Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is 700 Species Possible in the Lower 48 States?

It is Tuesday afternoon and I did not go to California yesterday morning. The brown shrike that was found early on Sunday disappeared by the end of the day, and has not yet been relocated. I knew this before I boarded my plane home on Sunday evening. While I would love to add a brown shrike to this big year, I have been quite happy being home the past 2 days, getting some needed rest. Plus, Thanksgiving is almost here.

I did go birding with my local birding buddy, Pam (top photo), this AM. It was unseasonably warm--over 70 degrees--and a bit windy because of the weather front that came in this afternoon. In the past week the leaves have mostly fallen, but as you can see in the pic, there is still some good fall color here in NC. We really did not see many birds, but did get a nice photo of the cedar waxwing (bottom photo). We also had a bald eagle fly over.

After my last post, Ned, a friend of Bob Ake's, commented that he was wondering if it was possible to see 700 species in just the lower 48 states in a calendar year. As I have said a few times in this now almost 11 month long blog, I originally did not think it was possible to see 700 different birds because of several factors.

The 1st is that when you study the probable birds you could find in the lower 48, the number is around 650. Second, each of the next 50 birds become increasingly more rare in their incidence in the lower 48. Third, when they are found, they often do not stay around long enough to travel any distance to their location before they have moved on.

Fourth, if any birder had seen more than 700 birds in the lower 48 states when doing a big year, I figured I would have read about it. Fifth, so far only 9 birders have seen over 700 birds in 1 year in the full ABA area. Finally, my goal was to use birding as a focalizer of a grand travel adventure for the year, and not necessarily to try to set a record.

As a result, I never even bothered to check until about 2 months ago to see what the record for the lower 48 states was. That is when I discovered the info I have shared recently. First, the ABA "official" record is 685 set in 2005 by my friend Dan Sanders. Second, Sandy Komito emailed me that when he set the full ABA area record back in 1998 of 745 birds, he saw 692 of those in the lower 48 states, but did not submit that number to the ABA.

With the good fortune of the past few days when I saw the fork-tailed flycatcher, the Ross' gull and the pink-footed goose, I am now at 694 birds for the year which means I am now the record holder (official and unofficial) for the lower 48 states. I also know, barring just horrendously bad luck, that I will see common redpoll and rock sandpiper before the end of the year.

I also said recently before seeing the last 3 rarities that I felt 695 was probable by year's end. Which finally gets me back to Ned's musing about 700 for the year. Over a month ago I suggested the chances were "slim and none at all, and slim had just left town". Now I have to say that slim has returned to the edge of town. Will 4 more rarities appear in the next 5 weeks, and will I be able to reach them--maybe.

What I do know because of the number of rarities that have already shown up this year, that seeing 700 bird species in the lower 48 states is doable. In fact, if I somehow had been able to see all of the following rarities that did come to the lower 48 already this year, then I would be over 700.

For starters, I did not decide to chase after rarities until July. As a result, in the winter I missed the amazon kingfisher, tamaulipas crow, and roadside hawk in TX, and the ivory gull in both MA and GA. I missed the western spindalis in April, and the bahama mockingbird in May in FL. I chose not to chase a red-necked stint in MA in July, and a lesser sand plover in WA in September because I doubted they would stay around long enough.

Some 1 day wonders this year included an aztec thrush in March, black-vented oriole in April, and a green violetear in September in TX; a common ringed plover in MA in September; and an arctic loon and horned puffin in WA in October. The recent thick-billed vireo in FL was seen and photographed, but not reported for 4 more days, and by the time it was confirmed, it also disappeared. And I missed the most recent ivory gull in CA by 6 hours.

Some pelagic birds seen this year on other trips than the ones I took included great-winged, herald and white-chinned petrels; wedge-tailed, black-bellied and white-faced storm-petrels; and short-tailed albatross.

Hindsight shows that I could have reached in time the amazon kingfisher, the bahama mockingbird, the roadside hawk, the winter ivory gulls, and the red-necked stint. Therefore, at a minimum I would have 5 more year birds as of today, and at a maximum there are a total of 19 rare birds that came to the lower 48 states that I was not able to see. If I had, then my YTD number would be at 713 which means hypothetically, Ned, it would have been possible this year to see 700 birds in the lower 48. And with 5 weeks to go I will still be trying to do just that! Stay tuned!

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