Thursday 25 January 2018

Big Year 2017 - Preparation for Days (and days, and days, and days, and days)

So here it begins... I hope that I can keep up with my blog writing about my 2017 Big Year a bit more effectively now that I am not travelling and birding at quite such an insane degree. 
A photo of me a few years younger, looking like I knew what I was doing while out birding! Oh, and that little friend who climbed up onto my shoulder is a Downy Woodpecker. Photo captured by Nathan Nash in the Point Pelee birding area in July 2013.
As I have briefly mentioned before, I spent much of 2016 preparing for the competitive birding adventure I was about to embark on. In fact, much of the birding style I have practised in the last few years was in part preparation for a Big Year! Learning where, when, and how to most effectively track down many of the annual rarities in my home region of Southwestern Ontario was no easy feat! I credit much of this knowledge and experience to my first local birding mentors, like Paul Pratt and my friends at Ojibway Park, Jim McCoy, Sarah Rupert, Jeremy Hatt, Kory Renaud, Steve Pike, Tom Hurst, Mike Malone and my friends at Pelee Wings, Alan Wormington, and Josh Vandermeulen, who really showed me the ropes early on and always had insightful answers to my sometimes difficult questions. These are by no means my only close mentors from the not-so-long-ago ‘early years’ who I am thankful to, but they are individuals who really stand out in my memory. 
A very special two-week memory of one of my first crazy birding adventures. This photo was captured on day one of a trip to the coast of James Bay, immediately after a two hour helicopter ride over Ontario’s boreal forest! From left to right: me (Jeremy Bensette), Josh Vandermeulen, Kory Renaud, and Alan Wormington.
I told anyone I knew that I would be doing a Big Year in 2017, in part to set my plans in stone, knowing I could not cancel after telling so many people about it. I also got as large a dose as possible of my other passions like insects, plants, family, and local friends, knowing I had to focus on birds for a whole year.
The Goatweed Leafwing butterfly I found at Point Pelee National Park in October 2016 as I prepared to give up insects for a year. This very special first known occurrence ever for Canada is evidence that I really do love other wildlife besides birds!
I had a strategy to get psychologically focused on Big Year stuff long before 2017 began, and that ended up being one of my most effective tools through the year! I spent many months practising not being excitable or high strung about birds, a very easy thing to otherwise lose control over. I knew I had many rare bird chases ahead of me and worked very hard to stay very calm about rare birds found by others that I would need to go try to see!
Gray Kingbird, a great provincial level rarity I found with my cousin David Ehrenreich and my past girlfriend Emma Buck in the Point Pelee birding area in May 2015!
After dealing with my then girlfriend Emma's surprise choice to apply for work in Alberta for the 2016 summer season, combined with a difference of opinion between her and my tentative plans for our futures - which I do not hold against anyone - I decided to carry on with what I was doing and let bygones be bygones. I have always maintained that past relationships were shared with great people, and I have no regrets about past decisions and experiences with ‘failure’ or ‘success’ in this subject. Alan Wormington, who was probably my closest friend through the year, lost his battle with bone cancer and sadly left this world in early fall of 2016. I spent a portion of nearly every day with Alan in the weeks and months before his passing, so this was a rough situation, but I was proud to have given him company and comfort during his hardest times. Around the time that Alan left this world, Emma had found another far away work contract, and we decided to try to make a run at having a long distance relationship. Needless to say, it was a pretty psychologically difficult and lonely fall season as time dwindled before the start of my now thoroughly planned 2017 Big Year…
Emma and I shortly before she left for Alberta. Sometimes when situations change drastically against our wishes we have no choice but to move on and look forward to the next chapter, but it does not mean we cannot still value the good memories of good people who played a positive role in our past!
I knew that I owed it to Alan, the birding community who have given me so much, and myself to follow through with this mission I had been planning, so I picked myself up with what little motivation I could conjure and focused on being ready to hit the ground running on the first day of January 2017!
The majority of our group at a private memorial get-together for Alan Wormington that we put together at Point Pelee National Park in October 2016. This was basically Alan’s funeral, and I think he would be humbled at how many special people showed up from near and far to celebrate his special life. Thanks Kit McCann for this photo.
The weeks leading up to 2017 had some pretty interesting bird activity in our magical province of Ontario, including the following rarities at various dates in December 2016:

   Crested Caracara in Algoma region
   Western Sandpiper in Chatham-Kent region
   Smith’s Longspur in Norfolk region
   Black-headed Gull in Niagara region
   Lark Sparrow in Toronto region
   Brambling in Frontenac region
   Western Grebe in Simcoe and Toronto regions

The famous Crested Caracara that I chased to Wawa, Algoma District, with Josh Vandermeulen, Henrique Pacheco, Steve Charbonneau, Barb Charlton, David Pryor, and Tyler Hoar in fall 2016!
Clearly things were shaping up for an expected good start to my Big Year! There was a week or so in late December 2016 when it seemed like all the province’s known rarities went missing, but at least a few of these resurfaced just before New Year’s. I knew that my 2017 year needed to start with attempts at seeing the province’s top rarities in the first few days of the year, and I also knew that I needed to visit Emma at her place of work in Germany, so I put on my positivity hat and planned accordingly, right up until an early night in on New Year’s Eve!
This is my favourite photo of Alan Wormington and I, in Texas in February 2015, acting as goofy and fun as ever. I promise he was wearing his hat like that first!
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!



  1. Excellent post. Glad I happened to be there the day you found the Goatweed Leafwing, and share in the excitement!

  2. I'm looking forward to reading about your year! Perhaps I can consider this research material for my attempt in the near(ish) future!

  3. Hope you asked permission of all present in the photos whether they'd like to be featured on this blog?

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