Day 19 - Ranking Your Possibilities

Tuesday, January 19, 2016 0 Comments A+ a-

 A Mallard is a clear 1 on my ranking system...

When I did my first big year eBird wasn't as useful as a tool as it is in 2016 for helping plan and conduct a big year.  Thinking back to just the 90's and the prevalence of the RBA's (rare bird alerts), phone trees, and the importance of a well connected birding community; it was a different beast.  IF you were doing a big year in 1998 you were at a disadvantage versus someone doing a big year in 2016.  That's not an opinion, but a fact.  Technology has made it so that information travels so much faster nowadays--but there is a huge down side.  Despite all this information, and the fact that more people are into birding, communities are now disconnected, and in a sense the ratio of great field birders to birders has to be much lower.

What does this mean? It means that even though you get information quicker, it's not always the right information, or all that useful.  One example is locations of a rare sighting.  Go back to 1998 and when a rare bird was reported, people would take a GPS coordinate (maybe), but more importantly they would give turn by turn directions exactly where to go.  Just think about the ABA birding guides to places like Southeast Arizona... Now, you are lucky if you get a "dropped pin".  The art of sharing information, and providing details is for the most part a thing of the past in the digital world.  And that can be frustrating.

But I would be lying if I said those same digital tools didn't have some great advantages.  Like being able to pull up that "dropped pin" on a map in my smart phone while in the field.  Or being able to go find an email with details about a sighting (even if they are scant).  Or being able to get directions quickly.  OR finding out about a rare bird the minute its found via an email, eBird alert, etc.  Instead of finding out hours or days later when you get cell service (or worse off when you get home because you didn't have a cell phone in 1998!). It's a double-edged sword, and you have to take the bad with the good.

So how does this play into planning a big year?  When I did my first big year there was a lot of information out there about timing, locations, etc, for various species.  I relied on this, plus others big years before me as a guide to what I would do.  But I also had a well connected group of friends, and other birders who kept me in the loop and helped at every corner.  This was the bread and butter that helped me have a big year.  This year is different.  I can't rely as much on my friends for making sure I chase a bird, or know about something.  I almost entirely have to use eBird, and other online sources to help keep me on track, and in the know.

One thing that I did exactly the same as last time is keeping to a schedule (strategy) of when to go where, and what I need to see when and where.  Creating a target list and then ranking the birds from 1 to 5 is also a concept I used then and now.  I take the entire state list and rank them like so:

1: Most Common Birds; will absolutely see these this year
2: Annual but rare migrants or residents; should get most this year
3: Rare: A few reported each year; should chase and get most this year
4: Occasional: Sometimes annual, sometimes not; hope to get 1/3 to 1/2 of reported
5: Accidental: High Value Targets; must get 25% of these at a minimum

Let's pretend my state has a list of 500 species.  If I were to break those down and say something like :

1: 294 species
2: 65 species
3: 32 species
4: 19 species
5: 100 species

From this list I would hope I get all the 1-3's for 391 species.  I would then hope I also get 7 #4's, and 25 #5's for a grand total of 423 species.  You might be thinking 25% of the 5's is a high percentage--but in reality it just means that you chase down every #5 that is reported.  It will likely be somewhere in the region of 25% of all accidentals on a state list based of the calculations I've run.

Out of my 135 species as of today I have 3 #5's so far.  That's an important number of high value targets.  but I don't think I can sustain 3 each month.  There will be up months and down months, and January is usually an up month since its the beginning of the year and there are a lot of people reporting birds.  May, August, and September are typically good months for 5's as well.

The math I used last go around actually played out pretty close to true, and I hope that my math this year will help me hit my goal of 3## species... :)

New birds today: 0
Year List: 135


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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...