& Special Counts
2010 Sullivan County Big Year - S. Baldinger 2004 NY Big Year - J. Haas Big Year Contest 2002
2010 Summary - My “Big
Year” in Sullivan County
by Scott Baldinger
The year of 2010 turned out to be one of the most exciting and productive years I've ever had when it came to birding. What made it so interesting for me was the amount of time I spent specifically in my home county of Sullivan looking for birds. Last January, I ran into my friends John Haas and Arlene Borko on Haven Road. As we scanned for birds, John suggested that I should try to see how many species of birds I could find in Sullivan County over the course of the year. He felt I could get 200 species. Now, I've never been one to keep a listing (other than an overall life list) of what I see from year to year. I do like to track first-of-season birds I find on the Bashakill each year but nothing beyond that. That night I took out my Sullivan County bird checklist and looked it over. Being a reasonably competent birder, I felt maybe I could find 180-190 species, so I decided to give it a go.What was fun about this challenge was it made me concentrate my birding efforts in Sullivan County. As someone who has a hard time leaving the beautiful Bashakill where I'm fortunate to live, I really was able to learn the county.
By the middle of August I was getting close to my goal of 200. On August 18th over at Morningside Park I had species #193 and #194 (Black-bellied Plover and Pectoral Sandpiper), and I started to get very excited. # 200 was within my grasp. Even though I had seen just about everything I thought I could get, I still knew that winter finches and maybe some other lucky finds would put me over the top! That night when I got home and told Paula how excited I was, she gave me more good news. She had been looking over the checklist I keep, and she noticed that I had forgotten to check off the Sandhill Crane seen on June 2. John Haas had found it on the Bash and called me so I could get over to see it. I was actually sitting at195! On August 29 on the Bash I had 2 Tennessee Warblers (a bird I miss from year to year) and a Philadelphia Vireo. On September 5th a Forster's Tern became #198, and I felt very confident that 200 was around the corner with still a quarter of the year to go. #199 came on September 8th when birder extraordinaire John Haas called that he had a BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER (only the 2nd county record for this bird) at Morningside Park. I raced over to see it in time. #200 came the following day, when I had a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher on the Bash. What a great feeling it was, and I realized that from here on out anything else I saw would be icing on the cake! As I went through the rest of the year, I continued to add birds right up to December 24th when up county I saw Northern Shrike and Common Redpoll for my 216th and 217th species for the county.
It should be noted that I had a couple of things going for me to achieve this goal. First and foremost was the help I received from my friends Arlene Borko, Lance Verderame, and most of all John Haas, all of whom took me "under their wing", so to speak. They constantly stayed in touch with me for birds they knew I needed. Without their help this challenge would have been a lot tougher, if not impossible! Also, being retired was a great advantage in that I could move on a dime when I got a call that a bird I needed was being seen and, in more cases than not, would be able to get there in time to add to my list.
Some surprising observations I made in 2010 were the high number of species of shorebirds I got to see (18 species) in Sullivan County, even though we don't have much shorebird habitat here. Some of the rarities seen for the year included Sandhill Crane (4th county record), Stilt Sandpiper (4th county record), Buff-breasted Sandpiper (2nd county record), and Great Cormorant (1st county record). Some other good pick ups for me personally include Tennessee Warbler, Saw-whet Owl, American Golden Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, Bonaparte's Gull, Common Tern, Northern Goshawk, Tundra Swan, Red-necked Grebe, and Purple Martin. What a fun year it was! I can't wait to see what 2011 brings!
2004 Summary - My New York
by John Haas
See John's 2004 NY Big Year
details and photos
As the new year began, I had the urge to do something different,
but I wasn't sure what. As January progressed, I had seen
many birds that I don't often get a chance to see. Birds
White-winged Crossbill, Northern Goshawk and King Eider
had all made timely appearances. I decided I wanted
to do a "Big
Month" and find 100 kinds in January. Arlene Borko
and I decided to give it a try. I was amazed that with
many trips to Long Island and upstate I was able to
see 102 species that
month. I was on a roll and the idea of doing a "Big
species in the state) came to me. February was also
productive and I decided to go for it.
As one month after another passed,
I had added many great birds. I wasn't in this alone either.
