Bumbling Birder's 'Big Year' yields 346 birds

By Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

For birders, a Big Year is recording as many birds as possible in a defined area during one calendar year. At the urging of a friend, I decided to do a Big Year in Louisiana in 2012. I was reluctant to do so as I had a serious health issue at the end of 2011. However, I had good luck in finding rare birds in January and decided to see how many birds I could, indeed, find in 2012. The effort subsequently was endorsed (not funded) by the Baton Rouge Audubon Society and became a Bird-a-Thon to secure funds for the society's conservation projects.

Why Baton Rouge? Well, I was born and raised in Baton Rouge and was a resident until 1988 when we moved to Lafayette. The rural swamps and forests where I grew up and enjoyed are now developed.

My wife and I now live in central Louisiana on the east side of Cotile Lake near Boyce. So, it is relatively easy to get to good birding areas around the state.

Several years ago, I read a book entitled "The Big Year" which described the efforts of three avid birders who set out independently to see as many birds as possible in 1998 in North America. North America is defined by the American Birding Association as everything north of Mexico including the 48 lower states, Alaska and Canada. This humorous and exciting drama was recently transformed into a movie comedy of the same name.

I do not consider myself a very competent ornithologist but I am persistent birder and try hard. That's why I describe myself as a Bumbling Birder. I'm retired and do bird every free day which is most days even when hunting and fishing. One deer hunting friend ribbed me about not seeing a nice deer passing my stand but being able to name at least 25 birds I'd seen or heard during the hunt! [In my defense, the deer crossed a pipe line in front of a blinding setting sun!]

To do a Big Year in Louisiana, I had to be prepared to go all around the state to make sure I found the birds that are expected to be found - resident, wintering, breeding and migrant birds. And, then, I needed to go after rare birds that were reported by others. Finally, I had to go out of sight of land to Blue Water where pelagic birds are found off the mouth of the Mississippi River.

I managed to record 346 birds in Louisiana, about 75% of the state's total list. These included 26 "review list" birds. That is, birds so rare that the Louisiana Bird Records Committee requests submission of details. Nine of these birds were new to my personal state list - now 376.

There is no official state records committee for Big Years. So, you are on an honor system when reporting what you saw during a particular year. It is generally accepted that the most birds reported to date in any year is around 355. For what it's worth, I missed at least 10 rare birds that others reported but I could not relocate!

I found seven especially memorable birds during 2012. The first was a Red Crossbill near St. Francisville in January. The second was a Cory's Shearwater 100 miles south of Venice in water 3000+ feet deep in June. The third was a Ruff, a rare shorebird, near Gueydan in August while I still had an uncomfortable stint in my bladder following lithotripsy treatment of a kidney stone. The fourth was a White-winged Scoter, a diving duck, in Kincaid Reservoir near my home in October - only the second time this rare duck has been found in Rapides Parish. The last two birds were found in December and both were new state records. I was guided to a Dusky-capped Flycatcher north of Shreveport by Terry Davis, one of the state's best birders. I was with Mike Musumeche, my original birding mentor, when he relocated a Mountain Plover found earlier in the day by Michael Seymour west of Lake Arthur.

Over 50 people helped me locate the birds on my 2012 Louisiana Big Year List. There is not enough space to list those kind people and mentioning only a few would do an injustice to all. And, how many miles did I drive? I didn't keep records but it was surely over 12,000 miles!

Jay V. Huner
Louisiana Ecrevisse
428 Hickory Hill Drive
Boyce, LA 71409
318 793-5529\ \
piku1@suddenlink.net

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The White-winged Scoter was observed by Dr. Jay Huner at Kincaid Reservoir in October 2012, during his"Year" birding adventure. He says, "It is not a 'good' image but it clearly shows the vertical white wing patch and the white patches on either side of the eye. These are diagnostic characteristics for a first fall White-winged Scoter. The image is fine for documenting the presence of the bird. For me, it was probably the best bird of the year because I found it all by myself with no help from anyone."