From a Harlequin Duck at the Grand Isle Ferry landing on first day of the year to a Northern Shrike during the waning days of 2015, 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 5th 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 nearly 30,000 eBird checklists submitted and over 267,000 bird records tallied by 1,236 birders in 2015, 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 often duel for this honor. This year, Chittenden County birders edged out their rivals 247 to 244.
Franklin County, a quiet underdog just a few years ago, topped the field for a second year in a row and claimed the 2015 Quest Cup with a score of 27.5 birds over par. Recall that after last year’s win, by the rules Franklin County had 5 species added to their par for this year. Windsor County was second with 21 species over par.
Many birders ventured outside their home counties of course. Jim Mead continued his dominance in total species observed with 262 species, followed by Isis Erb (254) and Alison Wagner and Cat Abbott tied for 3rd (246). Ian Worley continued his amazing effort by submitting a remarkable 2,363 checklists, again besting his previous winning years. Craig Provost placed second with 1,556 checklists followed by Sue Elliott (929).
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 8 counties and Craig Provost in 5 counties, remarkable efforts. Overall, 82 individual birders have joined the elite 150 Club since the Vermont County eBird Quest began in 2011.
This year we started the Vermont 250 Club. This is a list of birders that have found 250 or more bird species in Vermont during one calendar year and reported them to Vermont eBird. We looked back into the annual records of Vermont eBird and found just two people to crown. Jim Mead first joined the club in 2011 and this year Isis Erb joined the list. Remarkably, Jim Mead has passed 250 species in a year four times in the last 5 years.
two NEW BIRD SPECIES found
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 two new bird species for Vermont in 2015.
The first new bird species for the state in 2015 was an adult Band-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata) was found on 2 June, 2015 in Jericho Center, Chittenden Co. by Maeve Kim. This is the first fully documented state record with one written report and photos. The checklist with photo is on Vermont eBird to view.
Later in the month, an adult male Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) was found on 24 June 2015 in breeding plumage on Lake Road in Charlotte, Chittenden Co. and submitted to the VBRC by Theodore Murin, Qing Ren, Allan Strong, Lisa Nawrocki, and Larry Haugh. This is the first fully documented state record including two written reports, photos and recorded vocalizations.Visit Vermont eBird to see the location and photographs included with the many checklists reported by birders.
The Vermont Bird Records Committee gives Vermont eBird and the County 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 2016! 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.