Tuesday, October 15, 2013

11 Weeks Left for 2013 Big Year Birders

There are only 11 weeks left in 2013 for this year's big year birders to keep seeking out new birds to increase their year end totals.  When I reached this point in 2010 during my lower 48 big year, I had just come off a short break from birding.  My wife and I, and 3 other couples spent 3 days and 2 nights in Las Vegas eating well, and attending 2 Cirque du Soleil shows.  Then 2 of the guys joined me for a few days of slot canyon day hiking in Utah.  From there I drove my truck back home for the first time since early June.

I got home on September 30th, and was on a plane immediately out to the Seattle area to look for 3 sharp-tailed sandpipers that had been reported north of the city.  I found them, but they were too far away for me to get good photos so instead I am using a photo that Laura Keene took 3 weeks ago when we were at the Pribs (click on any photo to enlarge).

I also met John Puschock for the first time when we tried to locate a horned puffin that also had been reported in the area.  We scoped the water for about 4 hours without any success, but we did see some nice harlequin ducks.

Next up was a trip out to California where I teamed up with Wes Fritz to search for great gray owls in Yosemite NP.  We found a family of 4 one morning which turned out to be one of the highlights of my year.

So where are Neil, Jay and Ron at this point?  Neil and Jay are both in southern California doing a pelagic trip today.  Recently they both have been very busy in Alaska where I was able to have dinner with them a week ago in Anchorage.  We had a very nice meal at Sack's Cafe sharing big year stories,  eating some really good food, and drinking some very nice wine.  They are both birding so hard that they are a bit backed up on posting to their respective blogs, but they will catch up before long.  Neil's total for the year is 723 + 2 provisionals (rufous-necked wood-rail and common redstart), and Jay is now at 680 + 2 provisionals (white-cheeked pintail and common redstart).

As for Ron, I do not know what he has been doing since he has not posted for quite some time.  I do know that on his last whatbird comment his total for the year was 674 birds. 

So how are they doing compared to recent full ABA area big years?  Ron's blog site does not provide a full list of his birds seen, so I can not assess his chances of reaching 700 for the year, and thus I won't offer an opinion.  As I have said many times over the past few months, Jay is a test case as to whether a birder who got off to a slow start can still break the 700 level.  In talking with him in Anchorage, he plans to go all out to reach 700, and believes it is possible because he still has 40-50 code #1 and #2 birds that he has not yet seen.  While he will welcome any rare vagrants that show up until the end of the year, his main focus will be on finding enough of the as yet unseen code #1 and #2 birds.

Neil is still on the pace that John Vanderpoel set in 2011 when he almost passed Sandy Komito's record of 748 reached back in 1998.  He also still has 6 code #1 and #2 birds that he expects to see, but mainly the rest of 2013 for him will be about chasing vagrants.  To give you some idea of his chances of breaking the record, I will share the following data from 4 other full ABA area big years.

First, Lynn Barber did her big year in 2008.  By this date her year total was 698.  For the rest of the year she found another 25 new birds of which 13 were code #3 or higher.  She made a trip to Newfoundland to pick up 3 of those rarities.

Second, Bob Ake did his big year in 2010.  By this date his year total was 714, but it took him almost a month before he added another new bird to that total.  He added a total of 17 more new birds by year end of which 14 were code #3 or higher.  5 of those rarities he saw in Canada.

Third, by this date John Vanderpoel's year total was 726.  He added 17 more new birds to his total plus 1 provisional (hooded crane) of which 14 were code #3 or higher.  Of those 14, he found one in Alaska and 3 in Canada.

Finally, it is a little hard to be certain about Sandy Komito's total by this date, but based on reviewing his book, "I Came, I Saw, I Counted",  I believe his total was 734 plus 3 provisionals (yellow-throated bunting, Belcher's gull and Bulwer's petrel).  He added just 11 more birds of which 7 were code #3 or higher.  All those birds were seen in the lower 48 states.

Based on probabilities of finding code #3 and above birds from Lynn's, Bob's and John's results during the last 11 weeks of their respective big years, it would seem that Neil has a shot to set a new record, but could like John just fall short.  It will be very interesting to see what happens.

I will be going out to California and Arizona this weekend to do some more birding with Dan and Doreene, and Laura.  Stay tuned!

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