Monday, 28 January 2013

Photo Book is Done

We have finally finished the photo book - you can view it at:  A free pdf version of the book can be downloaded at:  Note - this is a 72 MB file so the download might take a while.  When viewing the file, under the View menu -> page display, check "two page view" and "show cover in two page view".

Since posting the final draft version, we have found a surprisingly large number of errors; hopefully there aren't too many in our final version.

As mentioned previously, we made the book for ourselves but anyone can purchase a copy from Blurb.  The FIN2012 promo code with a 15% discount expires today (Jan. 28) but KBWINTER with a 10% discount is good through the end of February.

Good birding


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Fur and Feathers 500 Photo Book

After working on our book for what seems like forever, we are almost finished.  You can view the book at: 
The book was prepared using Lightroom and then uploaded directly to Blurb.  I did the layout work and Ray and Phil did the proofing.  The price is the same as what we pay (no markup).  There are often promo codes that can save some money - FIN2012 is good until Jan. 28th for a 15% discount.  I also plan to have a pdf version that you can download for free (from a site to be determined – not from 

Thanks again for your comments throughout the year.  In a recent comment, someone asked if we would be doing a presentation and the answer is yes – Wed. April 3 to the Bird Study Group of Nature Calgary.  Details will appear on the Nature Calgary website in March.

Good birding and mammaling!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Looking Back on a Great Year!

Brian’s recent posts have provided an excellent summary of our Fur and Feathers 500 adventures in 2012, including some thoughtful advice for those who might wish to undertake a Canada Big Year of their own one day. He quite rightly offered thanks to the many people across Canada who were so happy to help us along the way and I would like to add my own thanks. We would never have been successful without their assistance but more than that, they made the whole experience a better one!

Our collective and individual goals for this Canada Big Year were set out in our early posts. A central theme was to meet our team target of 500 species and visit all 13 provinces and territories while doing so! For me, the geographic reach of our travels was equal in importance to our species target. I’m delighted we were able to accomplish both!  

People often ask us about highlights of the year. Which bird or mammal sighting was the most special? Which part of the country did we enjoy the most? I usually answer that it was the totality of the adventure that mattered more than anything else. Every trip had its special moments and collectively they have left us with a thousand good memories.  It’s true however that one or two experiences inevitably come up more often that the rest when talking to family and friends about our travels.

For me, quietly gliding through the fragmented pack ice in Repulse Bay, Nunavut, was an experience I will never forget and the close up encounter with a Polar Bear on that trip was the icing on the cake! I had travelled extensively in Canada even before this Big Year but I had never been to the Magdalene Islands or Haida Gwaii. Both are magnificent places and I encourage any reader who hasn’t been to these unique Canadian places to make the effort. You won’t be disappointed! Maybe you’ll even see a Rustic Bunting as we did while on Haida Gwaii – not by any means a particularly splendid looking bird but probably one of my most memorable sightings of the year if only because a) it’s very rare and b) I actually got a decent photo of it! 

I have always enjoyed seabirds and we did quite a bit of pelagic birding during the course of the year.  Indeed, we spent a lot more time on boats than any of us expected. Phil kept count of our various boat trips and I can’t recall the final count but it must have been close to 50!  We made several trips out of Brier Island, NS into the Bay of Fundy and here again is a place I would highly recommend to our readers. Not only is the pelagic birding rewarding but so is the whaling!  

One of my personal goals last year was to bring my Canada Bird Life List up to a more respectable 425 species. I’m delighted to report that I soared above this target, reaching 442 by year end! Maybe I can edge that up to 450 during the coming year? Another goal was to become a bit more knowledgeable about Canadian mammals during the course of the year. I enjoyed the mammaling but I’d have to say that all our mammal chasing really taught me was just how appallingly little I know about them! Like Brian however, I’m hoping to bring my tally of Canadian mammals seen up to a nice round 100 eventually.

This will be my final posting on this site so what better time than now to thank Brian, Mike and Phil for a splendid year of good fellowship and shared adventures all across this great country. We set out to do this Big Year as a team and that's exactly what we did! May we have many more birding experiences together in the years to come!

