Tuesday, December 24, 2013

And Then There Was Only One Week Left

It is Christmas eve afternoon and all thru the house.....In 2010 during my lower 48 big year I was home today getting ready to spend Christmas day with my family.  This year I am doing the same, and since I was in town this past Sunday, I also was able to join my friends Pam and Perry who walk our property as part of their annual CBC day.  It was unusually warm--record setting warm--here in Chapel Hill.  We really had a pretty slow day bird wise until the very end of the 3 hour tour thru the 230 acres we live on.  We picked up a small mixed feeding flock, and Perry found a barred owl roosting in a pine tree.  I did not have my camera with me, so instead I have posted a photo of a barred owl that I took in Florida back in 2010 (click on photo to enlarge).

With just one week to go in 2013, a short update on the big year birders seemed appropriate.  Ron Furnish has not posted anything since last week's update, but I did see that he entered on the ABA listing central site his year total of 687.  Neil Hayward did make it to Homer, AK where on the 18th he saw a rustic bunting.  He has been home since waiting for another rarity to be found that he might be able to chase.  He briefly thought one had been seen in British Columbia--a possible Eurasian Hobby--but it was decided that it was the prairie race of merlin.  His year total is at 745 + 3 provisionals, and he also has seen an aplomado falcon that he might still add to his list.

The big news for this post is the outstanding job turned in so far in December by Jay Lehman.  As I have pointed out in earlier posts, Jay's big year has developed unlike any of the other highly successful big year birder's efforts.  All those in the 700+ group have started very fast, and generally have seen at least 600 different species by June 1.  Jay started more slowly, and by June 1 his year total was only at 522.  As a result, I suggested in an earlier post that he was the tortoise as compared to Neil's hare.

Jay has proven that an accomplished birder with his kind of experience and knowledge can definitely overcome a slow start.  Through his persistence and diligence Jay is now at 730 + 2 provisionals.  In December so far he has added 25 new birds to his list as he has sought out, mostly in Arizona, many code #1 and #2 birds that were not yet on his list.  In comparison in December Sandy Komito (748) saw only 3 new birds; John Vanderpoel found only 10 more; Bob Ake saw 8 new birds; Lynn Barber also added 8 new species; and Neil so far has seen 8 new birds.  Kudos to Jay for delivering such a strong effort this month.

After this date in their respective big years, Sandy saw 1 new bird; John 3; Bob 1; and Lynn 1.  Who knows what the next 7 days might bring in the way of rarities, but if the weather cooperates, both Neil and Jay are planning to go out of Hatteras, NC with Brian Patteson on Saturday the 28th in hopes of seeing a great skua.  For Neil, depending on what happens with his provisional birds, a great skua would give him the potential to set a new full ABA area big year record.  For Jay, it definitely would tie him for 4th place on the full ABA area big year list and his provisionals give him the potential to be alone in the 4th spot. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

52 Weeks in the Books with Just 2 More to Go

There are only 2 weeks left in 2013 for big year birders to find a few more new species for their lists.  In 2010 by this date I did not yet know that I had just seen my last new birds for the year.  I had gone to North Dakota to see both common and hoary redpolls which on the day that I saw them I thought were my 700th and 701st birds for my lower 48 big year.  Little did I know that because I had not created a bird list on my blog until February, I had left 3 birds off the list when I did my initial 200+ bird entry.  Followers of my blog pointed out an entry error I had made on scissor-tailed flycatcher, and when I went to carefully review my list I found a few entry errors including that I had left northern harrier, blue-headed vireo and hermit thrush off my list back when I first started it on the blog.

Imagine my surprise then to discover that the 2 redpolls were actually my 703rd and 704th birds for the year (click on any photo to enlarge).  Even though I went up to Massachusetts to join a CBC in hopes of seeing a thick-billed murre on the 19th of December, I did not see one, and so my final count for 2010 was 704.

So where are our big year birders with just 14 days left to bird?  Ron Furnish did another post to talk about his recent trip to Texas to see whooping cranes.  This was his 687th new bird for the year, but in his trip report he said he does not expect to do any significant birding before 12/31, and that the cranes might be his last new bird for 2013.

Jay Lehman has been birding so hard that he is not close to caught up on his blog.  He had a very successful trip to Anchorage and Nome, and also out to Adak with Neil Hayward, John Puschock and Bill Sain.  I believe he is currently in Arizona picking up more birds as well.  Jay started his year a bit slowly and then missed 2-3 weeks in August because of a flooding problem at his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.  As a result, he still is searching for some code #1 and #2 birds that he did not have time to find earlier in the year.  His count is now up to 721 + 3 provisionals last I heard.

Neil as I write is amazingly flying back to Alaska to look for a rustic bunting that has been coming to a feeder in Homer for the past week.  I believe that this is his 7th trip since May to Alaska. He had been in Florida where he saw a La Sagra's flycatcher, but missed finding what appears to be a returning white-cheeked pintail at Pelican Island NWR.  With the little bunting he saw in northern California, and the La Sagra's he is now at 744 + 3 provisionals.  He has still not added the aplomado falcon he saw to his list which would bring his confirmed total to 745.  Sandy Komito's record of 748 set back in 1998 is definitely in play.  Stay tuned!

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!