2016 Recovery Big Year – Purpose & Goals

Kelley NunnRecovery Big Year

Kelley Nunn Conducting A Winter Raptor Survey at Port Mahon Road, DE - 16 January 2016

My 2016 Recovery Big Year

Kelley Nunn Conducting A Winter Raptor Survey at Port Mahon Road, DE - 16 January 2016

Conducting A Winter Raptor Survey at Port Mahon Road, DE – 16 January 2016

Like last year, the primary goal of my Recovery Big Year is to expand my physical limits through birding. I had great success in 2015, going from bedridden to driving myself an hour; being able to bird awesome hotspots like Indian River Inlet in Delaware, Turkey Point in Maryland, and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. It’s incredible to witness the power birding has over my recovery mindset; the drive to explore, adventure, and bird can motivate me to push myself despite the dizziness and the fog. I am so excited to think about the possibilities for the upcoming year! I have had such a great time coming up with my list of goals and new locations to visit, and am looking forward to sharing them with you.

Of course, raising awareness about the prevalence, symptoms, and treatment of vestibular migraine is also one of the primary motivating factors behind my 2016 Recovery Big Year. Vestibular Migraines are extremely common: an estimated 1-3% of people suffer from this poorly understood disorder, and an estimated 50% of those people are currently undiagnosed 7. My mission in posting about my Recovery Big Year adventures is to:

  • Raise awareness about the prevalence of vestibular migraine and the treatment of migraine disorders,
  • Publicize the association between Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), vertigo, and migraine,
  • Inspire others recovering or struggling with debilitating illnesses, chronic illnesses, and migraine disorder to find sources of joy in their lives, and to
  • Bring bird watching as a therapeutic activity to others who are suffering from chronic illness.

Goals For My 2016 Recovery Big Year

As stated above, I’ve been really excited about the potential and possibilities for my 2016 Recovery Big Year, and have put a significant amount of time into trying to come up with realistic, achievable, and challenging goals for the upcoming year. It’s a tricky thing to estimate or imagine how I’ll feel in 6 or even 12 months, and I’ll be more than happy to increase the difficulty of these goals if my body allows! For now, the goals for my 2016 big year are as follows:

Visit over 100 unique birding locations

2015 Recovery Big Year Birding Range Map - Blue circle showing range in 2015 vs 2014 (in red)

2015 Recovery Big Year Birding Range Map – Blue circle showing range in 2015 vs 2014 (in red)

Birds have their range maps– a map indicating the geographic area in which a particular species can be found– and now I have mine! Back in 2014, my range was limited by the severity of my vestibular migraine and POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) symptoms, represented by the red circle to the right. In 2015, my range expanded to over 2 hours as indicated by the blue circle, and included 117 unique locations, each marked by a blue pointer! This year, I’m keeping my goal for number of locations to 100– a 33% increase from my goal of 75 last year. Beyond the number itself, I’d like to expand my range to three hours (or more!), and be able to see my tick marks for 2016 more widely dispersed. With the help of some of my good birder friends, I’ve come up with a hit list of must-see birding locations that I’m very much looking forward to exploring!

Submit over 600 eBird checklists

If you’re into birds, but not familiar with eBird, you’ve got to check it out! EBird is a remarkable citizen science database that’s used to understand bird populations globally through observation checklists submitted by birders and bird watchers alike. In 2015, I submitted 636 eBird checklists! That averages to almost two observations per day! Each checklist represents a time in which I felt good enough to simply be outside, turn my head, and track with my eyes. Coming from a time in which sitting in a chair or watching birds through my bedroom window was a struggle, submitting over 600 checklists means an awful lot!

Complete all 12 eBird monthly challenges for 2016

Each month, eBird, in partnership with Carl Zeiss Sports Optics (one of my Recovery Big Year sponsors in addition to the Delmarva Ornithological Society), posts an ‘eBirder of the month challenge’ in which birders who complete the requirements are entered to win a pair of Zeiss Conquest HD binoculars! Since I found out about the challenge in April of 2014, I’ve completed every single one! I’d like to keep up my streak by completing all challenges through 2016. Birders who complete all 12 monthly challenges are entered to win the eBirder of the year contest! If you’re a bird watcher of any kind or at any skill level, join me in my goal and you may win a free pair of Zeiss bins while helping to understand and protect birds worldwide!

