Contests & Special Counts

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