Birding at Hakalau, photo by Chris Brown.


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Dec 31, 2020 | by Alex Lamoreaux

Compiled and written by Alex Lamoreaux and Chris Brown

Well, 2020 is over! We started off our North American ‘Big Year’ series very strong but all that came to an abrupt end in March. Suffice to say, it wasn’t a great year to travel for birding. In total we did manage to run 7 of our 28 Big Year tours in 2020. The combined total across 7 tours was a pretty darn solid 432 bird species seen and/or heard, and we visited 7 US states. These tours were inspired by Greg Miller‘s Big Year (as portrayed in the book and film The Big Year). Through the expertise of our guides, the ‘Big Year’ tours are specially designed to maximize species seen at the peak time of year for each region covered.

Island Scrub-Jay, photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

We ran two new tours this year; a short trip focusing on Condors, Island Scrub-Jay, & LA Exotics in California and a private version of Crater Lake & Klamath Basin in Oregon! These both proved to be big hits, and we look forward to guiding them at full capacity in the future! As usual, our fantastic and species-rich California: South Coast, Deserts, & Mountains kicked off the year with 221 species followed by the Condor, Island Scrub-Jay, & LA Exotics short trip/extension which netted 159 species bringing the combined California species total to 245 birds in 11 days! Highlights were seeing all 7 of the birds named after California, from the tiny California Gnatcatcher to 8 giant California Condors! We saw a rare female Garganey at the Salton Sea, a male Tufted Duck near Santa Barbara, a Mountain Plover near Bolsa Chica, 7 Island Scrub-Jays out on Santa Cruz Island, 45 endangered Tricolored Blackbirds, and enjoyed loads of other special birds and wildlife moments!

In February we switched gears from sunny California to the cold northlands for our classic Minnesota Winter Boreal Specialties tour and our short tour to coastal Massachusetts for New England’s Winter Specialties. Our trip to Minnesota is one of our oldest tours, but 2020’s visit was one of the best we’ve ever run! We enjoyed relatively mild weather conditions (sunny days, mid-40s, and minimal snow cover) combined with a truly incredible diversity of winter specialties, including 6 owl species! Great Gray Owl and Northern Hawk Owl were heavy hitters, as usual, but a sleepy Boreal Owl and a hunting Northern Saw-whet Owl were major crowd-pleasers! Chris led the short trip to Massachusetts, and in just 4 days managed to rack up 95 species (see trip report here) including Barnacle Goose, Dovekie, Thick-billed Murre, and a very rare “Mandt’s” Black Guillemot; one of fewer than 10 records for the United States!

Akiapola’au, like this juvenile, are rarely seen as well as we managed this year! Photo by Chris Brown.

In March Chris Brown and Mandy Talpas led our springtime tour to the Hawaiian islands. This whirlwind tour totaled exactly 100 species! Check out Chris’ in-depth trip report here! In short, this year’s trip to Hawaii was ground breaking in that we saw all the endemics which are generally possible on the three main islands. Highlights were seeing ‘Akepa, the cross-billed tangerine orange finch; Akiapola’au, with it’s long, curved bill; and really good numbers of i’o, aka Hawaiian Hawk. We also saw plenty of Alawi, the Hawai’i Creeper, at Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge. We enjoyed great looks at Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, which is one of the harder-to-see introduced birds. A vagrant Slaty-backed Gull was an excellent pick-up, and it was even a new Hawaii bird for Mandy our resident guide! Chris got his lifer Gray-tailed Tattler on Kauai, as well!

In July, Alex led a private tour scouting out our new Crater Lake & Klamath Basin route in scenic, bird-rich, and under-appreciated southern Oregon. During 3 days we saw 144 species including a family of Great Gray Owls; two shy Spotted Owls; multiple elusive, handsome Mountain Quail; a juvenile Northern Goshawk; and nesting Hermit Warblers! Look for this excellent, week-long tour to be offered in future years!

In September, Alex led a private tour of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. During the week we saw 155 species which is the highest species total we’ve ever tallied on this annual tour. The highlight was probably our half-day pelagic trip out of Westport where we saw Sooty, Pink-footed, and Buller’s Shearwaters plus Cassin’s Auklet, Rhinocerous Auklet, and many other seabirds. On the non-bird front multiple Humpback Whales, Harbor Porpoises, and a giant Mola Mola were just awesome! Pacific Northwestern specialties like 3 Sooty Grouse, Pacific Golden-Plover, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and the haunting calls of Varied Thrush were great birds on a long list of special sightings.

Common Eider in Massachusetts, photo by Chris Brown.

Given the circumstances in 2020, we consider our final species total of 432 species to prove that we’re certainly on to something with these itineraries and dates! We’ve fine-tuned each of our tours to maximize the birding and the fun! Additionally, Alex and Chris pride themselves on the fact that our tour observations are more thoroughly documented on eBird than any other US tour company. All of the 432 bird species seen during the 2020 tours were logged on eBird across 444 checklists! Our guides and clients also contributed over 200 photos to the Macauley Library through uploads to our checklists.

Our 2021 ‘Big Year’ series will be up and running as soon as it is safe and feasible to do so (fingers crossed for April or May!). In the meantime please contact us for options to arrange COVID-cautious and socially-distanced private tours with our guides! We’d love to have you join us in 2021, and can’t wait to see what this year will bring!

2020 Species Totals by State & Tour Name(s)

WA 155 Pacific Northwest
HI 100 Island Endemics

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