Day 30 - Scoping out the Competition

Saturday, January 30, 2016 0 Comments A+ a-

The eBird Top 100 is both fascinating and annoying at the same time. It has to be a double edged sword for eBird because it drives a sense of competition, but with no real moderation. For instance an observers total in the Top 100 is what they've entered in eBird, not what has been validated. It's easily gamed, and there are without a doubt birders who see their number rise, and either fluff their number up, or almost innocently string sightings along to keep building. A big year is similar in that their is no one saying nay or yay to what you put on your list. At the end of the day its the honor system and even the most honorable sometimes string things along because they get caught up in the frenzy.

 Scoping the Competition...

I like the concept of the Top 100, but it needs some work. If you want to play by the rules, I think it is completely fair to show the number of validated species as well as the number of species each person has entered. I don't see this happening, because the powers that be don't want to scare away users by exposing the fact that birders make mistakes. I know I have numerous invalid sightings in eBird, but it doesn't bother me. It's the system that is in place and I'm okay with it.

The point I am getting at with the Top 100 that really fascinates me is the rise in the Big Year Birder. 20 years ago if someone did a big year it was something you found out about through word of mouth. There was no way to track someones total, people weren't blogging their years, and in general few birders actually tried. The leg work involved in planning a big year before the digital age is one major reason. You can manage a pretty big year in 2016 just by keeping online and up-to-date with sightings. That wasn't the case back in the day.

Today if you hop on the eBird Top 100 you'll notice names that stick out as seemingly obvious big year attempts. Some sit right at the top of the Top 100 insistent on holding the top spot all year round, making it known that they are #1 and not to be challenged. These are Alpha Big Year Birders. Some are at the top of the list year in and year out, because like I said it's a game. Then there are the less obvious names. The Beta Big Year Birders are the ones that fly a little under the radar--the slow and steady birders who understand that what's important is quality over quantity. You can have both, but it's not necessary and they'll pick up the quantity as the days roll on.

The dead giveaways on these guys/gals is that often their most recent addition is the same across multiple people. And on the daily rarity report you see the same 2-3 names chasing the same rarities. If you've done a big year and you pay attention to the other birders in your state you can usually guess who's doing a big year. I am fairly certain there are no less than 4 others doing big years in Narnia in 2016. There may even be 5 or 6. There are two birders I am on the fence about because they tend to get a lot of birds every year and like to stick near the top of the list. Fascinating.

I know the competition so I know how and when they'll bird--what they're willing to chase and how much heart is in it. When it comes to making a big year truly big you have to ask yourself, "what will I sacrifice to do this?". There are some birders I know won't, or can't make the tough decisions on when to chase certain birds. Big Years are tough because of the what-ifs of chasing. There is no right or wrong way to make the decisions, but you have to make the right decision enough times. By the end of May I'll have a pretty good grasp on where the competition is at--I've already come face to face in the field in 2016 with 3 of the individuals I suspect are at it. But this will have almost no bearing on my choices. It doesn't matter what they do, it interests me, but their number for 2016 is only important if they are all in and chasing the record--which should be obvious as the year progresses. For now I stick to my plan, and focus on the strategy I have set forth from day 1.

I have very intentionally as I mentioned made sure to stay away from the Top of the list. If I sat at the very top all the time it would be easy to say that's the Undercover Big Year Birder! On the flip side if I had my sharing turned off and wasn't showing up on the Top 100 that would seem obvious too. Needless to say some days I might be 20 back, and others I could be at number 1. In this game I am making sure that if I do break my previous Big Year record, I won't end up firmly planted at #1 until December 31st. I don't care about the Top 100 ranking year in and out or on a daily basis, but for the purpose of a Big Year all that matters is what your total is on day 365 (or 366 in 2016).

New birds today: 0
Year List: 145


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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...