To join Greg on one of these tours visit BigYearTours.com or call 888-875-9453

In 1998, Greg zig-zagged 130,000 miles across the USA, while trying to hold down a full-time job, aspiring to reach at least 700 species of birds in one calendar year. "The Big Year," a novel by Mark Obmascik detailed his travails alongside two competitors. The book was later turned into a movie of the same title that starred Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson!

Category Archives: Big Year Update

Where’s Greg? (Nov 2019 edition)

Where’s Greg? (Nov 2019 edition)

Me with my handicapped brother, Brent

For the last (almost) 3 years I have been spending a lot more time caregiving. My brother has been intellectually handicapped since birth. It’s a mutation in the gene KPTN that also causes epilepsy. He requires full care including diaper changes, clothing, bathing, feeding, and personal care. He is also non verbal and does not even respond to yes or no questions. This is difficult when something is obviously causing him pain but we don’t know where. In the last 3 years Brent has lost his ability to walk or stand. Everything we do at home now involves a full body sling, lifts, and wheelchairs.

But many of you already knew this. Thank you for your patience and understanding. We have 40 hrs/week of help from Medicaid on weekdays. Brent still lives at home with my 88-year-old mom, Charlene. I’m pretty sure she wears a cape and has super powers. She’s an angel of a human and has spent her life caring for Brent. I also have a healthy brother, Ned, who has a full time job. He’s been amazingly supportive through all this and helps out on weekends and every time I am gone. So when you see me at a festival, it’s because of him that I can travel away from home for short periods of time. It’s a great strain on him to work all day, go straight to mom’s, and help her with the evening duties every single day, then all day on weekends. This is why I’ve trimmed back on my travel. And it’s why you don’t see me as often.

Team Miller requires effort around the clock, 7 days a week. There are no vacations in caregiving. If one of us (like me) is gone off to a festival, it means that 3 people are now doing the work of 4 people. I am deeply grateful for the support we have from those that help with Brent. But I am also thankful for those of you who understand why I am not out birding all the time.

In caregiving, it is of utmost importance that the caregiver is healthy. In a small team like ours, if one of us has health issues then we are contributing to the care load and at the same time diminishing the resources. And that brings me to 2019.

I’ve been battling type 2 diabetes for more than a decade. And obesity. And high blood pressure. And high cholesterol. And high triglycerides. I’ve been a walking time bomb. I tried a number of diets. And exercise. But the more times I failed, the more horrible I felt about myself. I wrestled with the monstrous emotions of guilt and shame. Because I was at fault for all of this, right? I was eating too much food and not exercising enough. That is what I was told. That is what I believed.

The last straw for me happened this spring. I had a peep of hope. I had done a mostly vegetarian, low fat version of the Mediterranean Diet. I had lost 10 lbs since my last doctor’s visit. And I had increased my daily exercise. But I was dismayed at my blood numbers. My hbA1C went up instead of down. I became more diabetic—not less. My triglycerides also went the wrong direction. I had already doubled down on my efforts to eat less, eat better, and exercise more. That was what I was supposed to do, right?

Then I visited my sister, Ann, in Ft. Worth on my way to Galveston FeatherFest. I recounted my frustration with my failed efforts at lowering my blood sugar. She told me that at my level of blood sugar that I may be starting to get some permanent eye damage. Permanent eye damage? I have already lost a good deal of hearing. Losing eyesight too? That is too much to bear for this birder. She suggested that I take a look at the Keto Diet. I didn’t have a clue. I never heard of it. What’s a Keto?

I spent the next couple weeks doing a deep dive into this Ketogenic Diet. I am 61 and have struggled with obesity most of my adult life. I’ve done at least 20 different diets in my lifetime. I’ve probably lost about 20 lbs on each of those diets. And I don’t think any diet lasted more than a month. Every diet left me feeling weak and deprived and often foggy-brained. So 20 diets times 20 lbs is 400 lbs. I’ve lost over 400 lbs in my lifetime and I’m fatter and more diabetic. And I felt like even a worse human being. So I was not about to try yet another diet just for the sake of weight loss. I wanted some evidence. I desperately needed a solution for my health problems.

