OUR BIG YEAR IN REVIEW:
It's already well in to early January 2018 and Sue and I have had time to sit down and reflect on exactly what it was we had achieved in our Big Year. We had a fantastic time and enjoyed so many wonderful experiences on the journey and met some really nice and helpful people along the way as well. At the beginning of 2017 we set out to try and beat my old Big Year total of 315 species that I set way back in 1994. Our passion for local birding had gone a bit stale and we were both looking to do something to light the fire again. So with having gained our independence back from our kids the timing seemed just right to give a State based Big Year another crack. At the time we had no real idea that we would not only beat my old mark but eventually set a new State Big Year record.
|January 1st 2017 saw us start the year in the field|
at Lake Gillies Conservation Park on Eyre Peninsula
When we initially started to plan the whole thing out in late 2016 the realisation of what we were going to need to do in order to achieve our goal began to dawn on us and we wondered whether we were biting off more than we could chew. As we both work full time we knew we'd need to plan out all of our holidays for the year in advance and just hope some of the bigger trips we needed to use those holidays for would be matched with good weather and open roads! We also knew we would need to go on every pelagic trip that had been organised for the year in order to come to grips with the multitude of truly pelagic seabirds we'd need to see. In the end we only had four weeks annual leave total, all the scheduled public holiday long weekends and then the remaining weekends left in which to achieve it. Some of those weekends were abandoned in favour of unavoidable social events and seven of them were used up by my work commitments. Another two weeks in February were used on a preplanned birding trip to North and Central Thailand, so in all we had roughly 120 birding days to get the job done. As events unfolded it proved to be enough.
|We finished the year and saw in 2018 on a Houseboat|
on the upper Murray 372 species later.
By years end we had travelled over 37,500km's by land and probably something like 350 Nautical miles at sea in our quest to see as many species of birds as we could. We travelled to every accessible corner of South Australia in that time and managed to see and record 372 different species and in the process set a new S.A. Big Year record. It was not the year for true vagrants and we picked up only a handful of such birds throughout the entirety of the year. We needed to rely on finding as many of the resident breeding species and regular migrants as we could. Of those 372 species we both enjoyed getting a few lifers. I managed to get four and Sue got sixteen. In addition we both got to add to our Oz lists and our State lists as well. Mostly as a result of persistent Pelagic trips during the year, something we had done little of in the past. (see the annotated lists on the blog tab for details). Of course for all the successes we had, that is always offset by the dips we experienced! Throughout the course of the year several species were reported in various places by different observers that we never connected with, including White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Olive-backed Oriole, Plumed Whistling Duck, Oriental Plover, Painted Honeyeater, Pacific Koel, Eastern Grass Owl and Red-chested Button-quail amongst others. Some species were also conspicuous by their absence in 2017 that in any given year you would have a reasonable chance of connecting with, such as Whimbrel, Rose Robin, Lesser Sand Plover, Scarlet-chested Parrot and Satin Flycatcher. We did try to twitch a few of them, but most we didn't get the opportunity due to bad timing or the fact most of them were one off reports, too remote, or not reported at all!. The SA Big Year list we based our planning on other than my own was set by Colin Rogers back in 2000/1 in which he recorded 352 species. Remarkably his list contained 18 species we didn't get to see. Some of which were one off vagrants and one is now extinct in SA, but not all. So it remains to be seen just how high a potential SA State year list could go. Of course you'd need to be retired and have a run of incredible luck!
|Bird of the year for me in 2017 was this gorgeous Light-mantled Sooty Albatross|
that graced us with its presence off Port MacDonnell in May.
Not only a lifer but milestone bird #300
|Sues bird of 2017 was easy for her to pick. This delightful Fiordland Crested Penguin|
at Port MacDonnell. Her first of the bigger Penguin species
We used our trusty Nissan Navarra 4WD to carry us on our travels throughout the entirety of the year and camped out wherever we could and carried most of our own food. A few places we stayed in accommodation where it seemed appropriate or were forced to by adverse weather conditions but in order to keep costs from blowing out we mostly camped and cooked for ourselves. At no stage did we ever contemplate flying anywhere to target birds and the only other form of transport we used were boats. Either the Sealink Ferry over to Kangaroo Island or the MV Remarkable out of Port MacDonnell that took us on the many pelagic trips we so came to enjoy.
