Highland Birder Records Over 700 Species During 2010 “Big Year”

Bluegrass, Va – Highland County resident John Spahr traveled over 90,000 miles in 2010 to see as many bird species as possible. That is known as a “Big Year” in the parlance of the birding community. John and his wife Nancy live in Staunton most of the year, but they have a second home near Blue Grass, Virginia. John was the featured speaker at the recent meeting of the Bath-Highland Bird Club. John talks about how he got involved in his “Big Year.”

“I got interested in this after I read the book The Big Year’ a number of years ago,” says Spahr. “Then a few years ago, a birding friend of mine, Bob Ake decided he was going to do one; he was going to do it in 2009 and I asked him if he could possibly consider postponing that by one year and then I would join him in 2010 which is my first year of retirement.”

Bob Ake, who lives in Norfolk, Virginia, did indeed agree to postpone his “Big Year” to 2010. So it was, on a January day, John and Bob started their North American birding adventure by recording 81 species of birds. It was an auspicious start for their once in a lifetime year of birding travels.

“Other places that we went to include Arizona twice, California three or four times, Alaska twice, Nevada twice, Michigan, several trips to New England, Florida and a few places in between,” says Spahr.

To find birds requires traveling to many locations since birds have favorite habitats and places where they spend most of their time. Many birds migrate seasonally and have favorite breeding grounds, so anyone doing a big year has to time their travels carefully to see as many birds as possible.

“By the end of March we cleaned up pretty well,” he says, “we got many of the wintering birds, and then the spring migration began in March, April, and then we had a whole new subset of species to go after.”

And go after them they did, logging mile after mile, in hopes of finding more bird species at each stop. By mid-summer John and Bob had reached a milestone.

“And so by the middle of July we had already attained our modest goal of 650 species which we thought would be a reasonable but modest goal for the entire year,” he says. “Since we accomplished that we thought it would be reasonable to go beyond that and see if we could get 700 species. Very few people have ever tabulated 700 species in one year in this area.”

By the end of this birding odyssey, John had recorded 704 species, a total that puts him in the top ten for North American Big Years. Bob made a few extra trips on his own and ended up with 731 species, the second highest total ever attained in North America. In a trip with so many accomplishments and adventures it was hard to pick highlights.

“But we had some wonderful travels together,” says Spahr. “They were all essentially highlights for me because I had done relatively little traveling birding in the western part of North America. Alaska was very special because I’d never been there before and we made two trips to Alaska.”

You can travel along with this intrepid pair by visiting Bob’s blog with over 300 messages written during their travels at www.bobsbirds.blogspot.com.

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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