Day 204 - Reality Check

Friday, July 22, 2016 0 Comments A+ a-

A week ago I was reeling from the July slog. Summer is moving along at a pace that isn't becoming of a big year. On the flip side I mentioned Olaf Danielson and his big year, while I failed to note there was actually another birder just 4 birds behind him at the time. This is perhaps because the #2 guy, isn't using eBird--shame on you. It's hard to take any birder seriously in 2016 who doesn't use eBird, especially if you are in the public eye in a major listing competition--like a big year. For eBirders, Olaf is the clear year leader--but as it turns out, he hasn't broken the record yet--while the guy who was at #2 is actually sitting at number one, with 754 year birds and a new ABA record. John Weigel ticked off 750 over the weekend and has added 4 more this week, putting him 5 past the previous record already. Where Danielson had been vocal and the name in the public sphere, Weigel, had quietly on his blog been cataloging his ridiculous year as well.

With 5 months left to go will it be a neck and neck race with these two? Will Weigel continue to pull away? Or will Danielson have a big push to regain the lead? And will one of them top 800 species in a year in the ABA? I personally can't imagine wasting the time, money, and energy for this arbitrary record. The most birds in the continental U.S., as well as Canada and Alaska in a year. It's really a strange border, considering we allow the counting of birds in the Aleutians--islands closer to Russia than the mainland U.S., but we don't allow birds form Mexico, or the Caribbean... An arbitrary boundary... It's a feat none-the-less, and pretty incredible. But it's not my cup of tea.

In any event, back to my secret big year. Also rather arbitrary when you mention it. This person is quietly doing a big year in their state, while using made up names to hide their state and identity along the way. And for what? State borders are just as arbitrary. Set by men for political reasons. Habitat doesn't stop at the border, and birds don't either. But alas, I am doing this, because it's fun for me. It also doesn't require, the time, money, or effort as an ABA big year. A more feasible big year for your average person. So here I am doing my arbitrary, feasible secret big year with July 2/3 of the way over--and yes, I did see some new birds this week!

I actually ticked off 5 new year birds in the past 9 days, and not all of them were species I expected for the week. Things started off with the expected. I knew there was a Dribbling Conquistador frequenting a patch of trees in a public forest. I had actually already visited this summer and spent some time scouring the trees with no luck. As it were, I actually heard the bird early on in my second search, and finally tracked it down a short time later, breathing a big sigh of relief for a bird that was turning into 1 of 2 year nemesis. I had put on countless miles on foot looking for this species this summer and was starting to wonder what I was going to do to get it. But it all worked out!

About an hour later while walking through the forest just a few miles away in hopes of a flyover of another year bird I had a flyby--of a different species, I hadn't intended to see this day. My year Defensive Hobbit flew by--and although it was a first for the year, by the end of the week I had seen almost 20. Almost too easy. But I had again missed 2 species I had hoped for on this outing. I would have to come back again later, because I still needed to must get year birds from the area.

The following day was a hot one and I spent a great deal of time in search of birds. I needed photos of a few, so I used the time to track down and get pictures of several birds I needed for the year. I have no idea ho many of them I have actually photographed at this point, but I do know that in the afternoon I added year bird #310, a Upper Stirrer, and managed a picture. I had this stirrer on my list for the last 2 weeks of July, so it was right on time. The end of the day brought one more year bird--a surprise find, and a good year bird in a Northern Thief. I have tried several times for this Thief in 2016 but thus far had come up empty on each occasion. The best part of find it was this was a bird I did not get last time--something I need for the 2nd half of the year!

The last year bird of the week came and went in a hurry. While walking along a path taking in some amazing Narnia scenery, I noticed some movement in a nearby bush. I found the bird and was surprised to see an Enlisted Migrant. A good bird and one I wasn't expecting this summer. I had already looked for one this year unsuccessfully, so this was another win for the year.

But not all things are looking up. I can do math and I know where I want to be, need to be, and should be. I won't divulge where I actually fit in to those 3 numbers, but based off this, you can assume I am falling behind. As it happens some of my misses this summer will cancel out by some other great things I find. But some will just be holes in my list. Of my original list of wants for July I only have 6 logical, and realistic species remaining. And being perfectly honest, I don't know if I can even get 3 of those. All 6 are possible for months to come, so it's not perilous--yet.

But it is hard looking at a list and knowing that you've tired 6,7, or 8 times for a single bird and are yet to have one. Yet you've seen them on 10 other eBird checklists this summer. Then there are the issues of the species that for some reason just aren't being reported. In specific two resident species that are normally summer staples have been under reported this summer, and for one species there is only one possible report. If you miss the things you guarantee for yourself, then you're really in trouble. I think I will get all these species, and probably all 6 on my list of wants--but it will probably be into September to clear them all off my list.

This is where the math comes into play, time for a reality check. While earlier I mentioned that I was within 10 species either way, you might have taken that as up to 10 species short. A possibility, As I keep running through the birds I absolutely expect for the rest of the year, and a handful of birds I think will likely show up,  it's possible I am 5 short of the record. Yikes. It's a stressful proposition--all this work to keep secret and put in a big effort and I am not all that sure that I can overcome those 5 birds. This is pessimistic me. Now time for optimistic me. Getting to that number 5 short is plausible--and that doesn't include a bunch of mega rarities, only a few. If fall migration brings in some really good birds, then 5 more really isn't that many to make up--in fact running numbers a little differently, I might pass the record by 5. Optimistic me thinks that if I keep to my strategy and just make sure to chase everything that shows up I should be able to do it. There's no telling how things will go.

Imagine having these thoughts run through your head every day and tell me that even a state big year doesn't cause a little stress. Luckily I don't have to fly 3,000 miles tomorrow to chase a rarity on some coast, then turn right around for another on the other side of the states. At most I have to drive a little bit--maybe tell a fib or two about where I am, and just keep on pushing through the slog. I like the sound of that...

New birds this post: 5
Year List: 312


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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...