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Sanduskian launches birding ‘Big Year’

Tom Jackson • Jan 3, 2014 at 5:21 PM

Sandusky resident Mary Warren has just begun a Big Year — and we’re not talking about the fact she just retired.

For birders, a Big Year means an attempt to spot and record as many different species of birds as possible.

Some birders try to set records for the number of birds seen in North America. Prominent Ottawa County birder Kenn Kaufman set a Big Year record, since broken, of 671 birds in 1973, an adventure he discussed in his book “Kingbird Highway” A fictional version of the North American competition is recounted in the 2011 movie “The Big Year,” which starred Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson.

Warren, 62, a lifelong Sandusky resident who just retired as a naturalist for the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, is doing her Big Year strictly in Erie County — although she’s taking a couple of weeks off for birding trips, including one in Florida.

She said Thursday she got off to a good start on New Year’s Day.

“I went out yesterday. I started watching birds at the feeder” Warren said.

Warren, who lives in Sandusky’s west side, also went to Cold Creek and to the duck pond.

“I had 32 species yesterday” she said.

Warren’s sightings are being recorded at eBird.org, a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. She also has offered to write a column for the Sandusky Register.

On Thursday morning, Warren avoided the brutal winter weather but counted 15 species at her birdfeeder by about 10 a.m.

“Mary’s an excellent birder,” said her friend, Sandusky birder Sandy Burris.

To be a good birder, “First of all you have to know birds and have a good eye and a good ear” Burris said.

It’s also important to be willing to get out frequently and go tromping through the woods, Burris said.

Sheryl Young, another Sandusky birder who’s a friend of Warren, said Warren is an experienced birder who knows the best places in Erie County to view birds.

Young hasn’t attempted a Big Year herself.

“A lot of people dream about it,” she said. “Very few people have the ability and the time to actually pursue it”

Warren said she decided to pursue her Big Year recently.

“I thought, I’m retired now” she said. “I have time”

Erie County is a good place to do a Big Year, she said.

“We’re blessed to have so many great natural areas here,” Warren said. “A lot of people know about them, but a lot of people don’t know about them”

Sheldon Marsh is probably Erie County’s best-known birding area, she said.

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