And finally – a big thank you to my wife Agnes.  Agnes supported my participation in this Canada Big Year 100% - right from the start!  Whenever asked, Agnes declares with considerable energy that she is most certainly NOT a “Birder”.  She does however admit to being a “Birder’s Companion”. In 2013 we’re hoping to do some international travelling together and while such travels never focus exclusively on birding I’m sure that at one point or another, she will once again be this Birder’s Companion!  I'm a lucky birder indeed!
Good birding everyone!

Final thoughts from Phil

Brian has posted excellent summaries of Fur and Feathers 500, and there is not much more to be said about our great adventure. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t add my own thanks to those who made it possible.

First, to the many birders across the country who gave willingly of their time to help us find regional specialties. Your companionship made for an extra dimension to the year which was unexpected and highly appreciated. One moment among many stands out: Anne Hughes perching precariously on the cliff top at Cape St. Mary to find us Thick-billed Murres among the many seabirds nesting on the cliffs, and the fog lifting just in time.
Secondly, to my fellow fur and featherers, Brian, Mike and Ray. Most Big Years are conceived as solo efforts. Ours was different, a team event, which made for a year which was full of fun, both the long hours in the field and the brief periods of relaxation. Eating chocolate-coated almonds to celebrate a success, mid-afternoon ice cream cones as a pick-me up, and tasting local beers from across the country became important rituals for our tribe. We ended the year having enriched our friendship, with absolutely no friction along the way – remarkable!

To the readers of this blog, your interest was a great source of inspiration. Writing the blog was not always the first thing we wanted to work on late in the evening, but the discipline of keeping our readers up-to-date meant that we documented our journey as we went along and provided us with a valuable record. It was also a great showcase for many of Brian and Ray’s wonderful photos, and one of mine, which I never stopped talking about!
Finally, to my wife Rae and our family, my heartfelt thanks for your love and support for my participation in Fur and Feathers 500. It was a very eventful year for our family, and I will never forget your generosity in allowing me to head off on all those trips, sometimes at very difficult times.

A Happy New Year to everyone: I hope you will be able to realize your own dreams.


Sunday, 6 January 2013

Thanks to all for a great year

Our big year ended last Monday with a New Year’s Eve dinner with our wives and a get-together at Phil’s to bring in the new year.  I observed carefully but still no wild humans to add to the list!
Our team celebrating the year - back: Brian, Phil, Mike, Ray  front: Jo, Barb, Rae, Agnes
The big year was a major undertaking and we couldn’t have done it without a lot of help.  First and foremost on the list is our wives who put up with our many absences and looked after the household while we were away.  My wife Barb said to me afterwards, “I’m glad you did it but I don’t want you ever to do it again!”
Our wives sporting their Fur & Feathers tshirts - Agnes (Ray), Barb (Brian), Rae (Phil) and Jo (Mike)
The four of us worked well as a team – I took the lead in planning, Ray made most of the contacts with other birders, Phil handled travel logistics and Mike chipped in with his extensive knowledge and experience.

Planning was a big task and we used as many resources as we could.  J. Cam Finlay’s 2000 revised edition, “A Bird-Finding Guide to Canada” helped in the initial planning stages and we also used it occasionally on the road.  One or more of us belonged to 9 different provincial internet groups – these were a great source of information about rarities in the areas we would be visiting.  Thanks to all of the contributors for making these groups a success.  In particular, I’d like to thank a couple of professionals whose regular contributions over the years were very helpful in the planning process – Bruce Mactavish in Newfoundland and Chris Charlesworth in the BC interior.  Russ Cannings’s BC Bird Alert and his personal blogs were also very helpful and Russ also provided us with a fair bit of BC bird finding info in person and by email.
The four of us are competent birders but we found it very helpful to enlist the help of experienced local birders whenever we could.  James Hirtle in Nova Scotia, Anne Hughes in Newfoundland, Dick Cannings and Rick Schortinghuis in BC all went out with us on multiple days and helped find almost all of our target birds – thanks a lot, guys.  We also had some help from Rob Woods, Dorothy Poole and Johnny Nickerson in NS, Cameron Eckert in the Yukon, Ron Jensen in SK, the two Jeremys – Gatten and Kimm – on our west coast pelagic and the Masset gang – Margot Hearn, Peter Hamel and Martin Williams – on Haida Gwaii.  Along the way, we met many other friendly birders who also were very helpful.  In the Calgary area, our friends were aware of our big year and passed along useful sighting information – thanks Bob, Ray, Dan, Bob, Malcolm and Joan.  We’ve had a lot of help from a lot of birders so my apologies if I’ve missed a name or two.

