I ended my 2019 Bird-a-Day Challenge on Thursday, May 16th, when I didn’t find a new bird to add to my list. I’m out after 135 days, which is better than my last try, 127 days in 2017. I didn’t come close to my record of 154 days in 2015 (I also played in 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011).
This year I started with the advantage of being overseas. I added my first seven birds in France and the Netherlands. And then I was almost out on January 8th! Our flight home from Amsterdam was to have a long layover in Dublin and I expected to get a final easy European bird there before the flight home. Our Aer Lingus flight was cancelled, though, and we were re-routed through Atlanta. I didn’t see any birds on the way to the airport in the morning (I honestly wasn’t looking). During our layover at Atlanta I stood by the terminal window hoping for a House Sparrow or Rock Dove; I scanned the skies for vultures but I saw nothing. We arrived in Orlando as the sun was going down. Arthur pointed out an Anhinga in a pond when we took the airport shuttle so I could continue the challenge.
The two best birds of January were both found at Douglas Stenstrom Bridge over the St. Johns River at the Seminole/Volusia County border. There had been reports of Snail Kites at this location. I usually bike out there so any birds listed will be on my Green List. Arthur really wanted to see the kites, though, so we drove out there on a Wednesday morning. We saw several Snail Kites, which were actually a life bird for both of us! Later in the week I made the journey over on my bike. I got the kites and my other targets for the location (Purple Gallinule, Eastern Meadowlark). As I was leaving I was absolutely shocked to see a Crested Caracara fly right over my head! This was my most-wanted Volusia Co. bird for some time!
I tried to get out and bird most days in January, but did take three birds from home for the month (Eastern Phoebe, Cedar Waxwing, Sandhill Crane).
I didn’t get out birding nearly as much, so a lot of these birds are from home (8!), incidentals during my Thursday volunteer shifts at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey (3), and other incidentals around town and doing other things. My best bird of the month was probably Painted Bunting. A pair of females visited our feeds for a few weeks; we didn’t have a male in the yard this spring.
I didn’t have a goal for the challenge this year going in, but sometime in March I thought it would be great if I could make it to the first week of May, when Arthur and I would visit Fort De Soto on the west side of the state. At this time I compiled a list of remaining “gimme” birds — species I could expect to see with some certainty at my local patch or in my back yard.
Most birds I picked up in March were from typical local birding outings to places like Gemini Springs (9 birds) and other spots I can bike to. March 27th it rained and stormed the entire day and it looked a bit dire for the game until I noticed a pair of Mourning Doves that took shelter in our back yard. My best bird was the Wilson’s Snipe I found in a local residential pond I biked by on my way home from the post office. There was also a Greater Yellowlegs and a Lesser Yellowlegs in the pond; all would have been pretty good to use in the game at that point. When I biked over the next day only the Greater Yellowlegs was there.
I started to visit Mead Garden on Thursdays after my volunteer shift at the Center for Birds of Prey. This is a local migrant trap and I hoped I could add some warblers and other songbirds to my list that I might not find locally. While the birding there was pretty good, for the first three weeks I didn’t end up with anything spectacular to use. In fact, one day after Mead Garden I went shopping at Aldi and ended up using a parking lot Brown-headed Cowbird for the day instead of anything I saw at Mead. My best bird of the month came the following week when I found a Yellow-billed Cuckoo lurking at Mead Garden after an extremely quiet and frustrating migrant-free walk. I was glad to get out of April using just two birds from home (Great Crested Flycatcher and Northern Cardinal).
I only lasted two weeks in May. My “gimme” list of birds was down to just 11 species. I was glad to have made it to Fort De Soto, where I added Magnificent Frigatebird, Black Tern, and Eastern Kingbird to my list. I finished with Eastern Towhee, virtually guaranteed and my target during my visit to Lyonia Preserve in Deltona.
I left the game with a lot of easy birds still available, but never chosen on the right day. I was somewhat shocked to discover I hadn’t used some very easy species like Red-tailed Hawk, Barn Swallow, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mottled Duck, and Eastern Bluebird. I know virtually guaranteed spots for some, like Barn Swallow and Eastern Bluebird, but I elected not to make a special drive just to stay in the game another day. I also always have a lot of really easy seabirds left that I never get to use since we don’t visit the coast all that often. So Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Ruddy Turnstone, and Willet also didn’t make the list this year. With a lot of extra driving around I could likely have stayed in the game for at least two more weeks without a lot of serious birding effort. Just driving.
As summer heats up here in central Florida I expect I’ll be birding a bit less. My running club has a summer challenge that should take up more of my free time (as long as I can motivate myself to get out of bed for these early morning runs!). I may keep a June Challenge (my version – all green and including heard-only) list. I will certainly keep up with Fantasy Birding as the year continues. I’m in a few games but I’m not in any to win — it’s just so much fun!