Green Big Year: 100 species and a rare wildlife experience

Snowy Owl, Warren County NJ 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.


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.

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Tony Croasdale: Welcome to my Green Big Year

Tony CroasdaleTony 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.” The catch? Croasdale is doing all his birding via sustainable transportation.  

When attempting a big year, birders often drive long distances alone or even fly and then, drive to see one species. Huge amounts of fuel are consumed. In general, birding as a hobby tends to be highly fossil fuel consumptive. I want to show a more environmentally responsible way to bird. By carpooling, combining trips, using public transportation and human power, I believe one can still observe large numbers of species in a year. And what better place to do this than Philadelphia? We have ample public transportation and our region combines diverse habitats in a relatively small area strategically located on the Atlantic Flyway. We have one of the best birding locations in the country.

As I attempt to reach my big year goal, I’ll be blogging about my progress, both in observing birds and utilizing green transportation. I do have experience birding the “green” way. I’m part of a bicycle team that competes in the World Series of Birding and in 2009 my tram took first in the Carbon Footprint Cup category. But before I began, I made three rules to ensure I was keeping to the principles of a Green Big Year.

  1. I will only count birds seen from foot, bike, sailboat, human powered watercraft, or public transportation.
  2. I will not count birds if I flew, drove, or was driven to a location specifically for birding. For example, if I flew to Arizona for birding, I cannot count birds on a hike up Madera Canyon.
  3. I can accept a short ride to a birding location if traveled most of the way by an alternate means. For instance, accepting a ride to Militia Hill Hawk Watch after taking the train to Fort Washington. If a vehicle is traveling for another purpose, for business for instance, I can use that trip for birding; a conventional car must have at least three passengers and an alternatively fueled car must have at least two passengers. 


The Local Tweet: Philly birds in the news

Image via allaboutbirds.orgHere's something worth tweeting about: The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education is doing a bird census this Saturday, January 7, and they're looking for volunteers. Don't worry, budding ornithologists, no experience is required. You can join their birding team to help collect important data about wintering bird populations. My phone is predicting a beautiful day, sunny and 51 degrees, and to sweeten the deal, the SCEE will provide coffee, tea and light breakfast foods.

In other bird news, the Spruce Hill Bird Sanctuary, who we'll be covering in our next issue, is looking for some help, too. Located at Spruce & Locust, 45th & Melville Streets, this unique urban green space is a neighborhood spot, but open to the public as well (the entrance is next to 233 S. Melville). They're looking for bird food, plant material and cold, hard cash

For the Birds

An urban environment is no deterrent to hawk watching
by Bernard Brown,

On this particular morning, the pigeons were smarter than the squirrels. Walking from my office to the ATM, I noticed breadcrumbs strewn across a stretch of sidewalk in Washington Square Park. A pair of young squirrels took turns jumping on each other and tussling in the grass nearby, but nary a pigeon was there to peck up the crumbs.
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