Day 366 - That's All Folks (for now)

Saturday, December 31, 2016 0 Comments A+ a-

A little over a year ago, I sat in my basement home office staring at my laptop. On the screen was a blog post from Noah Stryker in the final days of his groundbreaking world big year. It was an incredible story and adventure. It made for great reading, keeping up with his trials and tribulations as he navigated the globe in search of 1,000's of species of birds. It had never been done like this and was setting a new standard for the ultimate big year challenge. My basement was a long ways away from India where Stryker was at the time. And a world big year was the furthest thing from my imagination. However intriguing the idea was, it wasn't realistic for me--and never would be. 33 years old, married, a father, and gainfully employed by a company that had been very good about my work-life balance over the years, I had no grandiose ideas about globe-trotting for birds aside from our annual trips to places near and far. I simply put, wasn't cut from the right kind of cloth for that big year.

Hell, I wasn't cut out for an ABA big year either. I have read the books, watched the movie, read the blogs and followed the conquests of various ABA big year birders. I envy them and their audacity--it's an amazing thing, putting forth that effort, time, and money to traverse the states, and Canada to tally 750 odd species in a year. I had no desire to ever do that (still don't as I write this). I'm envious of their go-get, and willingness to put everything else on hold--but I couldn't, and wouldn't ever be able to do that. You have to be able to do that for that challenge. You look at 2016 and 4 birders crossed 750--a number that 50 years ago seems impossible. Their lives ever consumed by the chase. Alaska to Florida, to California, to Novia Scotia, to Texas, then Oregon, and all over again. It's tiresome just thinking about it. But they are a different breed, and I salute them--all of them.

A while back I had done some writing, where instead of using real bird names, I replaced them with made up names. It made for easy story-telling, without being too factual. It was helpful since other might read it, and relate. I wanted it to be relatable but not obvious if that makes sense. At that moment, the growing urge to do a state big year welled inside me. I had done one in 2006 that was derailed--then followed up in 2007 by doing a state big year like no one had done before. I bested the previous record by 23 species. A record that stood when the clock struck 12:00am on January 1, 2016. I remember that year and all the fun I had doing a state big year. There wasn't the pressure of something like an ABA big year. My borders were much more confined. I could put forth less time. I could do it under the radar. I could do it without telling anyone...

I bounced that thought around for a minute. I could do a big year in "Narnia" without telling a single person I was doing it. I could keep it on the wraps by not submitting all my checklists, and not reporting all my birds. I could avoid the questions from friends and family who would ask, "Why are you doing this again? Don't you already have the record?". It's hard to explain to a non-birder why you're doing a big year. If the point isn't to set a record then why? I mean in all honestly, the point is to set a record--especially if you've already done a big year. But there's more to it than that, and it is hard to explain. And I didn't want to. I just wanted to do a big year, and not tell anyone--sort of.

What if I took my idea of story-telling with fake bird names, and integrated it into a blog. I could write about my big year and keep track of it in a way that had never been done before. It was a stupid idea--but I ran with it, and I'm glad I did. I didn't have 100's of followers who kept up with every twist and turn. I had dozens. I got big boosts every once in a while from links on other blogs, on Twitter, and occasionally forums. But the blog gave me the ability to tell a story without giving too much away--and it allowed me to do a big year, almost unnoticed by anyone.

So if you're an eBird sleuth, or had an idea about who I might have been, you probably figured it out in the last 24 hours. I narrowed the list to 8 states for you, plus you knew how many species I had seen. If you checked the eBird Top 100 yesterday in each of those states, you would not have found my name at the top of the list, and you wouldn't have seen my total count. But if you checked again today, you would nave noticed a pretty conspicuous move on one states Top 100. The species count didn't add up--it came in at 361 because I didn't count 3 species on my year list (Mute Swan, Barnacle Goose, and African Collared-Dove). But still, a jump from 318 to 361 species is a red flag overnight. My name is Tim Avery, and in 2016 I did a Utah Big Year.

Yes, I kept 43 species on 64 checklists till the very last day of the year before I submitted...  Some--most--were fairly common.  Try getting needs alerts for Bushtit, Northern Shrike, and Pacific Wren for 3 months...

Now, I am sure there will be people who look at this as a big joke. Why not tell anyone? The point was to keep it a secret, and that meant not telling anyone any details.  It's that simple.  Unfortunately, that meant not sharing a few sightings--which for me is a rare thing.  I hadn't done so before this year, and won't after.  But that was just part of keeping my anonymity. I don't have a lot else to say today as I am just trying to get this out before the end of the year. I will have more posts explaining bird names, stories I couldn't share during the course of the year--LOTS of photographs, and the final list reveal.

2016 was a great year and what I've shared on this blog is just the surface. I hope you'll check back as I update it several times during January to tell the rest of the story, share some interesting stats, and talk about my Secret Big Year.

TOMORROW, I'll share the actual bird list--real names and all!

New birds today: 0
2016 Year List: 358


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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...