Saturday 31 December 2016

An Ontario big year in 2017

Starting tomorrow morning, my good friend Jeremy Bensette will begin his Ontario Big Year. Jeremy has been planning his attempt for some time and he is hoping to go all out, in an attempt to see as many bird species as possible in the province in 2017. This will likely be the first serious big year attempt since 2012 when I and several others attempted our own big years, so it will be quite exciting to follow along with Jeremy as he guns for the record!

While big years are certainly not for everyone, they cater to a certain personality type, one that Jeremy and I certainly share. Essentially, a big year is a 366-day long strategy game, a game which requires the right ratio of luck and skill. Nothing quite beats the thrill of a big year as far as I am concerned, and I look back fondly on 2012 as it was a memorable time for me. Sure there were some low points, but the highs greatly overshadowed these.

I will be helping Jeremy out as much as possible in the upcoming year; in a sense it will be like I am living vicariously through him! We will be doing our best in the first few days of the year to clean up as many rarities as possible that are lingering in southern Ontario.

Smith's Longspur - near Long Point, Ontario

Currently, the main bird we are keeping a close watch on is the long-staying Smith's Longspur near Long Point. After being impossible to miss during its appearance alongside Concession A north of Long Point for the first few days of its stay, it disappeared recently and many birders assumed it had vacated the area or died. However in recent days it has reappeared at its favorite location and is showing no indication that it will be leaving anytime soon! While Smith's Longspur does breed in Ontario in a narrow band along the Hudson Bay coast, it is exceptionally rare in southern Ontario. In fact it is a species I missed during my big year as I never ventured to the Hudson Bay coast, also missing Willow Ptarmigan because of this. Of course if Jeremy sees the Smith's Longspur at the beginning of next year, the question will be if he will still try to get up to the Hudson Bay coast for just one main species, the Willow Ptarmigan? It can be very difficult and expensive to travel on one's own to the Hudson Bay coast, but there are inexpensive ways of doing it (such as volunteering with the shorebird/goose banding crews that go up every summer).

Lark Sparrow from Erieau - April 27, 2013

Two other rarities are persisting in southern Ontario at the moment - namely the Lark Sparrow in Toronto and the Black-headed Gull along the Niagara River. Both of these are fairly regular in Ontario with 3-8 records a year typically, but they are species that can be easily missed during a Big Year! Black-headed Gull in particular has been somewhat scarce in Ontario in recent years. It is imperative that Jeremy has these birds as main targets early in the year.

Other than these three species, no other pressing rarities are in the province and Jeremy will likely spend the next week or two targeting some tougher winter species, including Northern Hawk Owl, Barrow's Goldeneye, Gray Partridge, etc.

Jeremy has re-enacted his blog and will be providing updates on his Big Year periodically. The URL is It should be a very exciting year, and I wish Jeremy the best!

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