by Lynn Barber
When I see the word “nevermore”, I immediately think of ravens, and as this year drew to an end, every time I thought of the Common Ravens that others had seen in South Dakota but I could not find, I increasingly thought “nevermore”. I assume that someday I’ll see one where they are normally found but ravens are usually not found in South Dakota. This year, however, in December there were sightings by knowledgeable people of individual ravens in the Pierre area in the central part of the state along the Missouri River, in the south-central part of the state along the river, and in the Black Hills. Dutifully I tried for each of these birds, in fact multiple times for each of them. Nothing. At least on a couple of the trips I had big black birds, but they were indisputably just crows. My last birding trip of the year, on December 31st, was yet another (my third) trip to look for the raven that was/is in the Black Hills. A lovely blue-sky day, with the fields and the spruce and pine forests blanketed with bright white snow, so not a lost day at all. Just no raven.
And so my South Dakota big year has ended. The previous record was 332 species for one year. This year, all four of us doing a serious big year here went over the previous record. It’s my understanding that the two top big year birders, two men who live in Pierre, got 352 species this year or possibly a few more. My final total was 350 species (my last bird of the year was a Lesser Black-backed Gull a couple of days ago), and I believe that the other birder got 334 species for the year. It has been a great year. Just like the other big years that I have done, I am so glad that I did it. Like the other years, I learned so much about the birds in my chosen geographic area, about the best birding areas of the chosen geographic area, and about the helpful birders in that area. While as in my other big years there were definite moments that I was not having fun, the fun and the adventure of the year greatly outweighed anything else.
So, looking ahead to 2013 and beyond, does the word “nevermore” apply to me and doing big years? I’m pretty sure I’ll never do another ABA big year, given the time and money and effort it took. I don’t have any plans to try again in South Dakota. But…I believe that I’m going to try my first county big year in 2013 in Pennington County, the county that includes Rapid City where I live and that extends out into the prairie to the east and westward across the Black Hills to Wyoming. It will be quite a change from my other bigger area big years of course. I’ll be able to come home each night that I go out birding during my county big year. I’ll be able to zip out in the early mornings to look for birds and return home the same day to work on client work, buy groceries, etc. It probably won’t be as challenging as my other big years. I plan to take time to paint birds again, for which I’ve had little time during my other big years. In other words, I’ll have more of a “normal” life.
I hope some of you that read this blog are planning to do a big year this year. If you are, I would love to get an email from you telling me some of your adventures (firstname.lastname@example.org). And if you are willing, I’d love to share your adventures with others on this blog.
Whatever you do in 2013, whether you call it a “big year” or whether you just give yourself some quality time to go birding, I wish each of you the birdiest and best new year!
(American Tree Sparrow - probably one of the birds I'll see very early in my new big year, probably in my yard)