Date: 1/1/21 3:40 pm
From: Goodwin, Tommy J. (Student) <tjgbp7...>
Subject: St Charles Co & St Louis Circle Big Years Wrap Up
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Happy New Year!

Although 2020 saw a lot of our friends and family go through very hard times, it was an incredible year for birders in Missouri and most of the midwest, and the bird occurrences rarely seemed to slow down. This mix of circumstances left me with an almost constant low level of stress throughout the year, so with the New Year I am thankful to be sleeping in, to not be watching for changes in the weather, and to not worry nearly as much if a rare winter finch decides to stop by at the feeders and I miss it.

Throughout the last few years I had been living vicariously through friends' ABA and state big years, but 2019 introduced me to the idea of a County Big Year. This really intrigued me because I finally saw something that I could feasibly do with some competitiveness and still maintain work and home responsibilities. Towards the end of 2019 Kendell and I discussed the idea of doing County Big Years as an approach to learn more about our local birds and habitats, be able to continue working, have a much-lessened carbon footprint compared to state big years, and hopefully find some unexposed birding areas near home.

I went into 2020 still unsure if I wanted to commit, but after the Confluence CBC at Riverlands on New Years Day found three rarities, I decided I was going to do a St Charles County (County) Big Year. Things were going slowly, but well until early April when I was laid off for a few months, due to the pandemic, and found myself with a lot more time to bird migration; however, I was already starting to get bored of the same patches and found myself chasing some of the rarities outside of the County. That’s when I started really looking into the St. Louis Circle (Circle), a 50-mile radius from the city limits of St. Louis set up by WGNSS decades ago, and decided that I would chase rarities outside the County if they fell within the Circle. Chasing rarities eventually turned into birding as often in Illinois as in the County from fall migration onward.

To my knowledge the only County Big Year that had been done in Missouri was in Boone County in 2012 by Ryan Douglas who found 261 species. The St Louis Circle had several records listed on, but the standing record was in 2004 by Joe Eades with 303 species. This was an incredible year for birding and I owe a lot to my friends and mentors who helped me find a lot of the species this year, despite the pandemic. On December 31, 2020 I ended with 288 species in St Charles County and 310 species in the St Louis Circle.

I think the only species that was new for the Circle and County was a Magnificent Frigatebird that showed up at Carlyle Lake, IL and then, likely the same bird, again along the Mississippi River in St Charles; we probably had a Sooty Tern at Riverlands, which would have been new for the Circle, but that bird was unable to be verified. Through this crazy year, I was able to add 6 species to my World life list in the Circle this year, 20 species to my Missouri life list, and 28 species to my St Charles County list.

There were 320 species reported within the St Louis Circle this year. I missed 10 species that were observed by others: Swallow-tailed Kite (Montgomery Co, IL), Evening Grosbeak (Warren Co, MO), Little Gull (Clinton Co, IL), White-winged Dove (Franklin Co, MO), Western Tanager (Jefferson Co, MO), Swainson’s Hawk (St. Charles Co, MO), Snow Bunting (St. Charles Co, MO), Prairie Falcon (St. Charles Co, MO), and a potential Gyrfalcon (Clinton Co, IL).

There were 296 species reported in St Charles County this year, up 24 species from the eBird record of 272. I did not miss any expected birds in the County, but Ruddy Turnstone and Red-necked Phalarope are probably the most likely birds that were not reported, and a Snowy Owl decided to appear Jan 1, 2021; I missed 6 species that were observed by others: Bewick’s Wren, Magnificent Frigatebird, White-winged Scoter, and the three listed for the Circle.

It was fairly easy to track what birds should be expected for St Charles County; eBird has histograms at the county level that split the year into 52 weeks and give a frequency of observations of each species during each quarter month. This was my first challenge with the Circle since I didn’t know the areas as well, but I was able to construct an excel database that pulled eBirds data from every county within the circle and compiled them into one table like I had for St Charles. This saved me a lot of time trying to decide what to look for next and was great for filtering out birds that I had already seen.

In reflection, I really enjoyed birding the County and Circle. I not only learned a lot about the local birds, but I met many staff personnel at areas that I frequented and began developing those relationships. Being only 30 minutes away from any rarity that showed up for the county made chasing reasonable even on a lunch break, and allowed birding almost anywhere I wanted before or after work. The biggest lesson remains that you never know what bird is out there if you don’t get outside and look. There were many days that I struggled to get out, but I feel that overall I did pretty well continuously covering ground. I really think that 300 species in St Charles County is possible, but it would probably take more observers than I had helping my year and a year at least as productive as 2020.

This year would not have been possible without the help of an incredibly long list of people who have helped. Thank you sincerely to everyone who helped and supported me along the way. I am super excited that so many records have been broken and made in Missouri and surrounding states this year. If anyone would like additional information or stories throughout the year, please contact me, but I didn’t want this email to exceed 10 paragraphs.

May 2021 bring even more excitement,

Tommy J. Goodwin Jr., M.S., P.E.

St. Charles, MO


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