Go on a pelagic birding trip

This one might be a stretch, but who knows! If I don’t believe I can do it, it’ll never happen. At the very least, I know I can tolerate the ride on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry or a 2-3 hours whale watching trip– both of which are on the to-do list for 2016.

See at least 275 species of birds

Ok, this isn’t too far of a stretch beyond my total for 2015 (251 species), but for staying within the mid-atlantic, I think this is a solid goal. Plus, the primary goal of my recovery big year is to push my physical limits, get healthier and stronger, and to go on adventures in the outdoors. The last thing I want to do is get lost in the numbers– I want to get caught up in the life-changing, joyful experiences.

Add 10 new species to my life list from the following:

While this is definitely not the most important goal on my list, it’s probably one of the most exciting! Beyond adding species from the list below, I would like to get life looks at some birds that I’ve heard, but not seen, including: Upland Sandpiper, Barn Owl, Red Crossbill, and White-winged Crossbill.


  • Pink-footed Goose
  • Barnacle Goose (added in Philly 2/12)
  • Eared Grebe
  • Tufted Duck
  • King Eider
  • Little Egret
  • White-faced Ibis


  • Wilson’s Storm Petrel


  • Northern Goshawk
  • Gyrfalcon

Game Birds:

  • Ruffed Grouse


  • Black Rail
  • Yellow Rail
  • Purple Gallinule


  • American Golden-Plover
  • Black-tailed Godwit
  • Hudsonian Godwit
  • Ruff
  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper
  • Baird’s Sandpiper
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Red-necked Phalarope

Gulls, Jaegers, and Terns:

  • Pomarine Jaeger
  • Black-legged Kittiwake
  • Sabine’s Gull
  • Little Gull
  • Black-headed Gull
  • Franklin’s Gull
  • Mew Gull
  • Gull-billed Tern
  • Royal Tern
  • Sandwich Tern
  • Roseate Tern
  • Whiskered Tern


  • Common Murre
  • Razorbill
  • Dovekie
  • Atlantic Puffin


  • Monk Parakeet


  • Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  • Fork-tailed Flycatcher


  • Northern Shrike


  • Cave Swallow



  • Sedge Wren


  • Bohemian Waxwing


  • Worm-eating Warbler
  • Golden-winged Warbler
  • Cerulean Warbler

Tanagers, Cardinals, & Allies:

  • Painted Bunting

Sparrows & Allies:

  • Clay-colored Sparrow
  • Nelson’s Sparrow (added DE Seashore SP, 1/9)
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Lapland Longspur

Icterids (Blackbirds):

  • Brewer’s Blackbird

Finches & Old World Sparrows:

  • Evening Grosbeak
  • Pine Grosbeak

New This Year:
Recovery Big Year Gallery!

This year, I’ve created a webpage devoted entirely to the pictures I take during my Recovery Big Year. In contrast to reading through each of my big year blog posts, this gallery provides an entirely visual perspective on only the most exciting moments, beautiful landscapes, and unforgettable adventures! To check out the gallery, please click here.

So Far In 2016:

Nelson's Sparrow at Delaware Seashore SP - First Life Bird of 2016 During my Recovery Big Year!

Nelson’s Sparrow at Delaware Seashore SP

In the first three or so weeks of the year, I’ve seen 106 species, added one new life bird to my list (Nelson’s Sparrow), submitted 66 eBird checklists, birded in three states, and have completed the January eBirder of the month challenge! It has been a very productive year so far. In addition to my progress in birding, I have been healthy enough to drive myself over an hour into Philadelphia for my own biofeedback therapy appointments— a huge recovery milestone for me! Now that I know I can drive this far, I can start visiting locations like John Heinz NWR in Philly and Bombay Hook NWR in Smyrna, DE by myself! I’m looking forward to what the rest of the year has in store, and can’t wait to see where I end up by the time 2016 is over. Thanks for reading my Recovery Big Year blog! If you’d like to subscribe to my big year blog posts, click here.

Thank you to my sponsors, the Delmarva Ornithological Society and Zeiss Sports Optics, for supporting my Recovery Big Year and My Migraine Brain endeavors!