Big Year Birding – 5 Tips for a Fun and Successful Big Year

Here is a reposting from my NJ Big Year Blog – timely information for anyone planning a big year!

My New Jersey Big Year


Are you thinking about doing a big year in 2014?  Believe it or not, there’s still time to plan for a fun and successful birding year.

I have received questions about and requests for tips on how to plan and prepare for a big year.   As my year is coming rapidly to a close, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on planning for a big year (or big day or big month, whatever you have the appetite for).

Let’s start with GOALS –  why do you want to do a big year and what do you want to get out of it?  There are as many reasons for doing a big year as there are birders.  Are you doing this for personal achievement, fun, fund-raising, or competition?   Do you have a “magic number” of species that you hope to see?  Are there particular areas you would like to include or exclude in your birding activities?  …

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Life Gets Busy – Sometimes

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Happy New Year’s Eve!  It has been a few months since my last post and, yep, it has been busy.  But I am missing my blog and that’s probably a good thing.  As I make up the list of stuff I want to change for 2016, being here a bit more ranks very high.

Here’s a shot of one of my favorite lighthouses – Barnegat Light.  I was there a few days ago with a group of friends, birding along the bay.  The weather patterns of the past few weeks have been very unusual, unusually warm, and the “regular” winter birds were not there in the number or variety that we anticipated. Still, it was a very good day – a bad day of birding is better than a good day at work!

I will get deeper into the reasons for my absence in following posts.  Until then – I hope you have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

NJ Pine Barrens Flowers

Pine Barren or Golden Heather

I was fortunate enough to spend some time last weekend birding in the NJ Pine Barrens and several of the spring flowers in were full bloom.  This beautiful golden flower is known as Pine Barren Heather or Golden Health (Hudsonia ericoides).  Pine Barren Heather is a small shrub which grows in dry open sandy areas throughout the pine barrens and several plants were in full bloom last weekend.

Sand Myrtle
Sand Myrtle

Sand Myrtle is another low flowering shrub that grows in sandy patches, but prefers wet areas over dry.  Even though it has been a relatively dry spring, these lovely white-flowered shrubs were blooming in many of low wet areas I walked through this weekend.

I hope you enjoy the flowers….I took the photos with my cell phone as I walked from spot to spot during one of my bird surveys for the New Jersey Audubon.

Until next time….







Words Matter or Word Matters – Skeptics or Deniers


This is a topic that is much, much larger than a single blog posting – but that’s okay.  We have got to start someplace.

I mentioned in my last post that I am enrolled in a MOOC entitled “Making Sense of Climate Science Denial” and one discussion topic focuses on the characteristics of and differences between skepticism and denial.

Why does the choice between these two words matter?

Valid question – let’s explore some of the possible answers together.

John Cook, Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia, offers the following explanations for the importance of choosing the right word to describe a person’s stance on a scientific question (in this case, climate change and global warming).  According to Cook (2015), skepticism is an integral part of the scientific method and, as a result, scientists are skeptical of new claims until the evidence supporting that claim becomes overwhelming.  A person who denies well-established science, such as the evidence supporting climate change and global warming, first reaches a conclusion and then rejects any evidence that conflicts with their beliefs (Cook, 2015).  As John Cook argues, skepticism and denial really are “polar opposites” (nice turn of a phrase, don’t you think?).

John Cook isn’t the only person, or even the first, to concern himself with the topic of scientific denialism and how the scientific community ought to respond.  Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee (2009) found that science denial consisted of five characteristics, including fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations, cherry picking, and conspiracy theories, and has been used by deniers to support their rejection of a wide range of scientifically valid studies on human evolution, the link between smoking and cancer, and human-caused global warming.

There are other blog posts, peer-reviewed papers, and articles in the popular press which toss this issue around in much greater detail – too much detail for a single blog post – and I would encourage you to take some time and research the topic for yourself.  There are a number of good search engines for doing scientific research and one of my favorites is Google Scholar.  It can be challenging to find an entire paper posted online, particularly papers which have been published in peer-reviewed or scholarly journals.  However, a quick trip to your local library may help you to find a copy of that paper or, if you are lucky enough to be a student or work at an educational institution, you can probably retrieve papers online through your institution’s library.

What do you think?  Is it a big deal to use the word “skeptic” to describe someone who denies well established science?

I believe it is a big deal because influential climate change/global warming deniers try to label themselves as “skeptics”, suggesting that their denial has scientific merit. The popular press does a very poor job distinguishing between these terms as well, adding to the confusion of the general public about the differences between skepticism and denialism and, worse, the level of scientific consensus associated with global warming and climate change.

What is the level of scientific consensus for human-caused global warming?

That sounds like a great topic for a later forum posting, don’t you think? (Spoiler alert – it is huge!)

So do I, so until next time…….



Cook, J. (2015, April 22). Taking back skepticism [HTML document]. Retrieved from

Diethelm, P. & McKee, M. (2009). Denialism: What is it and how should scientists respond? The European Journal of Public Health, 19(1), 2-4

That took longer than I expected……….

