Contests & 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!
                                                            Good birding!

2004 Summary - My New York State “Big Year!”
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 such as 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 Year" (300 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.   Arlene, Renee Davis and 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 like Hudsonian 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 of September!

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 birding friends have 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 exciting experience that will test your abilities as a birder, try a New York State "Big Year"!

Click 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 219!

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 to 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 for grassland birds. She was followed by Renee Davis (72), Marge Gorton (65), John Haas (62), and Deanna Mendels (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 yard!

John Haas
Warblings, Winter-Spring 2003