I’d also like to thank the many feeder watchers across the country that made their yards accessible to us and other birders.  There are too many to list but some of our best birds like Dickcissel, Yellow-throated Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, Costa’s Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker and Northern Wheatear were seen in people’s yards.
Hepatic Tanager - Wadena, SK
Blogging was new to us and turned out to be a lot of fun.  Your comments made us feel connected with our readers.  We even experienced 30 seconds of fame when we were recognized in Point Pelee by a nice group of ladies from Calgary (who teased us with their American Marten sighting – we finally saw one a few weeks ago for our final mammal species of the year).

The blogging stats gave us some idea of how many people were looking at the blog and how they found us.  Our 36,000 page views pales somewhat in comparison to the "eagle snatching a kid" video but it was never our objective to go viral.  Thanks to all fellow bloggers had links to our site (I was somewhat remiss in not posting reciprocal links); some of the main traffic sources were Bob Lefebvre’s Calgary Birding blog:, the Prairie Birder, Charlotte Wasylik: and Josh Vandermeulen in Ontario (congratulations Josh on setting the Ontario big year record):
In August of 2011, I announced our big year intentions as well as a number of personal goals.  I’m happy to say that all but one were achieved.  With 507 species, our team surpassed our goal of 500 bird and mammal species in Canada (revised upward from an initial 450 objective).  We did get to all 13 provinces and territories and saw some special places along the way.  My favourite places – places I’d like to take my wife – were les Iles de la Madeleine (thanks for suggesting it, Blake), the Dempster highway in YT, the Arctic (of which Repulse Bay was a great example) and Haida Gwaii.
Coastline near Old Harry, les Iles de la Madeleine
Cruising through the ice near Repulse Bay
Queen Charlotte City, Haida Gwaii
I think we were successful in doing a “relaxed” big year (if one ignores the crazy 20 hour overnight trip to SK for the Hepatic Tanager!).  We all have remained happily married though our points balance is in need of replenishing.

My Canada bird list now stands at 460, 10 ahead of my 450 target.  I photographed 470 species or 93% of the species we saw which surpassed my target of 90%.  My missed target – the Yellow Rail was only heard, not seen … maybe this year.  Although not a goal, we had some fun with ATPAT (all territories and provinces added together).  ATPAT provided a secondary focus when there weren’t many new species around and Ray, Phil and I all surpassed the old record for Canada “ticks” in a year.

We are in the final stages of preparing a photo book of our big year.  This is not a commercial endeavour but just for our own memories.  However, when it is ready, I will post a link to the book so that you can browse through it.
Where to from here?  This will be my last post to this blog (other than posting the photo book link); the others may post their reflections on the big year.  I have started up my own blog:  Fur and Feathers 5000 so perhaps some of you will follow my new adventures.  Check it out at:

Thanks again to all of you who have supported us and good birding.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

A Look Back at the Mammals of our Big Year

Mammals were a wonderful complement to birds while doing our big year.  They were the source of some of our most memorable moments and also of some of our greatest frustrations.  With one day to go, we are at 76 mammals … enough to help us reach our 500 target but a little below expectations.

Our mammal highlight of the year was undoubtedly our Polar Bear sighting near Repulse Bay in Nunavut. We were out in a boat and our guide, Steve, spotted the bear onshore on a hillside. Steve said that a bear will normally disappear when they see humans but this one went down to the shore and swam toward us. When the bear got close, it jumped up onto the ice and gave us spectacular views. Phil was feeling pretty smug as he took a wonderful shot with his compact camera while Ray and I had to do with close-ups of the bear’s head.