Hovnanian 2014-05-18_06-17-35_523
Sunrise in the New Jersey Pine Barrens

I really could not have imagined that it would take me nearly a year and a half to get back to blogging.  When I finished the post back on the last day of 2014, I expected to take a few weeks off and sort out the result of my big year.

It was a great year and, in addition to learning more about birding in New Jersey than I ever thought possible, I also learned a bit more about myself and the direction in which I wanted to take my life.

What, you ask, did I learn?

To perhaps repeat myself a bit, I learned that (from a birding point of view) I am neither a chaser or a builder of birding lists.  Before the slings and arrows start – I am not saying there’s anything wrong with either activity.  Some folks (including my non-birding wife) enjoy the thrill of the chase and can’t really get excited about simply taking a walk in a park and looking at the “same ole birds”.  Some folks enjoy keeping long lists of the birds they’ve seen, where they saw them, the first and last dates of each year’s observations…and so on and so forth.

Not me.

But learning what I enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) about birding wasn’t the only lesson of my New Jersey Big Year (the blog is still up, by the way, if you want to give it a read).  I discovered that I am truly passionate about nature and climate, and protecting both so that my children, grandchildren, and their children will have a planet worth living in.

Energized by these new self-discoveries, I been busy since my last serious period of blog postings.  I completed training to become a Volunteer Master Naturalist through Stockton College (now Stockton University) and spent several hours last year volunteering for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) at Edwin Forysthe National Wildlife Refuge.  I also continued volunteering for New Jersey Audubon’s Citizen Science program, completing breeding surveys of grassland and pinelands birds.

Perhaps the biggest step, through, has been my enrollment in American Public University’s Master’s Degree in Environmental Policy and Management.  Since June of last year, I have completed five courses toward my degree, expanding my understanding of principles such as environmental economics, adaptive management, toxicology, research techniques, and environmental law.  As you might guess, my graduate studies have taken up an enormous amount of time and left very little for other things – like blogging.

I have decided to take a few weeks off from class work to refresh and re-energize – and I am liking it.  It feels a bit odd not to have a paper due, or a quiz to take, or a forum posting to write.  But odd is good right now and the last couple of weeks have convinced me I was ready for a break.

So what am I doing in my free time?  Attending my grandkids’ sporting events.  Catching up on some reading.


And generally working through a few ideas for the next phase of my graduate work.  I have nearly finished all of the “required” courses and am now moving into to “concentration” portion of my program.  I have a bit more flexibility on which courses to take, which means it is truly decision time for choosing the direction of the remainder of my program.

I am also participating in a Massive Open Online Course or MOOC which is focused on the reasons some people use to justify their denial of science, especially climate science.  Whether you call it global warming or climate change, our planet is experiencing human-caused (anthropogenic) warming and serious steps are necessary to address it.  This course focuses on several areas including (taken from the web site):

  • How to recognize the social and psychological drivers of climate science denial
  • How to better understand climate change: the evidence that it is happening, that humans are causing it and the potential impacts
  • How to identify the techniques and fallacies that climate myths employ to distort climate science
  • How to effectively debunk climate misinformation

I am enjoying the class thus far and learning quite a bit, without the pressure of tests, papers, or grades.

That is what I have been up to over the past several months.  My plan is to get more involved in blogging again and time will tell if I am able to keep it going (this time).  I hope so.

I also hope that you’ll take a few minutes to drop me a note – what have you been up recently?  Any big or small changes in your life?  I’d love to hear all about it!

Until next time….


Big Year Birding – Wrap Up

The final wrap up of My New Jersey Big Year!

My New Jersey Big Year


I have spent the last couple days reflecting on My New Jersey Big Year, what I accomplished, and what I learned about birding and myself.

I was able to bird in all 21 New Jersey counties at least once – driving almost 9000 miles along the way.  To add some perspective to that number – the approximate distance from the Eastern Coast of the US to the Western Coast is about 3000 miles.  I drove the equivalent of three coast-to-coast trips without leaving New Jersey.

I managed to see 310 bird species plus a Eurasian Teal which I found, much to my surprise, doesn’t count as a full species (according to eBird).  Apparently, Green-winged Teal is considered a sub-species of Eurasian Teal – go figure – so you can count one but not both!   Don’t get me wrong – It was still very cool to finally see a Eurasian Teal.

I didn’t bird every day…

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Big Year Birding – Finish Line

Here’s the post about the last day of My New Jersey Big Year!

My New Jersey Big Year


Have you ever watched Sanderlings feeding along a wave line?  A wave comes in – they scurry up the beach.  Wave goes out – they chase it down, grabbing tidbits of food along the way.  And like this group of Sanderling I photographed yesterday, I am always a little amused as I watch them run up and down the beach.

Yesterday was an amazing, and nostalgic, day of birding.  Some time ago I decided to finish My New Jersey Big Year the same way I started, with a North Shore birding run.   Back on January 1st, 365 days ago, I started my big year alone in a cold parking lot in Belmar, New Jersey.  As I watched the sun rise above the frozen horizon,  I had little idea what the new year would bring.  The havoc of Superstorm Sandy had left some of the best birding locations in New Jersey, like Sandy Hook, inaccessible…

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