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!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

More 2013 Big Year Commentary

The summer solstice is almost here, and with it generally comes the much slower half of any ABA area big year effort.  I say that because of the combination of the spring migration has finished, and because most big year birders go all out during the first 6 months of the year to find as many birds as possible in the most efficient way possible.  But now we are heading into the summer doldrums when finding new species really slows down if a big year birder has gotten off to a good start.  For example, in 2010 during my lower 48 big year, by June 20th I had seen 619 different species and only added another 85 birds by year end.

I wrote in my last post about how Jay Lehman and Neil Hayward were doing in their full ABA area big year efforts thru June 1.  And while it is only another 3 weeks since then, it seems worth updating how they have progressed. In reading Neil's blog I found out about Hans de Grys, a birder from Seattle who has just completed an unusual full ABA area big year because he began it on June 13, 2012, and finished up on June 12th 2013.  He did it this way because he is a teacher and was taking a year sabbatical to bird, and to visit other outstanding teachers that he knew or had read about.

His split calendar year provided some interesting data for me via his ebird posts.  He saw 460 different species in 2012 over 6.5 months with the last recorded species for the year being a barn owl.  In 2013 his ebird list totaled 542 different species seen in 5.5 months.  In his blog ( he said that the total number of different species seen over the full 12 months added up to 647.  Between the 2 year ebird totals, you can calculate that 355 of the total species he recorded in 2013 were repeats from 2012 (460 + 542 - 647 = 355).  In comparing the summer and fall half of his year to the winter and spring half, he saw almost twice as many non duplicate bird species in 2013 which is what you would expect given that we live in the northern hemisphere where the spring migration is much more important to big year birders than the fall migration.

Turning to Jay and Neil, Jay has not posted to his blog since June 11th when he briefly reported on his trip to Adak and Attu plus one day of birding in Anchorage.  He said he was returning to Ohio on June 16th, but he has not yet updated his blog so I do not know yet how the rest of his Alaska visit turned out for him.  I do know that he picked up over 50 more birds in AK as of June 11th (and is now over 800 life birds for the ABA area), so I am going to estimate that he returned to Ohio with about 520 different species on his year list.

Neil returned from a 2nd trip to Alaska where he got to bird with Hans de Grys.  He stopped in MI to see the Kirtland's warbler, and then has continued to bird in New England, and VA and NC.  He visited Howell Woods in NC which is about 90 minutes from Chapel Hill where as expected he saw both Swainson's and KY warblers.  As of June 19th his full ABA area year total is now at 645 species seen and/or heard.  This is a very, very strong start for any full ABA area big year. It matches where John Vanderpoel was during his almost record breaking effort in 2011.  And from reading his blog, he still has not birded in CA.  He also has only done one pelagic bird trip, so there are still more relatively easy to pick up species for him to pursue.  That said, Neil is going to realize very quickly how different the second half of a big year is compared to the first half--far, far fewer new birds to see, and lots more chasing to reach a plus 700 total for the year.

As for me, I have not birded in a few weeks, but instead have been working on the logistics of visiting the Pribilofs in AK from Sept. 15th to Oct. 4th.  I am going with 3 birding friends from Ohio--Dan Sanders, Doreene Linzell and Laura Keene.  In the mean time who knows where I might head off to.  I was all set to drive down to St. Augustine. FL to look for a variegated flycatcher that ended up being a 1 day wonder because of tropical storm Andrea.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

2013 ABA Big Year Report

Since it is the beginning of June when the spring migration is winding down, it seems like a good time to check in on the progress of the 2 full ABA area big year efforts of which I am aware.  As I have mentioned in some earlier posts, a birder I know from Ohio, Jay Lehman, is undertaking a big year.  I first met Jay on a pelagic trip out of Manteo, NC back in 2002 which is when I also met Dan Sanders (big year in 2005) and Greg Miller (big year in 1998) who are 2 of the 12 known 700+ club big year birders.

Jay has a blog,, which is how I have been following his adventures.  He is currently in Alaska on a boat as part of a trip led by John Puschock of Zugunruhe Tours to Adak and Attu.  Jay had visited the famed Attu back before it was shut down in 2000.  Now the only way to visit is by staying on a boat, and going into the island each day to bird.  His last post was on May 26th just before leaving on his trip to Alaska which will also take him to Nome.  His total as of the 23rd was 456 species.  He hopes to return from Alaska with at least 50 more species on his list.

The other birder that I have discovered doing a big year in the full ABA area is Neil Hayward, an Englishman who lives in Cambridge, MA.  I tracked him down because of his ebird posts.  Based on his ebird totals, over a month ago I got in touch with him to ask whether he was doing a big year.  He emailed me back to say that he had not planned to do one, but given his fast start he now was "reluctantly" deciding to keep going for it.  He now also has started a blog,

He made a quick trip to Alaska in May, and has since stopped briefly in Arizona before traveling onto Minnesota where he is currently birding.  His total as of today is 620 species.  This is an extremely good start for a big year when compared to a few other birders who saw more than 700 species during their big year.  Greg Miller had seen about 560 birds by June 1 on his way to a total of 715 in 1998.  In 1998, Al Levantin had reached 619 birds by June 1 as had John Vanderpoel in 2011.  Al finished his big year at 711, and John ended up at 743.  The best start to a big year was Sandy Komito's total of 645 by June 1 when he set the record at 748 in 1998.

During my lower 48 states big year in 2010, I had seen 607 species by June 1st.  Neil has already seen over 30 more bird species that it took me a longer to find such as short-eared owl, great gray owl and hoary redpoll.  It will be interesting to see how Neil does going forward, and whether Jay has enough time left to "catch up".  Stay tuned!