My quest for evidence led me to Virta Health (virtahealth.com) where I found a study where they had a 60% reversal of diabetes with their version of this ketogenic diet. The diet they recommended was very low in carbohydrates, moderate protein, and high in fat. This is so counter to everything I’ve heard for decades. But reversing diabetes is something that I had never heard of either. I couldn’t afford their program. So I watched their YouTube videos and read the information on their website. Since then I’ve read books, watched videos, and listened to podcasts from many other people, too. I decided to give this diet a try for 5 months. That was the date of my next visit to the doctor’s office.

About 8 years of blood lab resuts

And bam! Success! DIABETES REVERSED! I am off all my blood sugar medication. My high blood pressure? Gone. I am off all my high blood pressure medications. I am medication-free! The best side effect of this diet? The weight loss. I’m down 45 lbs since I started this 6 months ago.

Different people have different results. For me the results were dramatic. I’ve never been on a diet where I don’t have to be hungry, tired, or less-than-functional. So if you’ve got a diet that works for you, great. But if you’re searching then I suggest you start at Virta Health for information and evidence to help keep you motivated. Also, you should know that I have no ties to Virta Health. I get no money. I don’t know anybody. And they don’t know me. But I am thankful that I have finally found a way to be healthy longer.

If you want to help out, I’d be honored if you traveled with the folks who’ve bent over backwards in their support for my situation, Wildside Nature Tours (wildsidenaturetours.com) I am very privileged to be a part of such a great team of people. We have some amazingly talented guides who are doing a wonderful job. I want you to treat them as you would me.

I’m at the Wildside Nature Tours booth this week at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. Drop by and say “Hi”!

Maine: A Place of Serendipity

Lighthouse off the coast of Maine -digital art by Greg Miller

Maine holds a special place in my heart. It is a place where I love to visit. The mountains beckon. The incredible rocky seashores are striking. And the islands off the coast are home to many seafaring birds. Maine has a great concentration of nesting passerines, too. Many of our migrant warblers end their journey in Maine to breed.

The mornings are often cool and crisp, but inviting. Foggy mornings often give me a feeling of mystery. My curiosity is always aroused. What is out there that I cannot see? (In a good way, I mean–not like a horror movie!)

By early June, the forests are carpeted with rocks, moss and lichens. It is absolutely beautiful. Hiking in the forests here is like treading on sacred ground. It gives me such a sense of awe. The stands of trees allow rays of light to gently touch the forest floor. And the sound of a tiny Winter Wren sounds almost other-worldly.

Maine has good food, too. Of course there is seafood. Yes, there is lobster. But you should also try lobster roll while you are there. Or a whoopie pie. Or blueberry anything–like blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes, blueberry scones, blueberry jam, blueberry ice cream, and blueberry pie for starters.

Off the coast one can find Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Black Guillemots, Arctic Terns, and Common Murres. Along the coastline there are Common Eiders and Black Scoters. On land one can find a number of nesting warbler species, flycatchers, and other passerines. And one can hunt for a few boreal species like Bicknell’s Thrush, Canada Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Spruce Grouse, and Black-backed Woodpecker.

This is a very enjoyable Big Year Tour with Wildside Nature Tours. You can check out all the details here. This year, 2019, it will run from June 2-June 8.

Warblers – Where To Go And When

Spring is finally here. Well. Early spring. Weather teases us with warmer temperatures and then bashes us with the last blasts of winter’s fury. It’s an up and down time for weather. But the birds know that change is in the air. And birds are looking for favorable winds from the south to help them on their perilous journeys north to their breeding grounds.

