2013: A Year in Review

The year 2013 has definitely been one of the most interesting years of my life.  More happened in 2013 than in the past 5 years combined, both in the field and at home.  As the year winds to a close, it’s time to take stock of all that has happened and look forward to all that has yet to come.  Here is a brief review of 2013.


It was the final month that I spent living in Ottawa, in Canada, in North America, in the Western Hemisphere.  But before packing it in and saying goodbye to everything I had known, January marked the Great Grey Owl Invasion in Ottawa, perhaps one to rival that famous Invasion in 2006 (before I lived in Ottawa, mind you).  Three (and later four) of these majestic owls were found around Green’s Creek in the east end, and birders came from all over the province (and in some cases, the country or continent) to see them.  Other owl species also “invaded” Ottawa, including a northern hawk owl and at least two boreal owls, in addition to the more common winter visitors like snowy owl.

Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa); Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus); Woodlawn, Ontario, Canada


The shortest month of the year packed in the most changes.  After a whirlwind of family visits and last minute decisions, Melanie and I found ourselves on the other side of the planet, dropped into a country we had never visited to begin a new life we were not prepared for.  It was the “dare to be great” moment many of us think about, but rarely ever encounter.  It was also one of the most terrifying and exhilarating experiences of my life (second only to getting married, perhaps)!


Hanok Village – Jeonju-si, Jeollabuk-do, South Korea


We began the process of settling into our new home and our new lives.  I tried to understand this teaching job I found myself in.  It was a time of novelty, where everyday experiences were new again – simply going to the grocery store was an adventure!  And when I managed to find the time, I retreated into the comfortable and familiar world of birding, which is always the same no matter what part of the world you happen to be in.  And, oh, how the species began to accumulate. New and “exotic” species like white wagtail, Eurasian nuthatch, and varied tit became familiar sights.  Gone were the days of chickadees and hawks; here they were tits and buzzards.

White Wagtail (Motacilla alba ocularis); Gwangju, South Korea

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea amurensis); Damyang-gun, Jeollanam-do, South Korea

Varied Tit (Poecile varius varius); Geoje-si, Gyeongsangnam-do, South Korea


The height of spring and the height of migration had special meaning this year.  My first spring migration in Asia was about to begin.  Melanie and I were getting comfortable in our new country, and though the Korean language proved more difficult to acquire than we had expected, we were learning to get by on our own.  We were also exploring the countryside, taking trips into many places outside of Gwangju.  This period was the most productive for us, in terms of birds, travel, and experience.  Although the novelties had worn off, and it was becoming clearer that “home” was not the static, stationary concept we had once believed, the adventure was still continuing.

Hwaeomsa Temple – Jirisan National Park
Gurye, Jeollanam-do, South Korea

Gyubongam Temple - Mudeungsan National ParkGwangju, South Korea

Gyubongam Temple – Mudeungsan National Park
Gwangju, South Korea

My first foray into international birding was proving to be a success.  Within two weeks of arriving in South Korea, I surpassed 400 species on my Life List.  Only a few months later I was beyond 500 species.  The heat and humidity of summer slowed the pace substantially, but even in the dog-days of July I was still adding new species.  Now less common species were being discovered – things like tiger shrike and brown dipper.

Tiger Shrike (Lanius tigrinus); Gakhwa Reservoir, Gwangju, South Korea

Brown Dipper (Cinclus pallasii); Jirisan National Park, Gurye, Jeollanam-do, South Korea


August was our summer vacation, and we spent it in Taiwan.  After a long semester of teaching, we used our well-earned leave to explore a new country.  It was also my first experience hiring a professional birding guide.  We experienced the excitement and culture of Taipei City, as well as the natural beauty of the mountainous interior of the country.  The trip was easily one of the best we have taken as a married couple.

Xingtian Temple – Taipei City, Taiwan

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial – Taipei City, Taiwan

We listed 60 new species in only 10 days, including many of the Taiwan endemics.  We also saw many interesting insects, plants, and animals, and had the good fortune to meet some amazing people along the way.  It was here that I met the greatest birder on Earth, Tom Gullick, and got a glimpse of where this little obsession of mine might take me one day.