Polar Bear
Polar Bear swimming along side the boat
The other mammal highlight that sticks out in my mind is finding the Vancouver Island Marmot on the slopes of Mount Washington on Vancouver Island.  This animal is one of the world’s rarest and most endangered species though captive breeding programs have had some success.  The ski hill was a known location for the marmot but some knowledgeable experts gave us little chance of seeing it.  With four scopes scanning the slopes, eventually one darted out from cover and gave us all decent looks.
Red Squirrel - the most common mammal
The best provinces for mammals were Alberta with 36 species and BC with 33.  Alberta could have been even better had we driven the Banff-Jasper Highway as this is one of the best places I know of for mammal viewing.  We did see mammals in every province and territory; Newfoundland had the fewest with just 2 species.  46 species were seen in only one province/territory – BC had 16 species and Alberta 13; New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and the Northwest Territories did not have any unique species.  The mammal seen in the most regions was Red Squirrel (11/13) followed by Muskrat (8/13) and Red Fox (6/13).

During the year, a couple of people commented upon hearing our mammal total that they didn’t think there were that many mammals in Canada.  "The Natural History of Canadian Mammals" by Donna Naughton includes 215 species in 10 orders.  If one were to do a mammal big year for Canada, I think 100 species is possible without resorting to trapping them.  However, unless you are a nocturnal and patient person, I don’t recommend doing just mammals.
Following is a brief rundown by order on the mammals we saw and didn’t see this year.

Order Didelphimorphia: New World opossums (0/1)
We expected to see an opossum in southern Ontario but had no luck on a pre-dawn walk nor on any night drives; we didn’t even see any road kill.

Order Primates: humans (0/1)
Of course we saw thousands of humans but all seemed to be of the domesticated variety (though I know of a one or two with a wild streak!). If we were one short of our target, we might have had to count this one!

Red-tailed Chipmunk showing off his red tail
Order Rodentia: rodents (29/70)
We did very well with the squirrels and marmots family (22/23), missing only the Southern Flying Squirrel.  However, we did poorly with voles and lemmings (2/24).  The population of these small animals is cyclical and we appeared to have done our big year at a low point in the cycle.  In Nunavut, we talked to a Peregrine Falcon researcher who had been out in the field every day for three months and he had seen only a couple voles and lemmings.
American Pika
Order Lagomorphia: pikas, hares and rabbits (7/9)
We had expected to get most of the lagomorphs and missed only Arctic Hare and European Hare.

Order Soricomorpha: shrews and moles (0/25)
We knew these little guys would be tough but thought we might come across one in some leaf litter.  We met a mammologist who studied shrews and when we asked him how we could find one, he replied, “you won’t”!

Little Brown Myotis
Order Chiroptera: bats (2/20)
The two bats that we did see, Big Brown Bat and Little Brown Myotis, were both at known roosts in Alberta.  We did try for some other species at known locations but came up empty.  White-nose syndrome is a fungal disease that is decimating bat populations and may have been the reason that there were no bats in a cave that we explored in Nova Scotia.
Order Carnivora: cats, dogs, bears, seals, weasels, skunks and raccoons (19/39)This order had some of our most wanted mammals – Polar Bear was a success story but, apart from some Cougar tracks, didn’t see any of the wild cats. We did see a feral cat which we aren’t counting but that is another species that we were keeping in our back pocket. If you’ve been following the blog, you know that we worked hard to see Striped Skunk and American Badger (i.e. many unsuccessful searches). As a team, we never did see Long-tailed Weasel or Gray Wolf though other family members did!
American Mink
Order Perissodactyla: horses (1/1)
We were pleased with ourselves when we tracked down some wild horses west of Sundre (about  a 2 hour drive from Calgary) on a full-day outing.  A few weeks later, we were quite surprised to see one on the roadside on the outskirts of Penticton which got us wondering why we had gone after them in Alberta.
Order Artiodactyla: deer, bison, sheep, and other even-toed ungulates (11/12)
The animals in this order graze out in the open so we expected to get most, if not all of them.  We missed Muskox, mainly because we didn’t venture into its main territory.  We did fly over its range but cloud cover negated any opportunity to see this Arctic mammals.