If you are like me then you love that family of small cheerful birds called warblers. These are wonderfully colorful gems that grace us with their presence on their way. If you get to see a Blackburnian Warbler (pictured above) you may be seeing a bird that has traveled from as far away as Ecuador! They must have so many stories…

This is a large family of birds in North America with over 50 species. Chances are good that you have seen at least some of them no matter what your level of experience. But even if you get out birding often, you may still have a few holes in your checklist. And you want to fill them. I hope I can help you with that.

Below is a list of warblers (in 2016 taxonomic order). Data is taken from eBird from 2006-2016. Counties are taken from my own list of most-eBirded counties (most eBirded means counties with the most checklists) in the United States for that 10-year period. Peak dates are narrowed down to the week that gives a birder the highest probability of adding this species to their checklist. The %ofChecklists column is the same as eBird’s frequency of checklists. For example, if a county has 1,000 total checklists for a given week and yellow warbler was marked (one or more individuals) as seen on 600 of those checklists then the %ofChecklists would 60%. So that 60% would represent your relative probability of adding it to your checklist.

Below is a list of all the warblers recorded in eBird between 2006 and 2016 (I’ve included Yellow-breasted Chat for us old folks). Note that for rare species, the data I have can easily be skewed by one cooperative bird showing up in an easily accessible public spot. But for most everything else I think you’ll find the results to be quite accurate.

-Greg Miller

SpeciesStateCountyPeak% of Checklists
OvenbirdConnecticutLitchfieldJun 22-3062.7%
Worm-eating WarblerFloridaMiami-DadeSep 15-2142.0%
Louisiana WaterthrushKentuckyPulaskiJun 1-732.5%
Northern WaterthrushNew YorkQueensAug 15-2145.1%
Golden-winged WarblerIowaJohnsonMay 8-1422.2%
Blue-winged WarblerNew YorkDutchessMay 15-2138.6%
Black-and-white WarblerNew YorkNew YorkMay 1-763.3%
Prothonotary WarblerLouisianaEast Baton RougeJun 8-1439.8%
Swainson’s WarblerTexasJeffersonApr 8-1410.0%
Crescent-chested WarblerArizonaSanta CruzJan 22-310.5%
Tennessee WarblerKentuckyPulaskiSep 22-3053.6%
Orange-crowned WarblerTexasHidalgoDec 1-767.4%
Colima WarblerTexasBrewsterMay 22-3113.3%
Lucy’s WarblerArizonaYavapaiApr 1-729.1%
Nashville WarblerWisconsinMilwaukeeMay 8-1443.7%
Virginia’s WarblerNew MexicoLos AlamosMay 8-1416.2%
Connecticut WarblerGeorgiaClarkeMay 8-148.8%
Gray-crowned YellowthroatTexasHidalgoFeb 1-72.6%
MacGillivray’s WarblerPennsylvaniaDauphinNov 22-3024.8%
Mourning WarblerTexasHidalgoSep 8-1418.1%
Kentucky WarblerKentuckyPulaskiJun 1-738.6%
Common YellowthroatKentuckyPulaskiJun 1-772.3%
Hooded WarblerGeorgiaCobbApr 22-3040.7%
American RedstartNew YorkNew YorkMay 15-2163.8%
Kirtland’s WarblerOhioMontgomeryMay 1-78.3%
Cape May WarblerOhioLucasMay 8-1434.5%
Cerulean WarblerIndianaMonroeMay 15-2121.8%
Northern ParulaFloridaSeminoleAug 15-2158.2%
Tropical ParulaTexasHidalgoJan 15-214.4%
Magnolia WarblerKentuckyPulaskiSep 22-3064.3%
Bay-breasted WarblerOhioLucasMay 15-2136.7%
Blackburnian WarblerOhioLucasMay 8-1436.1%
Yellow WarblerNew YorkSenecaMay 15-2171.0%
Chestnut-sided WarblerGeorgiaCobbSep 22-3047.7%
Blackpoll WarblerNew YorkNew YorkMay 15-2148.7%
Black-throated Blue WarblerNew YorkNew YorkMay 8-1456.2%
Palm WarblerFloridaPolkNov 8-1474.0%
Pine WarblerGeorgiaCobbApr 8-1458.8%
Yellow-rumped WarblerMississippiHancockDec 15-2178.8%
Yellow-throated WarblerKentuckyPulaskiJun 1-745.8%
Prairie WarblerFloridaMonroeSep 1-757.3%
Grace’s WarblerArizonaCoconinoJun 8-1413.8%
Black-throated Gray WarblerCaliforniaVenturaOct 8-1428.8%
Townsend’s WarblerCaliforniaSan FranciscoOct 1-745.2%
Hermit WarblerCaliforniaMariposaJun 15-2129.5%
Golden-cheeked WarblerTexasTravisMar 22-3114.3%
Black-throated Green WarblerMaineHancockMay 22-3156.3%
Fan-tailed WarblerTexasBrewsterSep 1-74.7%
Rufous-capped WarblerArizonaCochiseOct 1-73.2%
Golden-crowned WarblerTexasHidalgoJan 1-71.5%
Canada WarblerNew YorkNew YorkMay 15-2139.2%
Wilson’s WarblerCaliforniaInyoMay 15-2150.3%
Red-faced WarblerArizonaCochiseJun 1-79.8%
Painted RedstartArizonaCochiseJun 1-721.9%
Slate-throated RedstartArizonaCochiseOct 1-73.2%
Yellow-breasted ChatKentuckyPulaskiJun 1-762.7%
Why Southeast Arizona in Summer?

