Friday, September 13, 2013

The Pribs Are Calling

I am off to Alaska to spend almost 3 weeks on St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs which are in the Bering Sea north of the Aleutian Islands chain.  To get there you fly west from Anchorage on a small turbo-prop plane for 4 hours.  I have never been to the Pribs, and am very much looking forward to seeing what the fall winds and weather might bring in from Asia.  There is internet access, so I expect to be able to do a few blog posts while I am there.

Before heading out, I thought it would be good to do another 2013 big year update.  First, the numbers.  Neil Hayward had a good first week of September at Gambell, and made it back to Arizona to see the sinaloa wren.  Since he had nothing scheduled until 9/20 when he will hopefully be on a boat off the west coast, he has just returned to Gambell in hopes of finding more rare vagrants.  As of today his full ABA area big year total is 710 which is still on the pace that John Vanderpoel was on back in 2011.

When Neil was at Gambell he saw Ron Furnish.  Ron has not completed his travel report for that week at Gambell, but his tally for the year now stands at 665.  As both Neil and Ron were leaving Gambell, Jay Lehman arrived from Arizona via Nevada where he picked up the himalayan snowcock.  He also immediately had good fortune at Gambell picking up siberian accentor, yellow-browed warbler and stonechat (siberian race) which raised his big year total to 643.

So some of my readers may be curious as to how these 3 guys are doing relative to other recent big year efforts.  Specifically, could Neil set a new full ABA area big year record, and can Jay and Ron reach 700 species before the year is out?  In the case of Neil, since he has only about 10 more species that he should be able to see relatively easily, his chance to set a new big year record is dependent on how many code #3-5 birds show up over the next 109 days.  For Jay and Ron, they both have lots of code #1 and #2 birds not yet on their big year lists that they could still find, so they both could make it to 700 different species by the end of December.

In all 3 cases, seeing rare vagrants is still the critical unknown factor as to how their respective years finish out. Examining other big year efforts will give some context to this point.  In 2011, John Vanderpoel by this date had seen 711 species.  Over the rest of the year he saw another 32 new birds of which 23 were code #3-#5.  In 2010 by this date, Bob Ake had just reached 700 birds for the year.  By the end of 2010 he saw 31 more new birds of which 23 were code #3-#5. In 2008 by this date, Lynn Barber was at 679 species, and saw 44 more new birds of which 19 were code #3-#5.  Sandy Komito, the record holder at 748, had already seen 736 species by this date in 1998, and almost all the remaining 12 new birds he saw that year were code #3-#5.

These data points give you some idea of the probabilities involved vis a vis vagrants.  Some years are better than others for rarities, or specific vagrants as we have seen in 2013 with blue-footed boobies. Based on the most recent few big year efforts, it would appear that as many as 20 code #3-#5 birds could be seen by any or all of these guys over the remaining days of 2013.  We won't know until the clock strikes midnight on 12/31.
My photos for today are of a long billed curlew I saw in California in September of 2010 during my lower 48 big year, and of our new vizsla puppy that like all puppies is both a joy and tribulation (photo taken by my son Caleb).  So far this summer the Pribs have had some very good birds show up.  Here's hoping that keeps up while I am there.  Stay tuned!

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