Fallow Deer
Order Cetacea: whales, dolphins and porpoises (7/37)
We put a lot of effort into finding these sea mammals with only moderate success.  Our trips included two off the west coast of Vancouver Island, three from Brier Island, one in the St. Lawrence River and numerous ferry trips on both coasts.  The biggest problem was the way whale watching companies operate – once they find a whale, they tend to stay on it and don’t care if they don’t see any other species.  This happened to us three times, first with a Gray Whale sighting in the Pacific, next with a Humpback Whale in the Bay of Fundy and finally with a pod of Minke Whales in the St. Lawrence River.  Our biggest miss was Killer Whale which we did see but the ferry was in U.S. waters at the time.  One other thing about whale watching, you very seldom see much of the whale, usually just the spout, the back and then the tail.

Tail of a North Atlantic Right Whale
We had high hopes to see Narwhal and Bowhead Whale in the Repulse Bay area but ice kept us from venturing more than three kilometres from the village.  Walrus and Bearded Seal were also good possibilities if not for the ice.

A final bit of advice before doing a mammal big year – do your homework!  There is not the same network of amateur information as exists for the birding world so you would do well to develop some contacts within academia.  We went in cold not having done too much in the way of actively looking for mammals – it would be well worth it to develop some expertise before jumping into a big year.
As for the best spots to view mammals in Canada, I suggest the mountain national parks (Banff, Jasper, Waterton and Yoho), Vancouver Island and southwestern BC, whale watching trips from Brier Island, the Dempster Highway in the Yukon Territory and wherever you can afford to go in Nunavut.

Good mammaling everyone.




Saturday, 29 December 2012

A Look Back at the Birds of our Big Year

The birds were pretty cooperative for us this year – at the beginning of the year we were hoping to get about 420 species and we now have 431.  Our big year was different than most as we worked as a team rather than individuals, we were looking for mammals in addition to birds and we wanted to visit every province and territory (some of which one would not likely visit if doing just a birding big year). 

Still, we ended up with a pretty good total and may have broken the Canada big year record. I say“may” because we don’t know what the record is!
We believe that Peter Hamel, whom we met on Haida Gwaii, set the record in 1988. He didn’t say what his total was but he did indicate that it would be 436 using 2012 taxonomy.

Blue-headed Vireo (l) and Cassin's Vireo (r) - formerly subspecies of Solitary Vireo
There have been a number of splits since 1988 such as Baltimore/Bullock’s Oriole, Pacific/Winter Wren, Spotted/Eastern Towhee, Gray-cheeked/Bicknell’s Thrush, Canada/Cackling Goose, Dusky/Sooty Grouse, and Blue-headed/Cassin’s Vireo), perhaps a lump (Common Teal/Green-winged Teal?) and delisting of the Crested Myna. Regardless, his total seems quite amazing considering that internet birding groups didn't exist back then and email was in its infancy.

We did see a lot of great birds (with the help of a lot of great people!) including some life birds for each of us.  Certainly rarities rank among the highlights and the rarest ones (from a Canadian perspective) were Citrine Wagtail, Hepatic Tanager, Rustic Bunting, Brambling, Brown Pelican, Acorn Woodpecker and Costa’s Hummingbird – all but the tanager were seen in B.C.

Rustic Bunting (BC)
We ended up with four “heard only” birds – Yellow Rail, Boreal Owl, Chuck-will’s Widow and Bicknell’s Thrush.  One of my goals was to see a Yellow Rail and this was about the only personal goal that I did not achieve during the course of the year.