Why Southeast Arizona in Summer?

Chiricahua Mountains - view near Rustler Park
Chiricahua Mountains – view near Rustler Park – photo by Greg Miller

 

The question I get asked the most about going to Southeast Arizona in August is “Why August? Wouldn’t it be terribly hot?”

Well. Yes, it is hot. It’s extremely hot in the desert with temperatures sometimes reaching over 100 F. But it is usually quite comfortable in early morning. So bird the desert in early morning and then go into the mountains for the rest of the day where temperatures are 10-20 degrees cooler. In some places you may even need a sweater or a jacket!

But, they say again, “Why August?”

Well. Let me ask you a question. Do you know how migrant birds here in North America winter in places much further south than their breeding grounds–like Central and even South America?

And you probably reply “Yes”.

And do you know how this birds migrate north to breed in summer in North America?

And you probably reply “Yes” again.

Has the little light bulb in your brain turned on yet? Have you gotten your “Aha!” moment yet? No?

Many species make their “northern” nesting places in Southeast Arizona. Birds that then retreat in winter months south of the Mexican Border. In fact, there are more than 40 species that are found here in summer more easily than anywhere else in the United States or Canada. And that is a big number when one is building a list–whether a life list or a year list.

And besides, Southeast Arizona is like the Galapagos Islands of North America. The mountain ranges are like islands jutting out of the desert. And each of these “sky islands” have unique habitat that more closely resembles that of Mexico than the United States. It offers unique habitat for specialty birds.

Did you know that according to eBird data that if you live in any state east of the Mississippi River your best bang for the buck for number of new species is Southeast Arizona in summer. Not only that, but the rugged scenery of Southeast Arizona is absolutely beautiful. You should totally go there!

Hey! And did you know there is a Big Year Tour coming soon, August 13-19, 2017? Read about it at BigYearTours.com!

2016 Big Year – Summary

Lucifer Hummingbird hovering
Lucifer Hummingbird hovering – Arizona – August 2016 – photo by Greg Miller

 

The 2016 Big Year Tours with Wildside Nature Tours were a lot of fun and far more successful than I imagined. My original goal was for 500 species of birds, all in the Lower 48 States. But instead of doing an individual Big Year, I set out to do it with tour participants. And with everyone’s help, we pushed over the top with a final total of 545 species. And we helped raise a total of $27,000 for the American Birding Association’s Young Birder program!

