Day -2: The Undercover Big Year

Wednesday, December 30, 2015 2 Comments A+ a-

In less than 48 hours 2016 will have rang in across the continental United States. That means a new year, new lists, new birds, and new challenges.  As a previous Big Year Birder I always have that itch to get out, see as many birds as possible, and possibly give another Big Year a shot.  It's a temptation that since my last Big Year I have managed to stave off and let sleeping giants rest.  But as 2016 approached that Big Year itch hit me hard and I decided I had to give it a shot again.  That mean 2016 was going to be another Big Year.

Here is a little background about me, and my previous Big Year.  I don't want to give away my identity, and I don't want other birders to know I am doing a Big Year.  This is quite the opposite of my last attempt--where I made no secrets of my intentions to topple the previous record, and talked at length with others about my adventure.  This year will be different.  I plan on telling no one.  Not a single soul.  Not my significant other, my family, my friends (non-birders and birders alike)--NO ONE! This after all is my Undercover Big Year.

My previous attempt was actually a 2nd Big Year attempt and happened in the last decade.  If it were a North American Big Year you would know by now who I was--but I'm not that guy.

I'm also not that other guy who just destroyed the World Big Year record.  Sorry, I meant to say annihilated...  I have no grand plans to see 6,000+ species of birds this year.  I don't have the time, flexibility, money, or to be honest the drive to do it.  Let's be honest, it takes a special kind of crazy birder to do that.

I'm not doing a quirky, environmentally friendly big year, like that delightful cuckoo who biked 15,000 17,830 some odd miles (correction via a Facebook Post) around the United States in 2014 to set a biking big year record.  I don't ride a bike all that often, and I'm grounded to a full time, good paying, pretty freaking awesome career that I can't and won't walk away from.

Getting to the point I am doing a State Big Year.  I have a target number of species I know exists from my previous attempt.  Sometime between 2001 and 2014, I set a new State Big Year record in the state of... Well that would make it too easy.  I'll help narrow things a little more I guess.  My record is/was between 300-400 species for the year.  It was one of the lower 48 states, and has a great variety of habitats.  On an annual basis between 350-400 species are recorded in this state providing plenty of targets to chase.

That is to say that looking at a 50 year history of my state the average # of birds recorded annually falls in the range--some years it may be higher, other years lower, and if you are looking at eBird for your annual totals, this won't be helpful because in general the last 10 years have the highest totals for every state due to the sheer number of users.  Typical state totals fell well below the 10 year trend if you look at historical numbers for states.

If I gave any more details, you might be able to figure out which state I am from, who I am, and then this wouldn't be nearly as fun as I am trying to make it.  I have been birding more than 1/2 my life, and that's about as much detail as I am going to share about who I am.

So how is this going to work?  Let's be honest for just a second and point out that if I were to share my sightings via eBird, you would be able to eventually figure me out.  If I were to share locations I went birding, you would again be able to narrow down the options.  I have to be very generic about how I share the information I share--what photos I allow you to see, and how I go about keeping my list and making sure no one figures things out to quickly.

This is where things get interesting--and where I hope I don't lose you.  Although I will use some of the most common bird names during the year, and to help keep things somewhat recognizable--I will be coming up with code names for every species I see.  This means that instead of for instance me reporting a Rock Wren.  I might call it something like a Granite Babbler.  Or instead of a Western Meadowlark it might instead be called the Melodious Occidental.  These are just examples, but ones that will give this game a bit of intrigue.  It will also cover my tracks enough to hopefully stave off my identity till the end of 2016.

The same thing goes for the names of other birders and places I go birding.  The only way this works is if I can do a good enough job at being secretive that the clues I leave don't give it away too soon.  And I'm aware there are some sleuth birders out there, and that if I were to use eBird to track my state list and keep it up to date, then someone would connect the dots.  I will use eBird, but I am not going to share a percentage of my checklists till later in the year to make sure my actual year total doesn't match what is in eBird.

Phew, now that I have the background on how, the real question is... Why?  It's a two fold endeavor for me.  The first part is that by keeping it so secret, I can fly under the radar, and don't have to admit to anyone I am actually doing another Big Year.  My family notably. I think I can probably get pretty close to my previous record without making a big hub bub about it. In recent years I haven't been as excited about chasing birds, and seeing certain things; this year I want to see as much as possible and this will help drive that.

The 2nd reason is that turning it into a game where  the places and names aren't familiar turns it into an interactive game with the readers.  Who can figure me out by years end? And how will they do it?  It makes for a great story, and the blog will read like a piece of Non-fiction fiction.  It's real, but it's also glossed over with a cover story that no one is familiar with.  I guess we'll see who plays and how interesting it is to anyone besides me...

With that said here are my ground rules for my year:
  1. The Big Year shall start at 12:00 AM on 1 January and end at 11:59 PM, 31 December of 2016. 
  2. Each species counted must have been encountered in accordance with the ABA Recording Rules 
  3. Each species counted must have been on the ABA Checklist during the Big Year
  4. Species can be heard and/or seen to count towards year total
  5. I will keep a photo log of all species that I can for the year, to share at years end
  6. I will have fun... Will you play along?
That's it.  I will keep a daily total for the year list and include new day birds each day on each post.  Some posts will be short and have little in terms of details, or new birds, and in a state big year 1/2 the species are often seen in the 1st month, and the final 6 months are often a long drawn out process of picking up the remaining oddities.  That being said, I will try to make some of the slower days posts into pieces of the puzzle that may or may not help determine my identity.

Lastly I will include a link where you can guess who I am and explain how you came to your conclusion.  Guesses will not be made public right away, and I am yet to decide if I will reveal who I am if enough people guess correctly.

With that I bid adieu to 2015, and have my fingers crossed that 2016 will be a Undercover Big Year for me!


Next Day

I'm on a mission to see as many birds as I can in 2016... within the borders of my home state. The only catch is I'm not telling anyone that I'm doing a Big Year...


Write comments
January 7, 2016 at 6:39 AM delete

I will be following, this is awesome!

January 7, 2016 at 9:04 AM delete

Thanks Patrick! I hope you enjoy the game!