The best and worst moments from my 2018 Metro Van Big Year...

My friend Rob gave me a great idea for a post today the best and worst moments from my Metro Van 2018 Big Year. I may have got 270 species but it was fraught with peril but also filled with wonderful memories. My first bird of my big year in 2018 was Bohemian Waxwing... I felt from that day onward... 2018 was off to a great start.

Self-found Clark's Grebe in White-Rock before the Pier broke in 2! - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Rob knew that my nemesis was a Black-and-White Warbler. I had never seen one in Vancouver before. I kept looking for one and many were reported but I kept dipping. During my 2018 big year there was 6 reported in Vancouver. My friend Rob Lyske actually found 2 of them at Maplewood Flats in North Vancouver and I and my friend Roger Foxall chased both of them. Rob so kindly waited with the bird for us but from White Rock (where Roger lives) and Richmond (where I live) with traffic the bird of course disappeared each time. I also chased one in Jericho, UBC, and could never connect with one. I was convinced Black-and-White Warblers hated me. In fact I was sure of it when the 6th Black-and-White Warbler was reported a day late to me by Mark Thomson. He had found it in East Vancouver at Riverside Park and I decided to go and look for it in the morning. I got there and found it within 30 mins. The Black-and-White Warbler was my 319th bird in Vancouver. I guess Black-and-White Warblers didn't hate me so much after all. I soon learned that American Redstarts did instead after 10 trips to Grant Narrows... young birder Cole Gaerber called me to come to Queen Elizabeth park where he had found 2 and would stay with them till I got there.

Black-and-White Warbler - Photo: Melissa Hafting

There were many wonderful moments during my 2018 big year. I found my own Clark's Grebe and as I said before I got many new Vancouver birds and megas like: Philadelphia Vireo, Common Grackle, Summer Tanager, Great-tailed Grackle (that traveled from Point Grey to Iona and Point Roberts), Snowy Plover, Arctic Tern and Red Phalarope. I even got a lifer Little Stint! But the coolest bird of all I got to me was a Ruffed Grouse. You probably think I must be joking but no I'm not. It all started on May 6th. The day I went to look for a Northern Mockingbird that Susan Robertshaw found in Colony Farm. I never did find that bird and while I was having a pleasant chat with David and Paul Baker, Liron Gertsman sent me a text. He said someone had reported a Ruffed Grouse at Minnekhada. I couldn't believe it. I said send me the photo and he did. It was a real Ruffed Grouse! I was so shocked because Ruffed Grouse had thought to be extirpated from Metro Vancouver due to development. There hadn't been one seen in years! Well I told my friends I am going to go look for it and abandoned the Mockingbird search. People scoffed at me and friends I texted told me I'd never find it. It could be anywhere! The  guy who found it never gave a location. I set off unfazed. I guess I like a challenge.  I drove around and walked around a bit. I then decided to get back in the car and drive to the quarry trailhead to get out and walk in there. Before I could even  get to the trailhead. I saw a fancy chicken strutting in the road. I quickly got a record shot with my camera and then pulled over.  I got out and texted out I had relocated the Ruffed Grouse. It was a new Vancouver bird for me. I told people I would wait with it. Several people told me they would come and see it . So I waited and sat by the side of the road an the Grouse walked right up to me. My friend John Reynolds was the first to arrive and it literally walked right up to him cooing and clucking. It was a female we wondered if it had chicks  nearby but couldn't find any.

John Reynolds with the Ruffed Grouse at Minnekhada - iPhone Photo: Melissa Hafting

We got some stellar shots and Rob and other birders came including 2 young birders Adam and Josh who got their lifer. It was especially special for Josh who got this bird because it was his nemesis. He went through the same hell I did like I did with the Black-and-White Warbler. I'll never forget the look on Josh's face (see it HERE). After he all saw that bird no one could relocate the bird and it still has not been seen since. So that definitely was the most special moment of my big year.

Ruffed Grouse in Coquitlam  - Photo: Melissa Hafting

However, what made it most special were all the people who helped me along the way. As I said Rob Lyske helped me with Black-and-White Warblers. Quentin Brown, Gavin Ritson, Ilya Povalyaev and Rob Lyske helped me with looking for Pygmy-Owls, Kevin Louth helped me by helping me to relocate a Tropical Kingbird and helped me in horrid weather to see my lifer Little Stint. 
I am grateful for all my special friends!

Another special aspect of my big year was not just getting 270 but being out there with the birds alone in nature. I had the most special time searching for a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper that Kevin Louth had found. Amazingly I was the only one out there looking for it. He had found it by the 80th street pumphouse. I was wearing a brand new pair of expensive designer sunglasses (you can tell something will end up badly can't you? ;)). I decided to walk into the marsh and out into the mudflats. I didn't go out where the smart people go because I went through tangles and debris. After a few falls and getting caked in mud, I made it to the shore. There I saw nothing. Not a shorebird in site. That was probably because there was a Coyote standing on the mud staring at me. It was a beautiful canid one of my fave animals actually. For hours there was just the coyote and I. When the sun began to set the birds started to come in amd it was peaceful and I had fun searching barefoot with my scope  at times my shoes started to drift out to sea luckily I noticed and grabed them. Eventually I got the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. He flew right in front of me in fading light and rising tide. I soon realized my glasses were gone. I searched frantically till dark but there were obviously somewhere probably by White Rock by that time. My friend Kevin Louth looked for them (the glasses) the day before but
never did find them! haha. Kevin was great he was always on the lookout for a new bird for me which I appreciated deeply.