Taiwan Barbet (Megalaima nuchalis); Da’an Park, Taipei City, Taiwan

Formosan Rock Macaque (Macaca cyclopis); Yushan National Park, Chiayi County, Taiwan

Swinhoe’s Japalura (Japalura swinhonis); Dingbenzai, Chiayi County, Taiwan

Standing next to Tom Gullick in Xinyi Township, Chiayi County, Taiwan


It was hard to follow up an adventure like Taiwan, and the onset of fall marked the beginning of the second semester at our schools, and the return to our “normal” lives.  I met Maria Lisak, a long-time resident of Gwangju and a community activist.  I took her under my wing, so to speak, as a birder-in-training, and in return she introduced me to some of the founding members of Birds Korea.  It was this fortuitous friendship that helped catapult back into the world of conservation and field research.  Although the fall months were spent mostly indoors as I prepared ever-increasingly technical and involved lessons for my students, I still managed to get out once in a while and catch some of the fall migration.  I added amazing species to my list during this time, including greater painted-snipe and Eurasian eagle-owl.  I spent more time on trying to get decent photographs on many of the more common species that I had started to take for granted.

Siberian Stonechat (Saxicola maurus stejnegeri); Yeongsan River, Gwangju, South Korea


November brought me into closer contact with Birds Korea, and I began to become more involved within the organization and here in Gwangju.  November saw me leading outings to Haenam and Gangjin Bay.  I made friends with other Birds Korea members elsewhere in the country, and took several small trips with them to Seoul and Suncheon-si.  Melanie became more proactive in and around Gwangju.  She joined several clubs and organizations, and began taekwondo lessons.  As I delved deeper into Korea’s birding community, Melanie expanded hers by meeting new Gwangju EPIK teachers.

Birding the Korea National Arboretum with Birds Korea member (and fellow eBirder) Bradlee Sulentic

Birding Haenam with (from left) Pedro Kim, Peter Hirst, Ha Jung-Moon, Melanie Proteau Blake, Maria Lisak, Bob Harding, Lee Ju-Hyeong

EPIK Teachers Paintball Match
From left:  Joseph Cutler, Daniel Sheltzer, Melanie Proteau Blake, Kate Morris, Patrick Blake, Ismaray Ross and Shaun Ross.

The biggest event in November was checking off my 600th species.  So soon after finding my 500th, it was an incredible accomplishment to add another 100 species in so short a timespan.  As the year was winding down, it was becoming obvious to me that it would require a tremendous amount of dedication (and luck) to continue to add these kinds of numbers in 2014.

Hooded Crane (Grus monacha); Anpung-dong, Suncheon-si, Jeollanam-do, South Korea

Bull-headed Shrike (Lanius bucephalus bucephalus)
Dongcheon River, Suncheon-si, Jeollanam-do, South Korea


It was hard to believe the calendar when we looked and saw that it was December.  Where did all that time go?  We always say that, but really…where does it go?  December itself flew by, as we prepared our students for final exams and decided to officially renew our contracts for another year.  It was the first Christmas either of us had spent away from home (I mean really away), and we spent Christmas Day on Skype with our families, who, due to the time difference, had yet to celebrate Christmas since it was still Christmas Eve where they were.  But don’t despair!  Our “adopted families” here in Gwangju helped us celebrate the holidays.

Be it ever so humble…
Our Christmas tree in Gwangju

A South Korean Christmas with friends!


As a birder, I measure things in numbers.  2013 brought a lot in the way of numbers, so I’ll share some of them with you.

230: the number of new species (Life birds) I saw in 2013
207: the number of species I saw in South Korea in 2013
319: the total number of species I saw in 2013, North America included
609: my Life List as of the end of 2013

It’s been a long road to get to the end of 2013, but it’s been one hell of a ride!  So long 2013, thanks for all the memories!

2 thoughts on “2013: A Year in Review

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