Jeremy Bensette, from Leamington, Ont. set a new provincial record for the most bird species spotted in a single year.

The CBC's Conrad Collaco spoke with Bensette a day after he found the one last elusive species —a Northern Gannet — to make him Ontario's new bird watching champion. That sighting gave him 343 species seen in 2017. 

Listen to or read our interview with him. Here's an edited and abridged transcript of that conversation.

Jeremy Bensette, Ontario bird watcher 

Jeremy Bensette 2

On Nov. 21, 2017 Jeremy Bensette spotted his 344th bird species in the last year. It's a new Ontario record. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

How did you find the Northern Gannet?

My friend and I were travelling towards Ottawa. We were around Kingston. I received a phone call that a Northern Gannet had been seen just south of Hamilton along Lake Ontario. We went to Hamilton to Confederation Park. A few friends had re-found it sitting on the water, believe it or not, just sitting on the beach. We ran from the car and got our eyes on it a.

'It's kind of on an honour system — competitive birding. Of course, there is no real prize. One kind of builds a reputation. It's pretty easy to lose that reputation through mistakes or being caught being dishonest.' - Jeremy Bensette

I think there's a decent chance a Northern Gannet on Lake Ontario might have a stomach ache. It's not in its usual salt-water environment. I don't know if it was feeling quite the same excitement that I was. 

Northern Gannet

A Northern Gannet, similar to the one shown in this photo, was spotted Monday Nov. 20 in Hamilton by Jeremy Bensette from Leamington, Ont. It was the 344th bird species seen by Bensette this year in Ontario, a new provincial record. (Pixabay)

What counts as an official sighting?​

It's kind of on an honour system — competitive birding. Of course, there is no real prize. One kind of builds a reputation. It's pretty easy to lose that reputation through mistakes or being caught being dishonest. It's pretty impossible to gain it back. I personally take a lot of photos so I have photos of almost every species I have seen in Ontario this year. 

Which bird got you most excited and were most surprised to find? 

That's a good question. That was a Wood Stork I found at Point Pelee which is my home park. I'm from the Leamington area. I was in Algonquin Park at the time. I raced back home, ended up missing it in the evening and then re found it after a good three or four hours of searching the next morning. That was my highest sought-fter species I was hoping to see this year or any time in the next few years. 

Wood Stork

Ontario bird watcher Jeremy Bensette says, that on his quest to set a record for having spotted, in one year, the most bird species in Ontario, he was most surprised and excited to see the Wood Stork, classified as a threatened species in the United States. (Wikimedia Commons)

What bird have you most wanted to see that has so far escaped you?

Yes. I would say the biggest missed bird this year was an Ivory Gull. You can imagine how white an Ivory Gull is with a name like that. I was looking at a more common white gull about a half hour down the coast in my home town when I caught wind that someone found an Ivory Gull. By the time I got there it was gone. We searched for a whole day after that it ended up being found somewhere in Michigan. 

Ivory Gull

Jeremy Bensette said he was eager to spot the elusive Ivory Gull, like the one in this photo, but failed to catch a glimpse during his record breaking bird-watching year. (flickr)

What made you want to do this?

I'm passionate and fairly competitive. A couple of my closest friends who brought me up in my bird-watching career are among Ontario's top competitive bird watchers. I was going to follow behind what they were doing. One of my closest friends is Josh Vandermuelen from the Hamilton area. He's the one who held the record since 2012 that I ended up breaking yesterday. He was also present at the beach when I saw the Gannet there last night which was really nice.

How has your quest for this record been received by Ontario's birding community? 

It's been humbling — the amount of support people have thrown my way, whether it's friends I have known for years or people who I have just met. I've received emails from strangers who have been following along on my progress. I wouldn't have been able to get to this point without the support of the whole bird watching community. I can't be grateful enough for that.