I lost my expensive sunglasses for this Sharp-tailed Sandpiper - Photo: Melissa Hafting

It was a great year full of great memories and ups and downs. Despite searching for new species in Vancouver I was able to chase new BC birds like the Fieldfare and chase new lifers like the Tundra Bean Goose in Oregon and guide a Whooping Crane tour in Saskatchewan. In Metro Vancouver I had endless searches from Maple Ridge to Lions By for Northern Pygmy-Owls .. so many that I was convinced they didn't exist. Then there was some easy birds that I just drove up to, that appeared to be waiting for me, like the Great Egret. Plus when I was out birding looking for birds I ended up finding cool winter birds like Chipping Sparrows and the first BC and 2nd Canada Winter record of Caspian Tern which I found at Iona. I ran into several bears and other cool wildlife encounters dipped on common birds like Horned Lark and saw some of the most incredible rarities in Vancouver. There were many one day rarities that only single observers saw like the Vermilion Flycatcher found by Kaichi Huang, the Slaty-backed Gull found by Mike Toochin, the White-rumped Sandpiper that Ilya Povalyaev found and a Cassin's Finch by Moose Stoffregen. There were also several mega Vancouver rarities that were misidentified like Hooded Oriole and many late correct reports like Swainson's Hawks, Eastern Phoebe, Black-necked Stilts and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. There was several chances at big rarities in Metro Vancouver: like there were 2 Snowy Plovers, 2 Ruffs, 2 Northern Mockingbirds, 2 Chestnut-sided Warblers, 2 Black Phoebes , 13 (yes 13!) Buff-breasted Sandpipers, 3 Sage Thrashers, a long staying Blue Jay, Neill Vanhinsberg refound his Yellow-bellied Sapsucker much to the delight of myself and other birders. There was 4 Northern Goshawks,  a banger year for Palm Warblers, Mountain Chickadees and Waterthrushes and there were several Rosy-Finches. I have a fond memory of seeing a flock of Rosy-Finches in a back alley in gastown with my mom and Rob Lyske actually!. I got all the winter finches but I also got all the sparrows like Lark, Vesper and Clay-colored. I dipped on some great birds like Dusky Flycatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit and Loggerhead Shrike (would have been a Vancouver Bird). However I remember a special moment with my friend Joachim Bertrands where I watched the Hudsonian Godwit with him at Reifel while he face-timed his friends in Belgium to share our excitement it was great fun!. I drove around like a psychopath (at least the residents must have thought I was one!) for several days until I could relocate a Prairie Falcon. 

There was one day where much like the day I found the Clark's Grebe where I was one of the few observers to have seen a rarity.  When Al and Donna Mackenzie called me to tell me they had a Northern Mockingbird in their yard and it was open to the public I sped over. I got the bird within a few minutes of arriving. Maybe 30 mins later the Claphams arrived and I promised them the bird would be back in a few minues the crows just chased him off... well by sundown sadly the bird never returned for anyone nor any day after that! It was all part of the pleasures and frustrations of birding. It was a great year for Winter Finches and rarities a perfect year to attempt a big year but you still needed to have the drive to go out in all types of weather and find the birds. This was the first year I had no birds in Point Roberts, WA (part of Vancouver County as per Nature Vancouver) that I didn't also have in Metro Vancouver (according to eBird) and the first year I used eBird.

Thanks to all my friends who helped make my big year so successful. Here's to 2019.


  1. Melissa, you also do double duty getting wonderful bird photos! What an incredible number you achieved for your metro area for 2018. Congratulations.

  2. Congratulations on such an amazing Vancouver big year total! 2018 may have been a spectacular year for such an endeavour, but to see that many birds it takes a special determination and dedication that only you seem to have. You've set the bar extremely high for future Vancouver big years. Well done!

    1. thanks ilya and thanks for helping me so much by sacrificing your birding days to look for my targets! only a few more days till we are out of the northern hemisphre!

  3. Thanks for this post, it really shows your determination to find all those birds. Finding the ruffed grouse sounded like a really special moment as did many others. Congrats again on such an accomplishment!

    1. thanks so much meg. it was really special most of all because of the young birder's happiness cheers!

  4. Big congratulations on a wonderful year and looks like you have lovely photos to go along with the memories. Thanks for sharing your adventures.

    1. thanks Q you know from your successful big year how hard it is to get that nemesis bird as you experienced with the northern waterthrush. i still cant believe i dipped on horned lark lol! at least not for lack of trying haha . have a great trip to ecuador.... counting down the days i bet! i know i am

  5. Congratulations on such a great year! Best of luck of this year as well!

    1. thank you so much brian i wish you only good things in 2019!


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