Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Big Night Takes over for the next 10 Days

It is Wednesday afternoon and I am packing to go off to Italy for the next 10 days, thus the name of this posting. I was able to live in Florence, Italy for 10 months back in 2003-04, and have been able to stay connected with some friends we made there. So we are returning again with our good US friends, Craig and Renee, to visit old haunts in Florence and Venice. Quite a bit of great food and wine will be consumed, and when I return I will do my best to share it with you.

While I am gone I will of course hope that all the rarities that I still need for my big year will wait to show up after I return, and if not, then have the good sense to hang around until I get back.

I was asked after my last post what code 1-3 birds do I still have left to see this year. For the non-birders out there, the ABA puts codes on all the birds seen in its area based on how difficult they are to find. The very rarest birds are code 4 and 5, and so far this year I have been fortunate to see several. Of the code 1-3 birds, code 3 has the fewest overall while the vast majority of ABA area birds are code 1 or 2. The coding is partly tied to a bird's habitat/geography. So for example a bird seen regularly in Alaska could be a code 1, but for someone doing a lower 48 states big year an AK code 1 bird might be an impossibility. A good example of this would be a red-faced cormorant.

So the answer to the question posed by one of my readers is not necessarily simple, nevertheless I will do my best to respond. Of all the code 1-3 birds that I would expect to find in the lower 48 states, only rusty blackbird (1) is left to see. The other 2 birds I fully expect to find are also code 1 birds--rock sandpiper and common redpoll--but that would be in AK. In the lower 48 they show up in the winter, thus my belief that I will be able to see them. I tried to find both in January thru March, but did not succeed. In the case of the common redpoll, I flushed up a large flock of small birds off a road in Minnesota in January that I believe were redpolls, but since they did not land again where I could study them, I chose not to count them.

A code 3 bird--the Tamaulipas crow--I looked for in the spring and summer in south TX, but did not find any; and the probability is very low that any will show up before the end of 2010. A code 2 bird--gyrfalcon--is a rare visitor to places like Washington state, or northern plains states in the winter where hopefully I will find one in December. Except for a couple of code 2 and 3 pelagic birds, and a few code 3 land birds, all the other birds that I might be able to see before the year is out would be code 4 or 5's. Over the past few years such birds in these groups like pink-footed goose, aztec thrush, loggerhead kingbird, and ivory and slaty-backed gulls have made appearances in November and December.

Finally, since my last post I have been in email contact with Sandy Komito who holds the record set in 1998 of 748 birds seen in the full ABA area (North America above Mexico). I had been trying to find out what his lower 48 number was that year because he had not submitted one to the ABA. Since his goal was on breaking his own ABA record of 722 birds set back in 1987, he had not focused on the lower 48 states. Because of my email he checked his computer records and told me that he had seen 692 different species in the lower 48. Prior to receiving this info, I had thought my friend, Dan Sanders, had the lower 48 record of 685. Now I know that I need a few more birds to move into the top spot for the lower 48. The photo of the great gray owl above is there as a positive statement about my prospects going forward. Stay tuned!


  1. Have fun in Italy, and here's hoping you get all those Code 1-3 birds, as well as a big pile of Code 4-5 birds in your last two months of this adventure! It would be nice to see somebody beat at least one of Sandy's records :-)

  2. You probably already heard this, but at Pismo Beach (CA) an Ivory Gull has shown up last Thursday and it is still around this Saturday (Nov 6). I hope you can get it.