I want to personally thank every one of our participants who helped each other in the field to see birds they’ve never seen before, lent a hand to those who needed help getting around, and were patient as individuals to promote the group welfare. It was a pleasure visiting so many of the place I birded during my own Big Year in 1998. And I want to thank Leica for the quality optics I used this year in support of our goals and the ABA Young Birders.

To those of you who missed a tour you wanted to go on or missed the year’s trips entirely, you have a second chance. We are doing this again this year! It’s not too late to sign up. Check out the upcoming Big Year Tours for 2017 here at bigyeartours.com. And you can still read blog posts from 2016 at bigyearblog.com.

This Big Year Tours plan was not a perfect one, but it was the best I could do with what times were available in my schedule in 2016. And really, isn’t this how everyone’s Big Years go? It’s all about being efficient and focused with the time you have.

Here is some winter reading for you—a summary of some interesting data for 2016. I certainly hope you can join us in 2017 for more cool birds, spectacular scenery, and tons of fun!

Only eight species were seen on every single one of our 11 one-week trips:

Great Blue Heron
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Greater Yellowlegs
Rock Pigeon
European Starling
House Finch
House Sparrow
(Did you expect Northern Harrier & Greater Yellowlegs on this list? And how could we have missed Mourning Dove on this list? Yep. Surprises for me)

More than half the number of species seen (52%–285 species) were encountered on only 1 or 2 trips. This means that the tours listed do an efficient job of picking up new species for the year total. And less than 100 species were seen on more than 50% of the tours.

Amazingly, about one third of the species seen (34%–184 species) were seen on one and only one tour of the 11 one-week tours. Following is a list by tour of one-tour-only sightings:

January – Southern California
Ross’s Goose
Greater Scaup
Bufflehead
Mountain Quail
Brown Booby
Ridgway’s Rail
Yellow-footed Gull
Spotted Dove
Prairie Falcon
California Gnatcatcher
Townsend’s Solitaire
Bell’s Sparrow
Red Crossbill
Scaly-breasted Munia

January – Florida
Egyptian Goose
Muscovy Duck
American Flamingo
Snail Kite
Purple Swamphen
Limpkin
Whooping Crane
Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Florida Scrub-Jay
Sedge Wren
Western Spindalis
Spot-breasted Oriole

April – Texas & Louisiana
Swallow-tailed Kite
Mississippi Kite
Clapper Rail
American Golden-Plover
White-rumped Sandpiper
Gull-billed Tern
Seaside Sparrow

May – Ohio & West Virginia
Trumpeter Swan
Ruffed Grouse
Rough-legged Hawk
American Woodcock
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Wood Thrush
Louisiana Waterthrush
Blue-winged Warbler
Swainson’s Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Henslow’s Sparrow

June – Maine & New Hampshire & Vermont
Common Eider
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel
South Polar Skua
Razorbill
Black Guillemot
Atlantic Puffin
Roseate Tern
Arctic Tern
Black-backed Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Alder Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Winter Wren
Canada Warbler

June – Montana
Canvasback
Gray Partridge
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Red-naped Sapsucker
Cassin’s Vireo
Pinyon Jay
Black-billed Magpie
Sage Thrasher
Chestnut-collared Longspur
McCown’s Longspur
Green-tailed Towhee
Brewer’s Sparrow
Baird’s Sparrow
Yellow-headed Blackbird