Before starting the year, we constructed a spreadsheet with Canada’s birds assigned to one of three categories: “should get”, “could be tough”, and “not expected”.  We found 383 of the 391 “should get” birds and the ones we missed are:  Flesh-footed Shearwater (which should have been in the “could be tough” group) Leach’s Storm-Petrel, Ancient Murrelet, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Acadian Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Golden-winged Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush.  Note that the last five are all Ontario breeding birds – I’ll touch on that later.
We found 40 of the 71 “could be tough” birds and found 8 birds that we had not expected: the seven rarities listed above and the Pacific Golden-plover (which should have been in the “could be tough” group).
Pacific Golden-Plover (BC)
We did not keep track of “team” birds by province, so the following statistics are based on my personal records.  The province/territory with the most birds was B.C. (5 trips) with 265 species; Nunavut (1 trip) had the least with 25 species.  Out of 431 species, 126 were seen in only one province.  The top 3 provinces in this category were B.C. with 63, Ontario with 32 and Nova Scotia with 10.  Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories and Nunavut did not have any unique species for us and Quebec and Manitoba had just one each.  Only two species – Canada Goose and Common Raven – were seen in every province/territory.  Seven other species were seen in all but one province/territory:  Mallard, Bald Eagle, Herring Gull, Northern Flicker, American Robin, Yellow Warbler and Savannah Sparrow.
Common Raven - one of 2 species seen in every province and territory
You’ve read about our adventures and how much fun we had traveling throughout Canada so perhaps you’d like to do your own Canada big year.  Well, all it takes is a bit of research, some good contacts and lots of time and money! If you focus just on birds, it should be possible to record 450+ species in Canada in one year.  To do so, it would be helpful to be based in southern Ontario or southwestern B.C. or perhaps Nova Scotia.

This year, over 500 bird species have been seen in Canada so we missed more than 70 of them.  Of the 70+ missed species, over 30 were in Ontario, 20 in BC and 11 in Nova Scotia.  Canada is a very big country and unless one has unlimited funds, our strategy of planned trips versus chasing rarities worked pretty well.  Following is a run-down of what worked well for us and what one might do differently for a birding big year.
Dovekie (NL)
Our first trip was to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in January.  With lots of help, we recorded some key species that would be difficult to get another time or place:  Purple Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, and Dovekie.  We missed Thick-billed Murre (which we did get in the summer), Slaty-backed Gull and a Blue Grosbeak that had been seen in St. John’s.  Dickcissel and Northern Mockingbird were bonus birds for us which we did not get again (though both species have been reported in various locations).  A winter stopover in Ontario could have added 2 or 3 species such as King Eider, Fish Crow and Black Vulture.

We could have taken the next two months off but the excitement of building our list kept us busy in Alberta.  Our late March trip to BC was timed to get the wintering birds before they departed and to get some early nesting birds with Hutton’s Vireo and Williamson’s Sapsucker as the primary targets.  This was a very successful trip including a Costa’s Hummingbird in Vancouver.  We missed Ancient Murrelet and I think there had been a Lesser Goldfinch reported earlier in the year so a winter trip to the coast may have been worthwhile.

We spent the first two weeks of May in the Point Pelee area and recorded 190 species which was what we expected (and what one might get on a commercial birding tour).  We picked the first two weeks rather than the 2nd and 3rd weeks thinking we might get some southern overshoots and also get some early arriving late migrants.  We did get some southern birds including Yellow-throated Warbler, Summer Tanager and Chuck-will's-widow (heard only) but missed overshoots that were seen by others like Kentucky Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler. Eastern Whip-poor-will, Golden-winged Warbler, Little Gull also eluded us as did late arriving migrants such as Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Acadian Flycatcher.  There were also some rare breeders that we didn’t have enough local knowledge to track down: King Rail, Northern Bobwhite.  Clearly, one should spend more time in Ontario than a single two week visit.  For us, a few days later in the spring should have picked up most of the breeding species that we missed.
Summer Tanager (ON)
We made our second trip to B.C. to finish up with the breeding birds such as Gray Flycatcher, Common Poorwill and Flammulated Owl; our only miss was Sage Thrasher.  There are also some rare breeders that we didn’t go after: Horned Puffin and Spotted Owl.
The prairies, our home turf, were good to us.  In April, May & June, some day trips and a couple of overnight trips to eastern Alberta/western Saskatchewan got us prairie specialties such as Greater Sage-Grouse, Burrowing Owl, Baird’s Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow and McCown’s Longspur.  The only species that we missed was the Mountain Plover – not surprising as we didn’t look for it at the right time of year.  I have seen them previously in the last week in April; others have reported success early in June once the young have fledged.