|Our trusty Nissan Navarra that carried us all over the State throughout the year|
So what did it cost? Any time you ever read about a Big Year attempt whether its an Australian Big Year or North American Big Year or anything in between they never discuss exactly how much they spent while doing it. We kept records of what we spent during the course of the year out of genuine curiosity. This included all of our fuel, pelagic fares, accommodation, park entry fees and Sealink Ferry fares. We ended up spending $AU10,500. That may sound a lot and in fact could of gone higher had we not missed five out of the twelve scheduled pelagic trips during the year. In reality a lot of people would spend as much on a single holiday in any given year but this amount sustained us for the entire twelve month period. Not included in this figure was of course food as we would have eaten anyway but others would likely have been incurred on any given driving holiday. For example we did two windscreens and six tyres during our travels around the State, as well as needing to replace our spotlights that were smashed when we hit a Kangaroo. So if any of you are contemplating giving it a crack wherever you live make sure you set yourself a realistic budget.
|One of six tyres we did during the year.|
WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN?:
Absolutely not!.......well.........never say never! Actually it's one of the most awesome things we've ever done and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience but we certainly wouldn't want to give it another go any time soon. To be honest we had a really great time with lots of highs offset by a few lows. Trying to maintain motivation was probably one of the biggest hurdles we had to overcome at various times throughout the year and getting through that was often difficult. This was partially caused by our frustration at having to keep going to work during the week while good birds were being reported and some of it stemmed from cancelled boat trips that we'd been looking forward to. There are also the inevitable slow birding periods of the year when its quiet in the bush and there are no migrants around. These can be difficult times to get through but in the end we pushed past those to make it to the end. So for anyone out there contemplating doing their own Big Year, no matter what form that takes or where, make sure you plan it out as much as possible. Be public with it by writing a blog or sharing your sightings in some other public forum as your year progresses and keep impeccable records. Part of our enjoyment during the year was actually writing the blog and we now have it to look back on in years to come. It also helped by involving the wider birding community who were often instrumental in passing on bird sightings or offering up encouragement.
There is no doubt in our minds that our success in 2017 was as a direct result of the support we received from the general birding community. While we found a lot of the birds ourselves throughout the many trips we undertook during the year, some of them were as a direct result of help from the many birders who got behind us, or shared their sightings online.
Firstly we would like to thank Colin Rogers for all of his assistance during the year. His generosity of spirit and his uncanny ability to find rarities and share them with us as a priority was invaluable. Also he organised all the pelagic trips during the year in conjunction with Stuart Hull (The Berleyman) and so we are indebted to them both for that. We are extremely grateful to Bob Green who was our eyes and ears in the south-east corner of the State where we spent so much of our time in 2017. His input was very much appreciated.
|L to R - Dave, Bob Green, Sue, Wayne Biggs, Colin Rogers and Stuart Hull|
after a successful White Goshawk twitch
There were many others who also contributed in some way, either by providing us with information or accompanying us in the field. Thanks then goes to Roly Lloyd, Chris Steeles, Luke Leddy, Wayne Biggs, Stephen Bosch, Peter Koch, Lisa Girdham, Mike Potter, Steve Potter, Sam Gordon, Sam Matthews, John Gitsham, Teresa Thompson Jack, Nik Borrow, Phil Peel, Paul Taylor, Jeff Davies, Rohan Clarke and the late Chris Baxter. We were saddened to hear of Chris's passing during the year. The success of our Kangaroo Island trip was largely due to him as he gave us real time instructions for finding key species from his hospital bed. We will never forget his contribution. To the rest of the general birding community who we met in the field either on a twitch, on a pelagic, who read our blog or encouraged us in any other way throughout the year, your support was amazing and we thank you all. To all of our non birding friends/family who forgot what we looked like during the entirety of 2017 we thank you for your patience, understanding and indulgence of our crazy birding passion.
Finally it would be remiss of us if we did not thank three very important people. Our two daughters Jenna and Laura who held down the fort while we were constantly away birding during the year and Andy Walker. It was Andy's constant jibing from wherever he was in the world that got us through those difficult motivational periods. He was also able to join us in the field in the northern deserts during September when we broke the back of the Big Year and set a new record. His companionship, friendship and exceptional skill in the field is something we value very highly. Thanks Andy
|Andy Walker. Exceptional birder and all around good bloke |
relaxing after a day in the field.
"Ye of little faith Andy we made it past February......... GET AROUND HIM!!"