vulture, King Eider, Harlequin Duck, Purple Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, California Gull, Slaty-backed Gull, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Snowy Owl. We will certainly not see all of these, but we will most likely see a couple of them. Stay tuned!
Hypothetical big year...
I am obviously not doing a big year right now, but if I was it would be possible to be off to an incredibly fast start already. Here is a rundown of what I would have done if my Big Year started in 2013, and I was actually in the province to start it on January 1...
First on the agenda would be the Code-5 Slaty-backed Gull, first seen on December 30. Without a doubt I would have started the year along the Niagara River, and I would have seen the gull that morning (as Sarah Richler and Andrew Davis did, via ONTbirds).
Next up would be the Code-3 Yellow-throated Warbler that was reported on December 31st in Brighton, Northumberland County. I wouldn't have been able to get there that day most likely, so I would have chased it on January 2. I can't be certain but I believe it was seen at least until the second day of the year.
There was a bit of a lull of "rarities at this point so I would have cleaned up some of the Code-3 species. Eurasian Wigeon, Harlequin Duck, and Greater White-fronted Goose would all be relatively easy over a span of about 2 days, following by a trip to Algonquin to try for Great Gray Owls and the Northern Hawk Owl. The Great Gray would be relatively easy (there are a sh!t ton of them in the park right now) but the Northern Hawk Owl would be a little tougher. A Boreal Owl was found in Ottawa on January 5 but I wouldn't have been able to make it there in time before it was dark, and I doubt I would have chased it the next day unless I had heard positive news. There was also a Code-3 Harris's Sparrow coming to a feeder near Fenelon Falls which wasn't made public but which I had permission to see if I was so inclined. Obviously if I was doing a Big Year, I would be!
The next rarity of the year would be the Code-4 Townsend's Solitaire that was found in Durham Region on January 9. I probably would have chased it that day or first thing the next morning. This bird has been pretty reliable and is still present. Maybe that afternoon I would have arrived in Ottawa and tried for the code-3 Gray Partridges that have been reported in several spots. I would have probably stayed the night and seen the partridges in the morning, if I missed them the afternoon before.
Code-4 Fish Crows were first reported on January 11 and have been seen (or heard) regularly since. I have no doubt I would have seen them relatively easily! Code-4 Black Vultures have been semi-reliable at the river this January and eventually I would probably get them on the Ontario side.
The next rarity would be the Code-4 Western Grebe that was seen in Sarnia on January 16. I would have been there first thing on January 17. It was seen on the Ontario side that morning.
Finally, there has been Code-3 Laughing Gull and Black-legged Kittiwake on the Niagara River. Both would be tough to relocate, but possible, espeically with all the time I would have put in at the Niagara River so far!
So to summarize, if I was doing a Big Year this year I would have five species ranked Code-4 or higher at this point: Slaty-backed Gull, Townsend's Solitaire, Fish Crow, Black Vulture, and Western Grebe. I would have for certain six Code-3 species: Yellow-throated Warbler, Eurasian Wigeon, Harlequin Duck, Greater White-fronted Goose, Great Gray Owl, and Gray Partridge. I would also have a chance at having Code-3 Northern Hawk Owl, Boreal Owl, Laughing Gull, and Black-legged Kittiwake on my list.
In comparison, by this date last year I had seen three Code-4 or higher rarities and two Code-3 species (however I had missed the first 6 days of the year). Obviously 2013 is off to a better start for the potential Big Year birder! The real question is this: is there anyone else there who has seen the majority of these species so far and is planning a Big Year???