August – Southeast Arizona
Scaled Quail
Gambel’s Quail
Zone-tailed Hawk
Baird’s Sandpiper
Western Screech-Owl
Northern Pygmy-Owl
Lesser Nighthawk
Common Poorwill
Magnificent Hummingbird
Blue-throated Hummingbird
Lucifer Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Broad-billed Hummingbird
Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Elegant Trogon
Gila Woodpecker
Arizona Woodpecker
Gilded Flicker
Tufted Flycatcher
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Greater Pewee
Gray Flycatcher
Cordilleran Flycatcher
Buff-breasted Flycatcher
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Thick-billed Kingbird
Bell’s Vireo
Mexican Jay
Mexican Chickadee
Bridled Titmouse
Black-capped Gnatcatcher
Bendire’s Thrasher
Crissal Thrasher
Olive Warbler
Lucy’s Warbler
Virginia’s Warbler
Grace’s Warbler
Hermit Warbler
Red-faced Warbler
Painted Redstart
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Canyon Towhee
Rufous-winged Sparrow
Botteri’s Sparrow
Cassin’s Sparrow
Five-striped Sparrow
Yellow-eyed Junco
Hepatic Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak
Varied Bunting
Hooded Oriole
Scott’s Oriole

September – Bay Area California
Black-footed Albatross
Pink-footed Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Black-vented Shearwater
California Condor
Bar-tailed Godwit
Ruff
Red Phalarope
Cassin’s Auklet
Elegant Tern
Vaux’s Swift
Yellow-billed Magpie
Lawrence’s Goldfinch

October – Washington
Cackling Goose
Harlequin Duck
Pacific Golden-Plover
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Mew Gull
Slaty-backed Gull
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Northwestern Crow
Pacific Wren
American Dipper
Varied Thrush
Lapland Longspur
Fox Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow

October – New Jersey & Pennsylvania & Delaware
Long-tailed Duck
Great Cormorant
Purple Sandpiper
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Rusty Blackbird

November – South Texas – Rio Grande Valley
Plain Chachalaca
Least Grebe
White-tailed Hawk
White-tipped Dove
Common Pauraque
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Ringed Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Aplomado Falcon
Green Parakeet
Great Kiskadee
Couch’s Kingbird
Green Jay
Black-crested Titmouse
Clay-colored Thrush
Long-billed Thrasher
Olive Sparrow
Altamira Oriole
Audubon’s Oriole

Big Year 2016 – Rarest Birds

Rank Species Tour 780 Tufted Flycatcher SE Arizona 734 Western Spindalis Florida 705 American Flamingo Florida 700 Five-striped Sparrow SE Arizona 681 Black-capped Gnatcatcher SE Arizona 669 Mexican Chickadee SE Arizona 663 Aplomado Falcon Texas Rio Grande 653 Buff-breasted Flycatcher SE Arizona 650 Spot-breasted Oriole Florida 643 Yellow-footed Gull Southern California 639 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Washington… Continue Reading

Big Year 2016 – Cumulative Totals by Tour

  The chart above shows the running totals as the Big Year Tours progressed in 2016. These tours with Wildside Nature Tours were so much fun we are doing it all again in 2017! Check out bigyeartours.com for more information. Continue Reading

Big Year 2016 Totals by Tour

  2016 was a TERRIFIC year! The 11 one-week tours with Wildside Nature Tours tallied a total of 545 species of birds! The chart above lists the totals by tour for each of the 11 tours. We had so much fun we are doing it again! Join us this year, 2017, for more fun in… Continue Reading

Texas Rio Grande Valley – Day 6

  Today was the last day our Texas Rio Grande Valley tour. And it was our 11th of 11 trips with Wildside Nature Tours this year. This morning we drove all the way out to Falcon Dam State Park. The drier habitat there got us five new species for the tour but no new species… Continue Reading

Texas Rio Grande Valley – Day 5

Day 5 in the Rio Grande Valley started with, well, more rain. And our first birding stop was <…drumroll…> south of the Border Fence. A conversation like this may have occurred: Person A: Is that the Fence everyone is talking about? Person B: Yes. Person A: But we just crossed through it. Are we in… Continue Reading

Follow The Big Year

Stay up to date on the progress of the Big Year Tours and receive special offers from Wildside!

BigYearTours.com

a specialty of Wildside Nature Tours

888-875-9453 or +1 610-564-0941

info@wildsidenaturetours.com

error: