Green Big Year: 100 species and a rare wildlife experience

Snowy Owl, Warren County, N.J., Jan 2012, Adrian BinnsI’m three weeks into my Big Green Year—my attempt to see as many birds in one year using only environmentally responsible transportation. I’m already up to 100 species. Besides birds I’ve encountered just walking and biking around the city, I’ve take several trips.


I carpooled with my father and two other buddies up to North Jersey for Snowy Owl, a rare visitor from the Arctic, and a Chaffinch, a vagrant bird from Europe. This could be Jersey’s first record of a Chaffinch, if accepted. In each state there are rare bird committees who may determine the bird is an escaped cage bird rather than one way off course migration—known in the bird world as a “vagrant”. Birding is so often about chasing vagrants, often with only one person in a car. So instead, we carpooled and lined up a bunch of vagrants to get maximum bang for our gas.

 Chaffinch, Adrian Binns

On the way back from North Jersey we picked up a Say’s Phoebe in Bucks County, a vagrant from the western U.S., and a Clay-colored Sparrow in Pennypack Park, a vagrant from the Midwest. We finished the day at FDR Park in South Philly for a Cackling Goose, also a western vagrant. These were all previously reported birds.


Another trip was to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in my friend’s work hybrid. He had to go to this part of Jersey to pick up snakes from a colleague for environmental education programs, so we able to add some birding to his trip. We picked up many species of duck, which are just now moving south in numbers due to our mild winter. Forsythe is a place I’ll visit many times during my year as I can bike to it from the Absecon New Jersey Transit train station.

Say's Phoebe, Bucks County, Adrian Binns 

I also visited Peace Valley Park in Bucks County to accompany my friend who was releasing a Cedar Waxwing for Tri-State Bird Rescue. Waxwings are a flocking bird and Cindy had found a flock two days before. We released the bird across a field from a flock foraging in some cedars (true to their name). Our bird immediately flew into a tree 10 feet above our head and called intently for 10 minutes until joining a small flock that flew overhead and united with the other birds. This was one of the most moving wildlife experiences in my life. My heart was so warmed to see this bird so intent on reconnecting with it’s own kind. We also picked up some other good birds for my list including Screech Owl, which was peaking out of a bird box.

Tony Croasdale is an environmental educator, field biologist and most importantly, avid birder. This year, the Philadelphia resident is blogging for Grid about his mission to observe as many species of bird as possible—what birders call a “Big Year.” Croasdale is a member of a bicycle team for the World Series of Birding; his 2009 tram took first in the Carbon Footprint Cup category. Outside of birding, Croasdale is finishing a degree in horticulture at Temple University.