From the predawn hoot of a Great Horned Owl on January 1st to a Hoary Redpoll at a feeder during the waning days of 2014, hundreds of Vermont birders scoured fields and fens, mountains and meadows, lakes and lawns to discover as many species as possible during a single calendar year.
The 4th annual Vermont County eBird Quest pitted county versus county, birder against birder — all engaged in a friendly rivalry for top birding honors. The main idea behind the year-long Quest is simply to get people out birding, promote camaraderie, and better document bird life across the state, using Vermont eBird. With over 36,000 eBird checklists submitted and over 2.6 million individual birds tallied in 2014, there is no doubt it was another banner year for birders and Vermont eBird.
Green Mountain Birders Put Up Big Numbers
The final results were based on a carefully calculated “par” system, realizing that not all Vermont counties are created equal in terms of avian diversity. Par scores reflect the number of species that a given county should find in a year with consistent birding effort. The bird rich counties of Addison and Chittenden once again took top honors in absolute numbers of species tallied, knotted at 247 species each.
Franklin County, an underdog, surprised the field and claimed the 2014 Quest Cup with a score of 31.5 birds over par. Windsor County was second with 25 species over par. Top checklist honors went to Addison County with an amazing 8,616 checklists submitted to Vermont eBird by birdwatchers, breaking the all-time record by any county by several thousand.
Many birders ventured outside their home counties. The statewide leaders in total species observed were Jim Mead (263), followed by David Johnson (249) and Ian Worley (248). Ian Worley continued his annual domination by submitting a remarkable 2,332 checklists, besting his previous winning years. Craig Provost placed second with 1,523 checklists followed by Zac Cota (1,280).
Birders who identified 150 species or more in a county were also inducted into the prestigious “150 Club”. Even in counties with higher avian diversity, a birder must be dedicated and in the field during all four seasons to join this club. Fred Pratt has pulled it off for 6 counties, a remarkable effort. Both Craig Provost and Pat Folsom have passed the 150 mark in 3 counties. Overall, 72 individual birders have joined the elite 150 Club since the Vermont County eBird Quest began in 2011.
A Record Year for New Bird Species
With birdwatchers combing Vermont for new birds for more than a century now, finding a new species in the state might seem like a folly. But observers discovered and carefully reported a half-dozen new species and one new subspecies of birds for Vermont in 2014, an unprecedented feat.
New bird species found in Vermont in 2014 included: Prairie Falcon, Ancient Murrelet, Pink-footed Goose, Willow Ptarmigan, Trumpeter Swan, and Brown Booby. Known as ‘vagrants’, these species are normally found far from Vermont. Other notable records included: Garganey, American Avocet, Brown Pelican, Hooded Warbler, Summer Tanager, Harris’s Sparrow and Yellow-headed Blackbird. The Vermont Bird Records Committee gives Vermont eBird and the Quest the final determination for all submitted reports of vagrant, out-of-season and rare nesting species reports.
Congratulations to everyone for a fun year of birding. We hope some of you will vie for top honors in 2015! You can follow the scoreboard all year long and see where you rank. Even if you come up short, all of the data collected in Vermont eBird is valuable for science, education and conservation.