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Updated Friday, February 27, 2009
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Steve Kacir's Montgomery County Big Year (2008)

194 species!

Previous record - 1999 - 151 species by Deuane Hoffman
If anyone has further information on Montgomery County Big Years, please send it to

Click Here for a taxonomic list of the species Steve saw. (PDF)

Click Here for a chronological list of the species Steve saw. (PDF)

Final Report from Steve :

End of the Year

I’ve delayed writing the final chapter of my Montgomery County Big Year for a variety of reasons. For one, I wanted to make sure my totals for the year got submitted to “Pennsylvania Birds” before finalizing this chapter. Even though that submission of data occurred in 2009, it really did mark the end of the Big Year for me. Nothing was as final as simply putting together a total, a list (in case they wanted it), and then hitting send to send the email on its way. Nothing could’ve been easier, and it was a bold contrast to how difficult it was birding in December. Another reason I’ve delayed was that I just didn’t want to think about the Montgomery Year anymore. I’d pretty much spent a whole year planning, compromising, rushing home early when possible and birding around Montgomery County more than I’d ever done in all my life. I was a bit burnt out on the whole idea. I spent three solid days playing Age of Empires III on my computer before I actually felt like going birding again. A touch of disappointment also made me wait. While I had shattered the previous record, I missed that magical 200 mark. Of course, I’d met every goal I’d set for the year, but being in the 190’s for the end of the year makes you look ahead wistfully more than you look back fondly.

Nevertheless, I had a good run. My original goal was to beat the record of 154 by May, which I accomplished. The next goal was to see 175 species in the county, which I also was able to do. Along the way I got to see some birds and mammals that are not that easily found in PA, let alone Montgomery County. The final tally for the year was 194 species, and the only additions to the list were Rufous Hummingbird (#193) and Pine Siskin (#194). Both of those species were added to the list in November. November is a tricky time for me in terms of birding. I have to spend nearly three weeks at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory assisting with the Phage Display Course there. Assisting with the course is rather intense, and afterwards I’m pretty exhausted. Then there’s also Thanksgiving and preparing for Christmas. The amount of time I have for birding in November is slim. Unfortunately, November turned out to be a spectacular time for birding in Montgomery County. I received many reports of sought after species during that month, but I couldn’t do anything about it, since I was pretty much stuck on Long Island. The two species I did get in November were truly two of my favorites for the big year.

On Nov 22, I was at Green Lane looking for Greater White-fronted Goose. It was incredibly windy, and a pretty useless day for birding. Even so, it was one of the few days in November I could get out, so I was out in the thick of it. I eventually decided to hit a sheltered patch of pines at Church Rd, hoping I might actually see some birds if I could get out of the wind. This is an area that I like to call the groundhog graveyard, because it is littered with dozens of groundhog skulls. I was chasing around sparrows, and pretty much just seeing juncos and a kinglet or two, when my phone started to ring. Bert Filemyr’s name was on the screen, and I was hoping that he might be calling to say he had a siskin at his feeder. Instead, Bert asked if I was interested in seeing a Selasphorus Hummingbird in Montgomery County. I know, silly question. So, I hurtled back to the Scion xB, grabbed my trusty map of Montgomery County and figured out how to get to Bert’s place from Green Lane. A wrong turn that became a short cut later and I was pulling up to the driveway, and calling Bert to let him know I’d arrived. He said the bird was at the feeder. He, his wife and I hurried to the bedroom window overlooking the backyard, where we saw . . . not too much. The hummer had disappeared, leaving only sparrows and other feeder birds in its wake. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long before the bird returned. It was a juvenile/female type Selasphorus and after seeing the bird well, I looked at some photos that Bert had taken earlier. A partial tail spread and some other characters made us both suspect that this was a Rufous Hummingbird rather than the more exotic Allen’s Hummingbird. Other birders arrived and the hummingbird moved in and out of view, often perching on the ground, which was something I’d never seen a hummingbird do before. Then, as Jeff Davis was digiscoping the hummer at the hummingbird feeder, the bird did a full tail spread right in front of my eyes, revealing all the tail feathers to be about equal width with no narrow tail feathers on the outer sides of the tail. I was very happy, as I could now list the bird as Rufous Hummingbird (#193) instead of simply Selasphorus Hummingbird Sp. Bert and his wife were excellent hosts, and I can’t thank Bert enough for taking the time to call me about the bird. The next day, the hummingbird had moved on. If Bert hadn’t called, I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to see the Rufous Hummingbird. (Click Here to see pictures of this bird)

