January 1st, 2013 is just a few days away. After months of talking, planning, and daydreaming about my New Jersey Big Year, the starting gate is now within sight.
I have been talking up my Big Year plans with family and friends, birders and non-birders alike. And typically I’ll get one of three responses.
- You’re a birder? What’s a birder?
- Are you nuts? And my reponse goes – “No!” “Well, maybe.” “Actually, the jury is still out.”
- Oh, that’s cool! And I’ll say “Yes it is. Yes it is.”
Occasionally, though, the conversation will go deeper – Why do you want to do a Big Year? Do you have a lot of time for birding? (Actually, I don’t. But we’ll get into that later). How do you do a Big Year in New Jersey?
Why do I want to do a Big Year? Why, indeed. I could easily say “Why not!” and move on. But what would be the fun in that?
My motivations for doing a Big Year are somewhat personal and, shall we say, complex. I’ve been birding for a number of years and, if I may say so, have become quite good at it. But how good am I, really? There are few objective measures for birding skills. Sure, I could take an online test (boring). Or keep lists. Or I could really challenge myself – a Big Year is not just about going outside and looking for birds. I have to hone my existing birding skills and develop a few new ones. Push myself to bird areas I rarely (or never) visit. I’ll need to pick the best birding locations for the season and weather conditions, and get those vagrants when and where they pop up! And I’ll need to stay motivated – get out there and hunt for that bird when I would much rather roll over and get some extra sleep.
Sure, a poor birder could have a great Big Year. A super birder could have a poor one. But as an overall test of birding acumen, few challenges rise to the level of a Big Year.
There are several challenges I’ll face during the coming year and none are more daunting than “Do I have enough time?”. The short answer is, probably not. I have four amazing grandkids who are engaged in all sorts of activities, and I want and need to be there for them, to cheer their success, and to give hugs when the day doesn’t go their way. I am a husband and father, too.
During the Spring and early Summer months, a big chunk of my birding time is devoted to New Jersey Audubon Citizen Science. I’ll have grasslands to survey and wildlife managment areas to visit. Lots of time needed for scouting, birding, counting.
And, of course, I work full time and will need to balance my work commitments with time I can take out of the office to go birding.
So how am I going to do this Big Year?
I am going to set a few goals. I plan to bird, if only a little, every day. It may be as simple as watching my bird feeder or complex as spend a week during migration tracking down every birding hot spot.
I am going to work on maintaining balance between my home life and family obligations, and time spent birding. This one is going to be tough and I’ll need to work it out as I go along.
There are lots and lots of birders who are much better than I and who have done their own Big Years. I gonna pick their brains for every trick they learned and use the information to have the best year I can.
And I’m going to have fun. You know what they say – if it ain’t fun, then why are you doing it? I already have a full time JOB. I’m not going to turn a hobby that I love into a job that, well, I don’t. So the key will be balance, balance, balance.
So there you have it. I have drawn the outline for my plan. How well will I achieve my goals? I guess we’ll both find out, together. January 1st is only 5 days from now.
And the birds are waiting……