December 19, 2015 -  After topping the eBird charts for Ohio last year, Jacob set out this year to expand his knowledge and his Lifel...

RBS - My Mini Big Year - by Jacob Roalef

December 19, 2015 - 

After topping the eBird charts for Ohio last year, Jacob set out this year to expand his knowledge and his Lifelist by traveling across the country to chase down as many species as he could. With help from Danno, the Rogue Birders, and others, he has made us all very proud with what he has accomplished this year. Here is the first installment of his "Mini Big Year". Much more to follow!

My Mini Big Year - Part I
by Jacob Roalef - October 30, 2015

Where do I possibly begin? We are already 10 months into this incredible year and it has all just flown past me faster than a Peregrine Falcon. Birds have been seen, trips taken, fast food eaten (too much), canyons hiked, oceans sailed, forests scoured and beaches scanned. Too many miles in a car to really count. So much has happened, yet here we are, 10 months into 2015 and I am incredibly close to the goal I jokingly set at the beginning of the year. 

It all started with a trip to South Texas the first week of January. Upon my return I had already seen well over 200 birds so Chris asked me what my goal was. I jokingly replied, I’m gonna go for 600! (editor's note: He said "500" ha ha) I never fully expected to make it there. So many things would have to fall in place. I was still in school trying to graduate and complete a thesis, plus I needed to figure out my life. I had no real plan to achieve this goal. Well here I sit with 593 species on the year! This whole year I’ve been winging it with a lot of help from Dan G. Also a good amount of birding here in Ohio with other Rogue Birder members. 7 birds…7!! I’m not entirely sure where to begin. 593 birds is a lot, but I’d like to share a little bit of my adventures this year. So let’s try this with a month by month synopsis! Some months will be boring, others incredibly packed with birds!

Day 2 with Shawn and Danno
Dan and I both were working on our own big year projects in 2014. Mine was Ohio, his was Erie County. Both were going unbelievably well, Dan had broken the county record and I was pushing 310 for Ohio in my first year of birding! Needless to say, we spent a lot of time birding together in November and December looking for rarities. During all this time we got to talking about 2015 and taking a trip in January. Dan decided that he was going to try his hand at a lower 48 big year with the goal of seeing lots of lifers. I was going to go along every once in a while to help him out.  Let’s do it!! 

For the first trip of the year, we decided on Texas. We invited our friend from PA, Shawn Collins, to come along with us. Luckily the trip fit in with his work schedule and he was able to join in the fun. So it’s January 1st, 2015 and I’m sitting in the car with Dan and Shawn driving south towards Texas. I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited before in my life! 

The entire first day was spent in the car. Still managed to rack up 24 species on day 1. 364 days left. Day 2 we were in Louisiana and we couldn’t contain our need to bird so we spent the entire day checking out nearby parks. Before we knew it, I had 103 birds for the year! It had only been 2 days… Day 3, finally in Texas. We spent the day in the Houston area - like Bolivar and Anahuac NWR. Birds for my first day ever in Texas included the likes of Vermillion Flycatcher, Mountain Plover, and a Texas rarity, Greater Pewee (normally seen in AZ). 138 and haven’t even gotten to the Rio Grande Valley yet! First stop day 4? Estero Llano Grande SP.

It quickly became one of my all-time favorite parks and still is. Kiskadees everywhere, Least Grebes swimming around the marshes, Common Paraque sitting underneath trees, Buff-Bellied Hummingbirds coming to feeders, and Long-Billed Thrashers hiding in the tangles. How could any birder not love Estero?! 174. The next few days were spent in the valley area, South Padre Island and up to Goose Island. We were hunting down wintering Groove-Billed Anis; chasing parrots around McAllen in our car; urging Ringed Kingfishers to fly back across the Rio into America; and praying for Audubon’s Oriole to drop into the feeders after waiting patiently. It’s the night of January 7th. One week into the year. 214 species recorded! The most fun week of birding I’ve ever had in my life. If the next 51 were anything like this one then it was going to be an amazing year! 

Time to start heading north again, towards home. Of course, that meant birding along the way. We had a few birds in mind that were “on route”… First up was Lake Travis in Austin Texas for a Brown Booby. We arrive around 8 am. One look at the lake and Shawn blurts out “we’re never gonna find this bird!” Dan and I immediately started cracking up. We were getting 4 hours a sleep a night and spending countless hours in a car. This was hysterical to the exhausted Dan and me. It’s 28 degrees…in Austin Texas… 28 degrees and we are scanning a huge lake for a booby! Insanity is an understatement. After 2 hours of nothing, I’m starting to think Shawn might have been right so I wander off to see if I can kick up anything in the grass. 20 minutes Dan pulls around looking for me in the van. He’s had enough, we’ve all had enough. I get in and start to investigate a Phoebe off to the right. Dan looks up and starts slapping the crap out of me. I look up and right in front of the car flies a Brown Booby. Are you kidding me?! Still one of my favorite birds of the year. (Even though it proved to be kind of pointless since I’ve seen 20 Brown Boobies since then). Next stop, a certain gull spending time in Illinois.

While in the valley, an Ivory Gull was found in Quincy, Illinois along a frozen Mississippi River. It’s Jan 8th and the gull was still there so naturally we make sure it’s on our route home. The next morning it’s a long 10 hour drive north. Good news, the bird was seen again! The sun is beginning its decent, it’s 4 pm. We find the little bubbler keeping a small section of water open and sure enough there it is. A stunningly white angel. We enjoy its company as the sun sets. Little did we know, we were some of the last few people who got to see it. (Sorry Chris). 

Finally headed back home. A quick stop at Eastwood Lake in Dayton for a Long-Tailed Duck before getting back to my house. 10 days, 235 species. Bird overload! We are ranked in the top 3 in the country at this point according to eBird. Holy crap! If you want to read the day by day break down of this valley trip check out my blog. That was back when I was writing more.

I didn’t want to stop birding but it was time for my final semester of college to start and I needed to focus on that. Not an easy task. I turned my attention back to Ohio birds for the time being and getting all the winter stuff I needed since I was in Texas for the first 10 days of the year. Picked up birds like Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Golden Eagle, Snowy Owl, Northern Shrike, and both Common and Hoary Redpoll. By the end of the month I had 258 species. That was already as many as I had all of last year. But it was time for school to start taking over and limiting any traveling and birding I could do.


After the most amazing month of birding ever, February definitely dropped the ball. The only real highlight of the month was a trip to Mohican State Forest to look at an Evening Grosbeak that was visiting a private feeder all winter. Evening Grosbeak is definitely not boring at all. In fact it is a great state bird for Ohio and so far it has been my only one for the year. But when comparing it to a January in Texas full of 250+ species, Evening Grosbeak just doesn’t compare. February was over. Only 8 new year birds. 266.

Check back soon for Part II!! The amazing adventures - and birds - continue...

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