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The Big Year at DNERR

Written on: July 13th, 2022 in OutreachWetland Animals

By Laurel Sullivan, DNREC’s Delaware Coastal Programs

Attention! Calling all birders, experienced and newbies- the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve (DNERR) has a Big Year challenge for you!

A Big Year is a challenge birdwatchers set for themselves to see or hear as many birds and bird species as possible within a single year. This is a personal goal or informal competition taken on by birders to see as many species and individual birds as possible within a given year and geographic area. DNERR is excited to host our own Big Year challenge in 2022 at our two locations, the Blackbird Creek Reserve and the St. Jones Reserve. Documenting the species of birds that visit the Reserves’ locations will allow us to collect data on common and rare species, while also increasing awareness about these estuary ecosystems.

Where Can You Bird?

The DNERR’s locations have dynamic habitats that offer many resources for a variety of bird species. The Blackbird Creek Reserve, located in Townsend, is a freshwater marsh with meadows and many native tree species that have been planted as part of our conservation and stewardship efforts. The St. Jones Reserve, located in Dover, is a salt marsh offering a preserved land area for many marsh birds. These two locations, with their differing habitats, resources and bird populations, will allow variety in the recorded sightings, helping our Big Year flourish! Both reserve components have walking trails available for birders to utilize while they are participating in our Big Year. The Blackbird Creek Reserve even has specified bird watching stations for visitors to make use of as they look for birds that may be wading in the Blackbird Creek.

What Birds Might You See?

Each of the habitats at DNERR’s locations have many resident species, which are birds that are commonly seen year-round. Some resident species are the American Robin, the Great Blue Heron and the Bald Eagle. However, the habitats also offer unique resources as the seasons change, attracting migratory bird species. DNERR does have some commonly seen migrating birds, such as the Red Knot, Dark-eyed Junco, and Canada Goose. By continually engaging with the public and the birding community, DNERR is hoping to capture the seasonal shifts of bird populations. We are also excited to document any rare species that may be sighted throughout the year. This information collected during the Big Year will help to inform restoration plans, land stewardship and conservation efforts.

How It Works

At the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve, research is our middle name. That is where you come in. DNERR’s Big Year could not be done without the help of everyone who visits the Reserves’ locations. Participation in the Big Year is relatively easy; you do not have to be an experienced birder to get involved and become a citizen scientist – all you need is your smartphone. The Reserve will be utilizing two platforms – iNaturalist and eBird – to capture and record the data. The platform, iNaturalist, allows participants to upload individual sightings with pictures or audio. These sightings can then be verified and confirmed by other users and Reserve staff through the app. This makes iNaturalist a great option for beginning birders! The platform, eBird, commonly used by more experienced birders, provides an opportunity for users to populate a personal list of birds. Birders can use the Reserves’ hotspots to see recent sightings from other users as well.

While each birding adventure will be unique and your own, we ask that you follow the Big Year challenge rules below, which are based on the American Birding Association guidelines:

  • The DNERR Big Year will start at 12:00 a.m. on January 1, 2022 and end at 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 2022.
  • Birds must have been within the prescribed area when observed, and the observation must have occurred within the prescribed time period.
  • Birds must have been alive, wild and unrestrained when observed.
  • Diagnostic characteristics, sufficient for the recorder to identify it to species, must have been seen and/or heard and/or documented for the bird observation.
  • The bird must have been observed under conditions that conform to the American Birding Association Code of Birding Ethics[HJL(2], such as respecting birds in their habitat.
  • Remain in publicly accessible areas within the DNERR, do not enter private properties.
  • The St. Jones Reserve and Blackbird Creek Reserve have free parking; however, you may need a conservation access pass to park on Delaware Fish and Wildlife lands (e.g. Ted Harvey Wildlife Management Area).
Bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) in tree.

We want all birding participants to remain safe, please follow the safety guidelines below:

  • Participants should remain aware of their surroundings at all times.
  • Be aware of hunting seasons. Delaware hunting seasons generally begin in September and run through early February of the following year. To find information about hunting seasons, go to DNREC’s Delaware Hunting Seasons page.

We at DNERR are very excited about our Big Year and the data that we will use for years to come to enhance our species inventory. We hope that this challenge inspires many new and experienced birders to explore the estuary. Become a Big Year Birder with DNERR today!

For more information about DNERR’s Big Year and how to become an official DNERR Big Year Birder, please visit our website. We look forward to seeing you out on our trails!

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