On Nov 29, I was exploring Valley Forge National Historical Park. The day was largely quiet, and there were few birds at most of the locations within the park. In the end, I wound up at the cemetery behind Washington Memorial Chapel. Walking through the hemlocks there, I soon heard a call of “Zzzzzrrreee.” I believed that I was hearing a PINE SISKIN, because the call had become familiar to me during a recent trip to Glacier National Park. Nevertheless, I wanted visual confirmation to ensure that wishful thinking wasn’t playing with my hearing. Eventually, I found a mixed flock feeding on hemlock cones. The flock consisted of Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, a White-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinches and no less than seven PINE SISKINS (#194), including at least two very bright siskins. The flock moved through the branches and from tree to tree in an erratic fashion. While it was easy to get excellent views of individual birds, it was more difficult to get a sense of how many individuals of each species were present. I didn’t have too much time to assess the flock either. Less than ten minutes after I’d found these birds, the Pine Siskins called in unison, and the entire flock took flight heading west at first, then cycling around and disappearing to the southeast. The heavy hemlock cone crop in the cemetery brought me back again and again, in hopes of adding White-winged Crossbill to the year list. Sadly, this was not to be. However, on Jan 19, 2009 I was in the same cemetery when I heard a familiar stuttering call that some have likened to the sound of a typewriter. In the exact tree, where I had found my Pine Siskins for the big year, thirty White-winged Crossbills fed hungrily on hemlock cones. Despite the poor lighting and heavy snowfall, I couldn’t help but take as many photos as possible. Later I learned, that these birds were the first record of White-winged Crossbills at Valley Forge National Park.

Between November and January, though, I had to contend with December. I spent many a day out at Green Lane searching for Rough-legged Hawk and Greater White-fronted Goose, and hoping to turn up a Long-tailed Duck. I explored the cedars for Northern Saw-whet Owl and Long-eared Owl. I got reports from Andy Curtis, Steve Grunwald and Paul Guris. I followed up on every report that I could, but I had other commitments that sometimes got in the way of the Montgomery County Big Year. December was not without its high points, including seeing a cock Ring-necked Pheasant at the Church Rd area of Green Lane, a bird that is part of a breeding population at Green Lane. The behavior of this bird was markedly different than the pheasants I found earlier in the year. Unlike those pheasants, this bird was wary and secretive. The big year ended with me frantically birding on the last two days of the year, despite limited visibility due to snow and high winds. As you might expect, those were not very productive days.

 

I have no doubt that someone will beat this record of 194 species. In fact, Steve Grunwald, after generating a county year list from memory, suspects he may have had 200 species in the county for 2008. I encouraged him to submit the list to PA Birds. Steve declined, as he did not feel one hundred percent certain about the list. Even so, I believe, as I always have, that any of the birders who actually put the focus of their birding on Montgomery County could reach 200 species for the county in a year. In fact, if one did not have to worry about going to work every day and was not out of the county for most of November, I believe one could probably tally 210-220 species in a good year. I know at least 232 species were reported from Montgomery County in 2008; of course, some of those (like the Magnificent Frigatebird) were present for less than a day. In some respects, 2008 was not really a good year for Montgomery County birding. The water levels of Green Lane Reservoir were only conducive to shorebirding for a very short period of time. In addition, fall migration in Montgomery County was a little lackluster in 2008, and the few good migration days in the Fall seemed to all occur midweek. The winter finch irruption was evident in 2008, with my list including Common Redpoll and Pine Siskin; however, the magnificent White-winged Crossbill outbreak did not touch Montgomery County until mid-January of 2009. A complicating factor to deciding when to attempt a big year in Montgomery County is the fact that the number of species can depend on shorebirding conditions at Green Lane. Unfortunately, there is no clear way to predict what the mudflats at Church Rd will be like during shorebird migration. Similarly, there is no way to know how long good conditions at Church Rd will last if they do occur. All these things make running a big year in Montgomery County an interesting challenge, but I doubt I will take up that challenge again. Certainly, I can’t see myself doing it again in the near future. I had always put learning about the county and its birds at the forefront of this big year effort, and I have learned a great deal during that pursuit. Of course, I was note on my own for this event, and, in closing, I’d like to thank everyone who helped me during the big year, whether you sent emails, showed me a bird, told me about your favorite birding spot or just encouraged me along the way. I’d also like to thank the DVOC for its assistance and support. Thank you all for joining me on this adventure, and I’ll see you in the field!

 

 

Acknowledgements

I'd like to thank Paul Guris for giving me the grand tour of Green Lane Reservoir and introducing me to the Unami Creek Valley. Paul's advice on where to bird in the Unami Valley will likely be invaluable once spring arrives. Gregg Gorton has been a wonderful guide around the Lower Merion Conservancy Properties. I'd also like to thank the
staff and volunteers at the Lower Merion Conservancy for their aid, especially Patty Thompson who assembled a wealth of data and maps for me. I thank Kevin Crilley for his advice, and the staff of the Green Lane Nature Center for keeping their feeders so well stocked. Chris Walters also provided invaluable advice. For offering access to
feeders, I'd like to thank Mike Lyman and Cindy Ahern. Last but not least, I'd like to thank my birding club, the DVOC, (Bert Filemyr - webmaster) for providing this webspace and updating the information for me.