It has been a blast, this whole year, and I cannot find enough chances to thank the countless uplifting, generous, and supportive friends and loved ones who have helped me along through this great journey all over our beautiful province of Ontario. If you are reading this post, then you in some way or another are part of that group of people, so thank you for being there too!
|My noble pony and I at Lynde Shores, Whitby, after seeing a Neotropic Cormorant. This folding bike that I often kept in my truck saved me a long walk at least a few times!|
My preparation for such a goal might surprise you! I spent months of 2016 preparing myself by researching and setting a timeline of when I would need to catch up with certain species, designing a personalized seasonal 'rarity ranking system' for each of Ontario's near 500 species ever, and spent the last few years carefully learning how to go about finding (and re-finding) all tricky annual species found in Ontario. I spent the second half of 2016 focusing on not being excitable or high strung over birding matters, which turned out to be one of my most effective psychological tools throughout my Big Year. I fought against my strong urge to take on much guiding work in recent years, to avoid having to leave clients hanging for a year, and I kept my other field work commitments to a minimum going into 2017. I had a nice contract job with Bird Studies Canada for nearly half of the year, and because my scheduling is flexible, I opted to concentrate as much work time into single chunks and trips as possible rather than spreading it out in a slightly healthier way like I normally do. I pushed my good friend Tim Arthur to apply for a job to work with me, a job he ended up getting to do, leading to much company and friendship for some crazy road trips. It turned out that my good friend Tim was a *great* friend, as he ended up travelling with me for far more than field work for the rest of the year! If it was not for Tim's presence I am sure I would have quit my Big Year during some pretty difficult social situations unrelated to birding. Also, I very graciously accepted an offer for sponsorship with the Vortex Canada Field Team, a relationship that has since expanded that I look forward to continuing in the future. I did my best to prepare my friends and family for my sporadic absence throughout the year, which they all dealt with very positively. One very special friend and mentor of mine committed to be there to help me with any and all tough birding or social decisions I may run into through the year: Bruce DiLabio. That promise held true, along with offers for support from countless others! You will hear more about many of these great friends and arrangements in the future.
I would like to take a moment to admit that this 100,000 km 'vacation' was not the most environmentally friendly way for a conservationist to spend a year, and it is not something I plan on repeating. My number one goal for my career as a naturalist is to expose and promote as many members of the general public as possible to delve into the 'finer things' like conservation, wildlife, and natural history, in hope that they too will want to get involved. The only way to effectively do that, in my opinion, is to inspire and impress those not currently interested, and try to steer them in the direction of good. It still shocks me that this story gained so much traction in media outlets across Canada, but I think that the popularity of this story is a huge step in the right direction for the conservation goal I just described. The main work I do supports a purely conservation-minded project, building up data regarding the health of the Great Lakes, and I spend much personal time, thought, and energy on voluntary conservation efforts.
|The famous, ugly, sexy Wood Stork at Point Pelee. I sure hauled it home from Algonquin to miss it by minutes... Fuddle duddle... Until I refound it with my good friend Rick Mayos at around 10am the next day!|
|My noble steed, telescope, and I on a fancy rock boat launch in Marathon, Thunder Bay District. Thanks for capturing this photo, Owen!|
|The last bird photos of the year were certainly photos to write home about! This gorgeous Snowy Owl was a welcome sight at Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto after a cross-country ski in extremely cold air.|
This year may be over, but it has been hands down the single greatest thing I have ever set out to do, and perhaps will remain the most special set of memories I ever collect. The things I have gained from this year are unmeasurable, and are by no means limited to birding accomplishments. I have learned so much about me by breaking the limits of what I thought I was capable of in so many ways, persevered through all kinds of social and psychological hurdles, made and strengthened countless bonds and friendships with loved ones, put a few unhealthy situations behind me, and got so physically healthy that I could see my ab muscles for the first time in my life haha. I am eternally grateful for the support offered and given by so many amazing people and I plan on paying it forward for the rest of my life. Doing something like this really opens one's eyes to see just how unconditionally positive this world around us can be if we just let it, and I hope that this inspires others to pursue their dreams, no matter how big a challenge it may be.
Thanks so much for reading probably one of the longest blogs I will ever write, and for finding interest in this mission I set out on over the last year. It has been a blast and really means the world to me, and I hope I can entertain you with my Big Year stories from 2017!
|Sunset on December 31, 2017 at Colonel Sam Smith Park in Toronto, the last light in a perfect year.|
Goodbye 2017! You may be finished but your story has yet to be told, and you will not soon be forgotten.