Sunday, June 30, 2013

1/2 Way Mark for Big Year 2013 Birders

For big year birders, today is the half way mark in their personal odyssey.  Since Neil put a link to my blog this week, I received a comment on my last post from someone who I assume is following Neil's blog. After reading my last post, his comment was that he thought Neil would make it past 700 different species for the year, but he had his doubts about Jay reaching the 700 level.  Based on the fact that as of today Neil has now seen 653 different species whereas Jay's total is only at 522, the commenter's speculation is not unreasonable.  Let's look at their lists and other big year efforts to flesh out the probabilities.

First, the baseline to any big year effort starts with successfully seeing as many of the code #1 and #2 birds on the ABA list.  Currently this number is at 667 different species, and about 25-30 of them are normally only seen in Alaska.  During my lower 48 big year in 2010, I ended the year having seen 642 code #1 and #2 birds, and did not miss any code #1 or #2 birds that I reasonably would have expected to find in the lower 48 states.

For me to reach my year end total of 704 birds in 2010, I also saw 62 code #3-5 species.  By the end of June in 2010 I had seen a total of 631 bird species of which 34 were code #3-5.  John Vanderpoel, who did a full ABA area big year in 2011, had reached by June 30th a total of 654 birds of which 32 were code #3-5.  He finished the year at 743 plus 1 provisional (hooded crane).  The full ABA area record holder is Sandy Komito who reached 748 total different species seen in 1998.  He also holds the record of 692 species seen by June 30th of his record year, and of that mid year number, 66 were code #3-5 birds.  This amazingly high number of code #3-5 in just 1/2 year of birding is mostly attributable to the el nino spring experienced at Attu in 1998 when so many rarities showed up.

Neil's overall total of 653 by June 30th is on the pace set by John, plus he has seen 33 code #3-5 birds so far which also compares well with John.  Unless Neil decides not to chase aggressively the rest of the year ( I spent $5,000 to see the last 16 birds on my list in 2010), he should definitely see more than 700 different species.  If he returns to AK in the fall, and has very good luck with rare vagrants in the fall, he could end up with a very high number for the year.

Turning to Jay's June 30th total of 522, it would appear that the commenter has good reason to doubt Jay's ability to "catch up".  I have my reservations also, but when you look at Jay's year to date list, you can see that he still has some major areas left to bird like Arizona and California, plus like Neil, he could do several pelagic trips by the end of the year.  His number of code #3-5 birds stands at 32. Jay invested a lot of time (and money) to visit Attu in May and early June.  As a result, he was able to push his ABA area life list to 804 birds, and saw what I would gauge are 31 bird species unique to visiting AK.  Neil on the other hand saw only 24 species that I would say are unique to AK.  Should Jay decide to return to AK this fall, and work really hard on the vast number of code #1 and #2 birds he has yet to see in the lower 48 states, then he still might prove that a slow start to a big year is not necessarily bad.

My bird photos for today's post (click on any photo to enlarge) were taken by me at the end of June during my lower 48 big year in 2010 when I was birding in Colorado.  One of the nice things about doing a blog of your big year, is that you have a record that you can return to for data, and to simply enjoy the memories.  Stay tuned!


  1. By my estimate Jay can still reach over 700 species just by picking up Code 1 and 2 species, and along the way he will pick up more Code 3 and 4 birds. He has not spent anytime in CA or AZ yet. He has not done any pelagics. Once he has made these trips he will be right where every other Big Year birder is at the end of the summer. He has time for another trip to Alaska this Fall when some megas will surely show up. In my estimation he needs to now concentrate on getting species that head south of the ABA Area soon after breeding. He can then concentrate on the other birds which other big year birders usually get in the first half of the year. He also has going for him that the Fall migration is more prolonged than the Spring migration and he has more time to track down these migrants. Knowing Jay I wouldn't count him out yet.

    1. I think it still possible that Jay will get more than 700 but I think he will have to put a lot more effort for certain code 1 and 2 birds that would have been easy in spring. I do think getting the code 4 and 5 birds on Attu was great but I hope it won't cost him some common birds. In order to get the code 1 and 2 birds he has missed he will have to go to ME,CA,AZ,TX (summer and late fall), MN, NV and probably pelegics from ME,MA,NC and CA. I just think that some of the birds will be harder to get now and he will likely miss a few common ones. But if he works hard in the next few months he might get most or nearly all.

      Neil already has all of those except CA birds. So it will be a lot easier for him to break the 700 mark or higher. All Neil will have to do is go on as many good pelegics as possible, do a CA trip, probably another Alaska trip, and chase some more rarities. He doesn't have to mop up any common birds, which in my opinion is a big bonus. I think Neil will get the highest total if he keeps going the way he has been for the rest the year.

    2. I think the biggest question for Neil is "What date will he hit 700"? What is the earliest date someone has reached 700?

    3. I would say sometime in August.

      Now that we have a post from Neil we can make more accurate projections:

      He may get up to 720 to 730 without chasing any rarities (just the ones at the locations he is going - that is if Gambell is good this year). If he chases as many rarities as he can he might get close to the record. But it's hard to tell. It depends on how many good rarities show up this year and when they appear.

      I have been thinking about Jay as well. I think he will get to 700. It seems to me he should be able to at least get to 700 but it is hard to say if he will get close to the record.

      By the way, I do not know Jay or Neil. But I follow both of their blogs and this one because I have an interest in big years.

  2. Sandy Komito reached 700 birds in 1998 on July 12th. John Vanderpoel in 2011 did not reach 700 birds until August 27th.