Monday, January 3, 2011
Birding versus Chasing
I have talked some in earlier posts about birding versus chasing. In particular I have said that my big year was initially all about birding as opposed to chasing, or twitching as the brits call it. By this I mean that I put in hours of work in the fall of 2009 working out my travel schedule for 2010 so that I could maximize my chances of seeing lots of birds by being in the "right places at the right times". The hope is that some rarities will show up where you are already planning to be at the time you are actually there.
This happened quite a bit in the early part of the year. As a result I saw the bare-throated tiger-heron, the northern wheatear, the northern jacana, the brown jay, the crimson-collared grosbeak, and the blue bunting that came to Texas early in the year. But I did not "chase" (meaning alter my travel schedule) the amazon kingfisher or the roadside hawk, so I missed these 2 rarities in the winter in Texas.
While birding in Florida early in the year I was able to see the La Sagra's flycatcher, the red-footed booby and the masked duck that were there. But I did not rush off to see a western spindalis in April, so I missed it by 2 days; and I did not even make an attempt to see the bahama mockingbird that came to Tampa-St. Pete for a week in early May. These would also have been life birds for me, but at that point in my big year I was not committed to "chasing".
But as my YTD bird total kept growing much faster than I had anticipated, and as the number of rare birds showing up in the lower 48 states kept increasing, I began to think that I needed to chase some of the rarities. As a result, I flew to south Texas from Utah in early July to see a yellow-green vireo plus was able to see groove-billed ani and hook-billed kite on the same trip. When the orange-billed nightingale-thrush (top photo above) was found outside Spearfish, SD I made the decision to "chase" it. My posting on that chase is dated July 25th.
My next chase was down to the Everglades in late August when I heard that a flamingo had been seen. I flew in just for the day and fortunately was able to see 3 flamingos, and was back home that evening (posting dated 8/27). My 3rd chase began as I was just waking up in northern California when I got a call from my birder friend Bob in Florida that a cuban pewee (next to top photo above) had been found that morning in the Everglades. That same day a plain-capped starthroat was found in SE Arizona. The entries for these 2 chases are dated 9/6 and 9/8.
Since by the end of September I had seen almost all the birds one would expect to find in the lower 48 states, October, November and December were mostly about chasing rare birds when they were reported on Narba, or when birders who were following my big year contacted me about the possibility of seeing another rarity. The 3 bottom photos are of the tufted flycatcher, the streak-backed oriole (11/29 posts) and the baikal teal (12/3 post) that I chased this fall and saw.
As I have said in earlier posts, when I began the year I had no intention of setting a record, and did not even know what the record for the lower 48 states was until late September/early October. However, because of the phenomenal number of rare birds that visited from both south and north "of the border", I had the opportunity and good fortune to see over 700 birds in the lower 48 states even though I did not start chasing until July.
The key take-away for anyone thinking about doing a big year--whether it is a full ABA area or just your home state-- is to be clear about your intentions. If all you want to do is have a great year focused on birding, then pursue whatever schedule works for you. But, if you have in mind that you want to set a record, then you need from day 1 to be flexible and willing to "chase" a rarity when it shows up because you never know how many rarities might visit during your "big year". While I have no regrets at this point, if I had started out with that mindset, I know I would have seen at least 5 more birds in 2010 (amazon kingfisher, roadside hawk, bahama mockingbird, red-necked stint, and black-vented oriole).
Tomorrow I will be writing more about my big year schedule, and the amazing number of rarities that visited the lower 48 states in 2010. Stay tuned!