Sunday, April 24, 2011

Top 10 Worst Big Day Birds

I make this list to highlight species that are usually considered common/expected during an average day of birding in appropriate habitat but are nightmares for Big Day teams (the Lagerhead Shrikes included). If not for the great report already submitted by Bert Cattle Egret would have easily made this list as well.

1 Kingfisher – This is a bird that deserves at least 5-6 different locations and even then it’s no guarantee one will be sitting on a favorite snag come the big day. Some years we are “fortunate” enough to find a nest hole but these sites are rarely visited by the parents before the chicks have hatched. Finally the habitat for this species is usually widespread and Belted Kingfishers can have massive territories. All of these factors make finding Belted Kingfishers a high priority during the scout week.

2 Red-headed Woodpecker – The Lagerhead Shrikes have run through so many campground sites to tick-off this elusive and gorgeous species. Most years the Shrikes actually have a nest hole and the bird pinned down to a quarter acre patch of woods. But this cryptic species rarely lingers around the nest hole and almost never calls.

3 Cedar Waxwing – If the World Series of Birding was a week later then this speces would be no problem for the Lagerhead Shrikes, since they become abundant in Northern Jersey. Additionally, the best place to look for this species is in urban areas, which typically don’t contain a high diversity of bird species.

4 Hairy Woodpecker – I have done many big days in the east and Hairy Woodpecker is always a challenging bird to lock down for the day. These birds are highly cryptic, living in large stands of mature forest, which usually contain lower than normal bird diversity.

5 White-Breasted Nuthatch – Most years the Lagerhead Shrikes are able to find a few nest holes for this species. However, by mid-May none of these nests have hungry young and the parents rarely linger around the nest hole for very long.

6 Purple Finch – These birds nest in a few locations every year in Northern Jersey but locking them down some years can be very challenging for the Shrikes. To increase the odds of running into this species on the big day the Shrikes keep track of nearby bird feeders.

7 Hermit Thrush – As the days get closer and closer to the actual big day this species will become quieter and quieter making it exceedingly difficult to rely on. The only way to increase your chances of finding this bird is to be on the breeding grounds right at first light and that is exactly what the Shrikes try to do every year

8 Tricolored Heron – There is a lot of marsh between Cape May and Brigantine for these elusive herons to hide. The best way to see them is during the dawn and dusk heron flights, which makes it essential for the Shrikes to stay on schedule throughout the big day.

9 Pileated Woodpecker – This species can be a nightmare for most of the same reasons as Hairy Woodpecker. Additionally, there are no Pileated’s in all of Cape May County making this species a priority during scouting in the Northern Jersey.

10 Green Heron – Last but not least is the very common but also very elusive green heron. Over the years the Shrikes have learned, which green herons to rely on and which to not. Much like the cattle egret this species can wander around a lot from watering hole to watering hole. This is why scouting for multiple days to try and understand the birds habits is crucial to running an efficient big day.

(All of the photos for this post were kindly provided by Bill Hubick from

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