2014 was an interesting year. I had no intentions, when I began the year of doing a big year in the state of Michigan. I had set a goal of 250 species in the state for the year, but that was it. In July, as I was already approaching 250, I was visiting a friend downstate and he casually mentioned to another birding friend that I was doing a big year, so decided why not? In the end I ended up seeing 287 species in the state, which I consider to be not too bad considering I also have a full time career. The last bird of the year was a Common Eider that was hanging out in Grand Haven. Here is a picture of it.
And here is also a video of it.
I apologize, but that will be all of the photos and videos for this post (for reasons I will discuss later).
I've spent a lot of time in January thinking about my big year. I can remember in October I was riding along with a birding friend I met this year, having dropped another friend off in Manistee after viewing the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Ludington, and as we discussed the big year I told him I found myself at that point wondering "why in the hell am I doing this?" Well, that's pretty much what I have been thinking about and now I am going to discuss that very question.
I can sum up the experience with three "e"'s - exciting, expensive, and exhausting. It was an exciting year because, well, I saw 287 species in Michigan. Forty-four of them were life birds for the state. I haven't bothered to figure it out, but I'm sure that many of those were also life birds. Some of them were super exciting as well - Black-headed Gull, Ruff, Costa's Hummingbird (in Michigan anyway) and Berylline Hummingbird top my list. But there is no doubt that all the driving around, sleeping in hotels, and eating on the road were very expensive. In fact, I believe I probably spent somewhere around $10,000 last year doing this. There is a certain guilt I feel thinking that that money probably could have gone for better purposes. Not to mention the environmental impact of all the driving. Yikes! And, as I said, it was exhausting. There was hardly a day on the weekends when I wasn't waking up at 4AM or earlier to get on the road. I spent some weekends crisscrossing the state numerous times. And some weekdays I would travel for hours after work to see a bird only to get home well after midnight and wake up early the next morning to go back to work. When January 1st came around, I felt a deep sense of relief.
I will say there were other benefits along the way. One of the greatest, was the friends that I met along the way. Weather from Manistee, Beaver Island, Holland, Ann Arbor, Charlevoix, Marquette, Traverse City, Kewadin, Frankfort, Saginaw, Harbor Springs, or wherever else in the state, you all made it more exciting and less exhausting and I thank you. There are a lot of wonderful people in the birding community and it was nice to meet every one of you and I hope to see you all in 2015!
Now this is the part where I will get very introspective. I had planned to spend a lot of time in 2014 looking at birds, what I didn't realize is just how much time I would spend looking at myself. In many ways my big year was therapeutic. All those hours on the road allowed me plenty of time to face events from my past going all the way back to my senior year in high school (I don't even want to think of how long ago that was now). Events that I have never been able to fully understand. Events that I have now come to realize shaped me in more ways than I ever expected or would have cared to admit, contributing to me becoming bitter, cynical, insecure and distant. I now realize I have had difficulty making new friends ever since high school and for the last few years I have been distant even from those friends who I have known for decades. To those friends I offer a sincere apology. There really is no excuse and I hope to reconnect with many of you in the near future. 2014 was a year of both happiness and sorrow. I laughed a lot, I cried a lot, and I learned a lot. I'll have a long way to go to erode all the years of bitterness, but I plan to embark on that journey in 2015. For those of you who know me, whether it has been for decades or days, I only ask that you please bear with me. I have no illusions that this is going to be easy, but I think it is time to tell all those things from my past that are holding me back to fuck off!
So where does that leave 2015? So far this year, I have spent very little time birding. Most of the birding I have done has been as a field trip leader. I expect that I will spend significantly less time birding this year, although I'm sure it will pick up a bit in the spring. I hope to engage in many other outdoor activities this year that I always wanted to try in the past but never did or never did enough of. It's also time to get my ass in shape. Sitting behind a desk for hours every day is not so great for health. So bring on the running, hiking, swimming, snowshoeing, and lots of other ings! Another goal is to be able to get a group of young birders in Northwest Michigan meeting on a regular basis. This, I can already tell, is going to be a monumental challenge, but I hope it will work. I think, for bird conservation's sake, that it is important that my generation get excited about birds. One of the things I noticed while driving around the state meeting birders, is that very few of them were my age. Michigan has a great group of Young Birders, but now I want to grow the interest among us Young(ish) Birders. My hope is that it can grow in Northwest Michigan and then catch on in other regions. Will this become a reality? Only time will tell.
This may be the last post for quite a while. Like I said, I haven't been doing a lot of birding this year, but the real reason is that my internet service provider is no more, so I am on a capped service that only allows me a limited number of GB per month. And when uploading photos and videos (that's what you all really come to the blog for right?), eats away at that cap very quickly. I will try to post now and then, but forgive me if they don't come quickly (what's different about that though right?). Also, for those of you who have been keeping up with this, thank you. But I will apologize for the quality of the writing. I spent so many hours proofreading my thesis years ago that I sort of lost the taste for it.