Jason Berry, a researcher at American Bird Conservancy – the nation’s leading bird conservation organization – has broken the modern day record for the number of bird species seen in Washington, D.C. in a single year.
Jason was taking part in a “Big Year”, the Olympics of birdwatching, where participants work to locate as many bird species as possible within a given geographic area over a twelve-month period. Starting on January 1, 2011 and ending on December 31, 2012, Jason identified 218 bird species in D.C., edging out the previous recent high of 214 to become this century’s reigning city champion with the highest number of bird species seen in the District since 1983.
Jason Berry, image courtesy American Bird Conservancy
As an avid birdwatcher, Jason knew the District harbored many more than the dozen or so common birds most people think live here. He birded through freezing temperatures and snow storms in January and February to find Tundra Swan, Canvasback, and Horned Grebe on the McMillan Reservoir and Potomac River. As warmer spring days arrived, he found over 25 species of warblers, including colorful Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, and Chestnut-sided Warblers, and the District’s first confirmed record of a Mississippi Kite. During the summer heat, the birds slowed down, but the rarities kept coming when a trio of Least Terns and pair of American Avocets flew up the Anacostia River. Standing in the rain with other birders at Hains Point, Hurricane Irene blew in the first ever Arctic Tern recorded in the District, along with rarities such as Bank Swallows and Black Terns.
By the beginning of fall, Jason was only 14 species away from the modern D.C. record. Having seen all the common birds earlier in the year, his task was to find the remaining rare birds as they quickly passed through the region on their fall migrations. Things started out well with an immature White Ibis showing up in Kenilworth Park. He missed a rare Clay-colored Sparrow on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, only to locate one at Kenilworth Park six weeks later. After racing to more than a half-dozen locations where Connecticut Warblers had been seen by other birders, he finally found the bird skulking in bushes at Fort DuPont in Anacostia in October.
As migration wound down, so did his chances of breaking the modern D.C. Big Year record. He tried in vain for Eastern Screech-Owl, and American Tree Sparrow. While visiting family in Chicago for Thanksgiving, his D.C. birding buddies found two rare species he needed – Snow Bunting and Horned lark. While those birds moved on before he could return, he did get lucky once again soon thereafter with a Gadwall, a Dickcissel, and a Snow Goose.
As Jason and his wife celebrated New Years, he looked over his list and found that it came out to 218 species – a modern D.C. record!
Jason received a Master’s Degree in International Development from George Washington University and has been working at ABC for about one year with a focus on avian mortality related to wind energy.