Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Hare Hits 700

No surprise given how hard Neil has been working in August, the Hare yesterday reached 700 bird species seen in the full ABA area when he visited Patagonia SP in Arizona to see an immature blue-footed booby.  He was on his way to New Mexico last week when the blue-footed booby found there was picked up to save it from starvation, so he was pretty happy at getting a second chance.  During my lower 48 big year in 2010 I was hoping that a blue-footed booby would show up but alas it did not.  You can get the full update of his birding since my last post about the hare and the tortoise at his blog site which is linked to mine.

It seems only fitting to provide a bit of perspective to Neil's effort so far.  For those who have been reading this blog lately, you already know that the record holder, Sandy Komito, reached 700 birds at the incredibly early date of July 12th back in 1998. and finished with 748.  John Vanderpoel in 2011 hit 700 birds on August 27th, and finished the year at 743 plus 1 provisional.  John's fall proved to be extremely successful.  By the time he reached 700 species, he had seen 45 code #3-#5 birds, and by the end of 2011 he saw another 35 of which 14 were seen in Alaska.  Neil saw 44 code #3-#5 birds on his way to 700, so he is on a pace that is consistent with John's in 2011.

Neil still has some pelagic trips to make, at least another trip to Alaska, and 10 likely to see code #1 and #2 birds to pick up.  It is impossible to predict just how many code #3-5 birds may show up over the next 4+ months, so all the big year watchers will be paying attention to see if Neil can break Sandy's record.

My photos are of the greater flamingos and a Wurdemann's heron that I saw in late August in Florida during my big year (click on any photo to enlarge).

Turning to the tortoise, Jay Lehman has not posted any updates since the 1st of August.  I have been informed that he has unfortunately had some major flooding problems at his home in Cincinnati which has kept him out of action.  I believe he has finally gotten the situation under control, and will soon be back out birding.

Finally, I mentioned in my last post that I had recently heard of another birder, Ron Furnish from Virginia, who began the year committed to adding to his full ABA area life list, and has now decided he is also doing a big year.  I received a comment on my last post telling me that he does have a blog on the whatbird.com site where you can read his trip reports which I have now done.  I have decided to call him the new guy because I only recently found out about him, and because he began the year with only 132 ABA area life birds.

His level of birding experience reminds me of another big year birder, James Vardaman, who was not really a birder at all.  Nevertheless, he decided back in 1979 to attempt a big year because he thought it would be a good marketing tool for his timber company.  He wrote a book about it afterward titled, "Call Collect, Ask for Birdman".  His year ended with 699 birds on his list which at the time became the record for the full ABA area.

Like James Vardaman, Ron has had the support of many good guides in his birding adventures to assist him in locating hard to find species.  One of those guides he used I also know from my big year, Wes Fritz.  We met first on one of Debi Shearwater's pelagic trips since he was the main chummer for her that year.  While I did essentially no birding with guides during my big year, Wes and I hit it off, and ended up doing some birding together in the fall to chase rarities in CA that he also wanted to see.  Wes is one of the more colorful birders that I have met over the years, and one of the best field birders that I know.  I always enjoyed our time birding together that year, and have seen him since in California when I have been out to do other pelagic trips.

In reading through Ron's trip reports, I noticed a couple of things that I think merit commenting on.  First, Ron is not counting heard birds as part of his list even though that is acceptable by the big year birding guidelines.  Given that he is a relatively new birder, this is probably a good decision since his field experience with bird calls and songs is limited.  In his blog he wonders at one point if anyone who has broken the 700 level has in fact seen at least 700 species.

I personally know 9 of the other 700+ big year birders.  In my case, I had 4 heard only birds on my lower 48 states big year list (black rail, boreal owl, Bicknell's thrush and himalayan snowcock), so I did see exactly 700 species plus the 4 heard only species.  I have not asked Sandy Komito (748), Bob Ake (731) or Lynn Barber (723) about heard only birds, but given how high their year totals were, I would be very surprised if they did not see at least 700 birds during their respective big years.  John Vanderpoel (743), Dan Sanders (715), Greg Miller (715) and Al Levantin (711) all have emailed me that they saw more than 700 species during their respective big years.  In fact, Al said that he had no heard only birds on his big year list. I do not know how many heard only birds Benton Basham (710) had in 1983.  That leaves John Spahr of those I personally know who emailed me that out of his total of 704 birds in 2010, he had at least 6 heard only birds, so he would be the only one that I know of the 700+ group who had less than 700 seen birds as opposed to both seen and/or heard.

At another point in Ron's blog he references a conversation he had in May with someone in Texas about the 12 birders who have seen and/or heard 700+ species in a calendar year.  This person claimed without naming the birder that one of the group was not legitimate.  Ron wrote in his blog that he was going to talk with Bob Ake about it.  I spoke with Bob after reading what Ron had written to see if Ron had done so.  Bob told me he had, and that he had told Ron that he had no doubts about the legitimacy of the 12 known 700+ birders.

I am raising this point because, like golf, birding is all about an honor system when it comes to bird lists.  Do people cheat in golf--yes.  Do people claim birds on their list that in fact they might not have seen and/or heard--yes.  But in both cases they hopefully are the rare exception.  Being a member of the 700+ group, and knowing what it takes to complete a big year, I find it troubling that a relatively new birder would publish in his blog something that might besmirch another birder, and then not follow up on his blog to clear up the allegation.  In this day when the internet is free to anyone to say anything that they want, and then what is written may remain in the ether for years to come, I feel that it is the responsibility of all bloggers to be sensitive to that reality, and to clear up anything that may be misleading, and in turn hurtful.

I am off to the Pribs in Alaska in mid Sept.  I will post again prior to that trip.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Big Year 2013--the Tortoise and the Hare

It is August first and time to do another update on this year's full ABA area big year efforts.   I have decided to call it the year of the tortoise and the hare.  The tortoise is Jay Lehman because of his very slow start, and the hare is Neil Hayward because of his record pace so far.

Jay has spent the last 3 weeks in the northeast, North Carolina, Texas and California beginning to pick up the vast number of code #1 and #2 birds he still has to find for his big year.  He seems to be very focused on this task because he has not chased any of the rarities that have shown up in the lower 48 states in July, not even the 1st recorded sighting in the U.S. of a rufous-necked wood-rail.  You can read all the details on his blog which is linked to mine as is Neil's.  I just exchanged emails with Jay who told me he will soon be updating his blog, and has finished July at 580 birds for the year.  He will be birding in CA and AZ next.

Neil has continued on a torrid pace, picking up many of the remaining code #1 and #2 birds he still needed, but has also managed thru a ridiculous travel schedule to see several code #3 and #4 birds as well.  Neil's past couple of weeks reminds me of the right time/right place good fortune John Vanderpoel had during his big year in 2011. For example, Neil was in FL for a pelagic trip in hopes of getting a white-tailed tropicbird which he did not see, but a fork-tailed flycatcher was found near Orlando that he was able to see.  It disappeared the day after he saw it.  John had the same experience in seeing a fork-tailed flycatcher in FL in 2011.

Neil then flew back to CA even though he had just been there, and was able to see a lesser sand plover in San Diego before it departed the area.  He immediately went to AZ and was fortunate to find the extremely rare slate-throated redstart before bear activity closed the canyon it was in in the Huachuca Mountains near Sierra Vista.  He also had time to find a black-capped gnatcatcher.

He then went back to CA for a pelagic trip out of Half Moon Bay where he had a chance to meet Jay and Sandy Komito, and picked up 3 more year birds.  Then he had the good fortune that a little stint was found in King County that he saw also before it left.  He wrapped up July with a return to Madera Canyon in AZ to spend all day staking out some feeders to be able to see the rare berylline hummer that had just started appearing at Madera Kubo.  As a result he finished July at 696 total birds for his year.  On his blog back on July 2 he outlined his birding plans for the rest of 2013 which undoubtedly will take him well beyond the 700 level.  He is still on a pace that is just a bit ahead of the one John Vanderpoel set in 2011 when he almost eclipsed Sandy Komito's full ABA area big year record of 748.

I spoke with Bob Ake this week who had reached 684 total birds by July 31st in 2010 during his full ABA area big year.  He finished 2010 with a total of 731 birds.  Bob told me there is a man from VA relatively new to birding named Ron Furnish that he has been advising who is also doing a big year.  Bob did not think Ron was doing a blog so no one is aware of his effort.  Bob said Ron has recently passed 600 birds so far for the year.

I added the photo of the Santa Cruz Island jay and the spotted dove because these are both birds that I saw about this time during my lower 48 big year in 2010.  I know that Neil recently saw both these birds, and I assume Jay will be adding them to his list very soon as well.  Stay tuned!