What Happens After a Big Year?
2016 ended without a bang. I slept on the tile floor of the airport in Boston, Massachusetts after throwing all of the effort/energy/money I could muster into finding a Dovekie, my last Code 2 bird. It just wasn't meant to be. I ended the year having seen 750 birds, plus two provisional birds, and a Graylag Goose for good measure. I was proud of my efforts this year, and a number was just that- a number. Possibly soon, I'll have more numbers to share: miles driven, walked, bicycled, airports slept in, etc. It takes some time to do the stats.
So what does one do after a Big Year?
The answer is different for everyone. One big year birder relished a tropical getaway where clothing was optional. Another returned to her job and family in Ohio. The third enjoyed time with his spouse, visiting friends in the US before returning to Australia. Me? I kept birding, spending January 1st 2017 doing the same thing I did the day before: looking for a Dovekie. After a day of solid birding, I returned home to pack up and get to the Midwest, where I've been preparing for school, and resting. However, I rest best in action.
I drove up to Chicago and went birding with Sulli. This past year I have made a lot of friends across the country, and look forward to reconnecting this year with them. Sulli and I searched the lakefront for Long-eared Owls. If you missed my blog post, you can read about it here.
While in Chicago, I celebrated with fellow Big Year birders John Weigel and Laura Keene, alongside some birding friends from the area. Seeing them and talking about our year really helped provide a sense of closure, accomplishment, and fulfillment. We reminisced about the funny moments, birds we missed, and re-lived the year act by act like a Greek play. (Is it a comedy or a tragedy?!) It was a lovely surprise to have a cake with each of our final numbers on fire as candles. Our dinner was masterfully prepared by a chef/birder extraordinaire, and hosted by a gracious birding friend and help to all.
2017 has brought some wonderful opportunities to share my birding experiences with others. I've spoken to classrooms of students, done some interviews for newspaper, radio, and podcast media, and lined up some fun speaking engagements for this year.
For now, I'll continue to write, finish my lesson plans for school (I begin teaching High School Science again at the end of the month) and spend time with friends and family in the St. Louis area- escaping occasionally to go birding.
Post Big Year Reflections
Weeks have passed since I finished my Big Year, and it's just now starting to sink in. It's taken nearly 20 days for me to write this blog post. The following are a few quick thoughts that have crossed my mind in the past few weeks.
I've learned more about the outcome of the election and the long-term implications it will have on our country. Without inserting personal bias into the post, I can say I've learned a lot by reading a variety of news sources in order to try and get a fair and balanced grasp on what is going on in my country.
Real food is delicious. I love going to a grocery store, and buying fresh fruits and vegetables, bacon and eggs, and ice cream. (Things that wouldn't refrigerate well in my car cooler last year) I still have a weekly bowl of Ramen, and am weaning my body off fruit snacks also.
Netflix is amazing. I'm not really a "TV guy" but all those shows I missed last year? Netflix.
There's a lot of accounting to do. I've spent hours and hours organizing gas receipts, documenting milage, sorting through and editing photos, and transferring my written journal entries into word documents for my book. These countless hours on the computer are a welcome change from driving, but have left me grounded in St. Louis during most days, enjoying the mild winter from inside.
The birds are still out there. It's been a tough few weeks for me to see many birds I missed last year be reported in the ABA area, and not be able to chase them. In California, a Eurasian Kestrel, an ill-fated Ross's Gull, and Common Pochard and Black-tailed Gull nearby isn't just low-hanging fruit for anyone doing a Big Year this year- that's an exceptional list of birds for any birder in the Lower 48 who hasn't spent time on a remote Alaskan Island. It's like a Siberian wormhole opened up and dropped a bunch of good birds in northern California. Not to mention, continuing Red-flanked Bluetail, a wild-looking Falcated Duck, and continuing rarities elsewhere makes 2017's January rarities appear on par with last year, a key ingredient to breaking 750. I'm sure there's others I've missed, but unsubscribing from hourly eBird alerts has helped me move on and get more work done. Yes, I know there's dozens of Dovekie off the Massachusetts coast right now...