Snowy Owl, Short-eared Owl, Bald Eagle — those are the species that Massachusetts birder Dorian Anderson ticked on New Year’s Day over a year ago. They kicked off what would turn out to be an unprecedented and wildly successful Big Year.
Determined to raise money for the American Birding Association and the Conservation Fund, Anderson was on a mission to find as many birds as he could throughout the year without the aid of gas-powered vehicles. As we noted in our April 2014 issue, he expected to ride 12,000 miles and hoped to see 550-600 species.
Throughout the year, he traveled from Massachusetts to South Florida, and from there through Texas to southeastern Arizona. Then he turned northeast toward Colorado and snaked northwest to Washington and south along the Pacific coast before returning to Texas. He ended the year near Dallas, after visiting 28 states. He had kayaked eight miles, walked about 490 miles, and biked 17,830 miles (about 49 miles per day) — far more than planned.
Better yet, on Thanksgiving Day at Estero Llano Grande State Park in South Texas (Hotspot Near You No. 161), not only did he add five new species to blow past his goal of 600, but he was among birders who found a female Red-legged Honeycreeper, a visitor from Mexico never before officially recorded in the U.S.
A flock of about 40 Smith’s Longspurs that he spotted on December 28 near Lake Tawakoni east of Dallas (Hotspot Near You No. 197) capped off his year at 617 species — so far. If records committees from Texas and the American Birding Association accept the honeycreeper as a wild, countable bird, his final total will be 618.
The honeycreeper, Anderson says, was one of the five most memorable birds of the year, along with a “totally unexpected” Black-throated Blue Warbler on the Upper Texas Coast, where the species is rare; an up-close White-tailed Ptarmigan in Colorado; a flock of Greater Sage-Grouse on a ridge in Utah; and a Hook-billed Kite in South Texas.
He raised more than $45,000 for bird conservation during 2014, and he hopes to raise more through his Biking for Birds blog, by speaking at bird clubs and universities, and by writing a book about his journey and the conservation issues he encountered.
A version of this article appears in the April 2015 issue of BirdWatching. Subscribe.