Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Just 4 Weeks Left for 2013 Big Year Birders

In 2010 during my lower 48 big year, I was home on this date looking out my kitchen window at my snow covered bird feeding station.  Henry the heron looked cold with snow on his back.  Since I had seen all but 2 of the code #1 and #2 birds that could be expected to be found in the lower 48 states, I was in a holding pattern waiting for a new vagrant to show up somewhere.  As it turned out, I headed to California on the 8th to look again for the brown shrike that was relocated above Arcata.

So what has happened with the big year birders in the past week?  Ron still has not posted any new trip reports and his total is at 686.  Jay had a very successful trip to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia followed by a whirlwind day in Arizona that has brought his year total to 708 + 2 provisionals.  He is in Anchorage today in an effort to find the dusky thrush that has returned to the city for the 3rd winter in a row.  Tomorrow he and Neil will be flying out to Adak with John Puschock to spend 3 days searching for rarities.

After finding the dusky thrush last Friday, and seeing McKay's buntings on Saturday in Nome, Neil decided to make a quick trip to TX where he saw yesterday American flamingo and whooping crane. He is flying back to Anchorage today to be in position to go to Adak.  His year total is 740 + 2 provisionals.  He has now seen all but 2 code #2 birds. During my lower 48 big year I had the good fortune to see in August 3 sub-adult flamingos in the Everglades.

Again, some data points for comparison.  With 4 weeks left, in 1998 Sandy Komito saw just 3 more new species of which two were code #4.  Lynn Barber in 2008 found 8 more new birds with 7 being code #3 or higher.  In 2010 Bob Ake also saw 8 more new species of which 7 were code #3-5. Finally, John Vanderpoel in 2011 also saw only 8 more new birds of which 6 were code #3 or higher.

To wrap up this post, I also will share some new statistical analysis that I have done on big years.  Dan Sanders (full ABA area big year in 2005), and I have been talking for some time now about other possible ways to measure big year success than just a year end total.  The reason for the discussion is because the ABA keeps adding more birds to its list.  Specifically, in 1979 when James Vardaman fell 1 bird short of seeing 700 birds, the ABA list of accepted birds totaled 826.  In 1998 the ABA list was up to 911 species.  By 2008 it had reached 957, and today it is at 981.  Of the total new birds added since 1979, 33 have been code #1 or #2, and 122 have been code #3 or higher.

As I have written in the past, when comparing Sandy Komito's 2 big year totals (1987--725; 1998--748), you would say on first blush that 1998 was far superior.  But when you realize that 21 more code #1 and #2 birds were added to the ABA list between 1987 and 1998, an apples to apples comparison shows the 2 years were much closer.  Sandy in his book about his 1998 big year, "I Came, I Saw, I Counted", talks about this, but concluded he felt overall that 1998 was a "better" effort.

I have also commented in several posts that one reason I think Sandy's record will be broken is because 12 more code #1 and #2 species have been added to the ABA list since 1998. This is one reason Lynn Barber, Bob Ake, John Vanderpoel and probably Neil Hayward have been able to reach ever higher year end totals for the full ABA area since 2008.

So, another possible way to measure big year success might be to calculate a birder's percentage success rate by dividing birds seen against the ABA list total for that year.  Having done this, I have concluded this is not really a good measure because 4 times as many code #3 or higher birds have been added since 1979 as code #1 and #2 species.  The numbers are as follows:  Vardaman 699 in 1979--84.6%;  Benton Basham 711 in 1983--84.6%; Komito 722 in 1987--84.1%; Rydell 714 in 1992--81.5%; Komito 748 in 1998--82.1%; Sanders 715 in 2005--76.7%; Barber 723 in 2008--75.5%; Ake 731 in 2010--75.4%; and Vanderpoel 743 + 1 provisional in 2011--76.7%.

One other point involves the linear nature of a big year.  Specifically, it is interesting to see that there is a strong correlation between how early a big year birder hits 700, and the overall big year total achieved.  Again the numbers since 1998 for full ABA area big year birders who passed 700 birds:  Komito (748) reached 700 species on 7/12; Vanderpoel (743 + 1) saw his 700th on 8/27; Hayward (740 and counting) hit 700 birds on 8/19; Ake (731) got to 700 on 9/6; Barber (723) saw her 700th bird on 10/24; Sanders (715) did it on 11/9; Miller (715) reached 700 sometime in late September; Levantin (711) hit 700 in early October; Lehman (708 and counting) saw #700 on 11/18; and Spahr (704) hit 700 on 12/11.

The final 4 weeks of birding in 2013 could be very exciting.  Stay tuned!

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