Ed DeBellevue had all joined in to see how many birds
they could see as well. We had birds such as Eurasian
Widgeon, Hoary Redpoll,
Bohemian Waxwing, Red Crossbill, Barrow's Goldeneye and
Greater White-fronted Goose! As spring arrived, the
migrants came through
and some great species showed up: Kentucky Warbler, Clay-colored
Sparrow, Prothonotary Warbler, Caspian and Black Terns! There
was no doubt that we were seeing birds that you don't
get to see every year. I even got the Bar-tailed Godwit
in Mecox, Long Island. A pelagic trip to Hudson Canyon produced
eight new species for
the year, including Pomarine Jaeger, Leach's Storm Petrel
and Cory's and Manx Shearwaters, to name a few.
There was a brief lull, but then most
unexpectedly July became very productive. We saw things
Godwit, Gull-billed Tern, American White Pelican, Seaside
and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed
Sparrows. At the end of August, I had amassed a list
of 298 species! Then on September 6th on a trip to the
Bashakill, I spotted a
Bay-breasted Warbler, species number 300!! As far as
I know, I am the first person from Sullivan County to
complete a successful "Big
Year," and what a year it had been, and it was just the beginning
All of this birding involved a great
deal of traveling. We have made over 30 trips to Long
Island, a trip to
the Adirondacks, one to western NYS and at least a dozen
trips to north central
New York. A Niagara Falls trip for gulls and at least
a couple of more trips to Long Island are still to come.
Once you have reached 300, birds do
get harder to add, and the possibilities decrease significantly. I've
continued to add a few species here and there, and
have had some
good days. As of this date (November 1), I have added
19 new birds to my
state life list, 5 life birds and am up to 308 species
for the year! And we still have two months to go. My
all accomplished personal bests and a couple of them
are on the threshold of breaking 300 themselves. So many
people have helped
make this a wonderful birding experience and I can't
thank them enough. If you ever want a challenging and
that will test your abilities as a birder, try a New
York State "Big
here to see details and photos!
Sullivan County "Big
Year" Contest 2002
It is hard to believe that 2002 has come to an end, and with
it our “Big Year” contest. This has been one of
the most rewarding years of birding we have ever experienced.
The purpose of the contest was to have a great time, while sprucing
up our Sullivan County records. Although we had an excellent
database going back nearly 50 years, Valerie Freer noticed that
in the last couple of years many of the local birders were spending
a great deal of their time birding out of the area. In preparation
for updating our Sullivan County checklist of birds, Valerie,
wanting to include the most up-to-date records, came up with
the idea of increasing sightings by means of a contest. It worked
beyond her expectations.
We scoured the countryside looking for seasonal favorites,
as well as hoped-for rarities, using a phone chain
to notify each other of uncommon or rare sightings. Many
a mad dash took place
over the course of the year!
Highlights of the year included unprecedented records
of Slaty-backed Gull and Purple Gallinule and second
records of Yellow-headed Blackbird, Dunlin, Mississippi
Kite, Lapland Longspur,
and Black-headed Gull. There were also notable records
of Merlin, Philadelphia Woodpecker, Lesser Black-backed
Gulls (8), Red-necked
Grebes (10, and Black Terns.
Everyone added at least one life bird during the
contest, some more. We also increased our county
lists significantly. The total number of species sighted
was an impressive
In the end, the individual winner,
Renee Davis, had seen 204 species. She deserves a great
deal of credit for the tremendous
amount of effort and time expended in the field
reach this total. A close second was John Haas
with 202 species, followed
by Valerie Freer with 196, Marge Gorton with
186, and her husband Roy with 91 species.
To include as many of our local birders
as possible, we also included two additional categories:
one for feeder/yard birds (any bird you could see
from your home was countable) and
another for the Bashakill (any bird in the
designated area was countable). Leading the many noteworthy
yard lists was Arlene
Borko, whose yard provides a variety of habitats
for woodland birds, waterfowl and waders, as
well as open areas
birds. She was followed by Renee Davis (72),
Marge Gorton (65), John Haas (62), and Deanna
(46). Some examples of great
yard birds seen included Red-headed Woodpecker,
Bald Eagle, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Goshawk,
Evening Grosbeak, Great Blue Heron,
and Carolina Wren.
Totals from the Bashakill were also impressive.
John Haas had 163 and Renee Davis had 152.
I never thought local birding could be so
rewarding! I strongly encourage any bird
club or county group to add this interesting aspect
of birding to their future plans. You never
know, it may be you who discovers the next
New York state rarity right in your back