Greater Sage-Grouse (SK)
We had originally planned to go to Churchill but dropped it from our itinerary as the Yukon offered pretty much the same species and we were going to the Yukon regardless.  We were there the first week of June.  Based on our experience, the last week of May might have been better but we did see most of our targets including Smith’s Longspur, Willow Ptarmigan, Rock Ptarmigan (world’s worst views of a distant bird looking very much like a rock except for occasional movement), Long-tailed Jaeger and Gyrfalcon.  We went onto Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk but didn’t add anything.  A week earlier, one might get some migrants; a little later one might find King Eider or Yellow-billed Loon (both of which we missed).
Smith's Longspur (YT)
We did an east coast summer trip (Iles de la Madeleine, PEI, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland) at the end of June.  Once again, it was a successful trip recording key species such as Roseate Tern, American Oystercatcher, Bicknell’s Thrush (heard only) and Thick-billed Murre as well as nesting seabirds.  Our pelagic off of Brier Island was moderately successful with Manx Shearwater and Wilson’s Storm-petrel but no Cory’s Shearwater.  We also picked up some common species that we missed elsewhere – Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Black-billed Woodpecker and Mourning Warbler.  If we had been doing a birding only big year, we probably would have just focused on Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Roseate Tern (NS)
We took it easy from mid-July to mid-August – I highly recommend a break now and then to recharge.  Besides, about the only birds one might go after in mid-summer are Arctic birds such as King Eider (though they are regularly reported in Ontario in winter), Ross’s Gull and Ivory Gull.  The best way to see these birds is probably by cruise ship – this option was way beyond our budget.  We did go to Repulse Bay, Nunavut in late August which was not the best time for birds.  

Fall gives you another crack at the migrants as they head south and we made two trips to BC and one to Nova Scotia.  In BC, we made only one pelagic trip (apart from ferries) and saw expected species such as Black-footed Albatross and Pink-footed Shearwater.  A couple more pelagics might have been useful to find species such as Flesh-footed Shearwater, Leach’s Storm-Petrel, Buller’s Shearwater and any rarities wandering into the coastal waters. 

Black-footed Albatross (BC)
On the east coast, we did pick up a couple of species we missed in BC – Red Phalarope and Pomarine Jaeger – and probably had a South Polar Skua but couldn’t be sure.  We were hoping for some less common species such as Yellow-crowned Night Heron that had been seen earlier and Prairie Warbler which is regular in the fall but had no luck.  A Northern Wheatear west of Truro was a nice bonus bird.

In October, we made a quick trip to Saskatchewan for the Whooping Crane … easily done from Alberta but a long trip from most other provinces for just a single bird.
Our last planned trip was to Haida Gwaii in mid-October.  This trip offered the chance for some uncommon birds that we still needed, a second try for some pelagic birds and the chance of an Asian rarity or two.  We added Rock Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Short-tailed Shearwater and also saw a couple of Asian vagrants – Brambling and Rustic Bunting.  Anyone doing a Canada big year would be well advised to spend a week or two on Haida Gwaii.

Rock Sandpiper (BC)
Our last couple of trips were not planned far in advance but undertaken due to a couple of mega-rarities – Hepatic Tanager in Saskatchewan and Citrine Wagtail in BC.  The BC trip also offered Brown Pelicans and a final (but unsuccessful) chance at Ancient Murrelet and Tropical Kingbird. 
Late fall is clearly the time for rarities with good birds being reported in Ontario (thanks to Hurricane Sandy) and both coasts.  If doing a big year, it would be worthwhile to spend some October/November time in any or all of these locations.

One last thing, it helps to be young with good ears and eyes but you can do a big year at any age.  Mike, who is now 81, was truly an inspiration to the rest of the team.  He did miss our Arctic adventures as well as a couple of fall trips but not because he was at home taking it easy – instead he organized and led trips to Texas and Brazil and also made a solo trip to Costa Rica!  I’ll be happy if I can be half as active in 20 years’ time.
Good birding everyone,