Thursday, March 13, 2014

Boutique Big Years

Completing a Big Year is every birders dream.  Fame!  Adventure!  Blog posts!  The entirety of the American birding community watched with jealous anticipation as Neil Hayward took the ABA Big Year crown last year, and we all imagined what it would have been like if it were us instead.

Aside from the obvious financial and time-commitment obstacles to taking on a Big Year (seriously I don't know how anyone can do it), there's the equally-daunting shadow of not setting the record.  Can you imagine putting forth all that time and money and then finishing, like, 12th?  Yeah yeah experiences and all that, but it's hard!

As we've seen in the immense interest in the cool Biking for Birds Big Year, other versions of this tradition can also be fun.  One of my favorite ideas is something I read about in The Big Year Book, where some guy was sick (or old?) and bedridden for a long period, and he did a Big Year based on all the species he saw on TV.  I love that idea, and kinda can't wait to be a worthless old piece of crap so I can sit on my couch but tell my grandkids to leave me alone because I'm working on something important.

So when the ABA record is too much to chase after, here are some ideas for different kinds of big years.

Place-named Species Big Year

OK, by my very brief count there are 45 or so birds found the ABA named after geographic locations in the ABA area.  Tennessee warbler, Savannah sparrow, California towhee, etc.  The challenge of this Big Year is to see as many of these species as you can in the place they are named for.  You get it?  You've got to see a Mississippi Kite in the state of Mississippi, then scoot down to Louisiana to see a Louisiana waterthrush.

The first tricky part would be figuring out the ground rules.  In the above-mentioned 45-ish species I counted birds you'd just need to see in "America": American white pelican, American oystercatcher.  I also counted Pacific loon and Atlantic puffin, figuring that they're named after those oceans.  I didn't include "eastern," "western," "northern" and "southern" birds, even though they're still named after parts of the US - just relative places not specific ones.  But if someone were taking on this Big Year I wouldn't hold it against them if they wanted to count the sighting of a western kingbird in California or a northern cardinal in Pennsylvania.  Some agreement of what to consider "west" and "north" would be needed.

I also didn't count birds named after pieces of their habitat - boreal chickadee or cactus wren - though if someone wanted to count the sighting of a cactus wren on a cactus, we could consider that.

I think this would be a lot of fun.  It might not take all year to complete, though I like the idea of some hapless birder frantically driving around the city limits of Nashville in December desperately looking for a wayward, late warbler.

State Bird Big Year

This is the same idea as above, but probably even easier: see every state's State Bird in that state in the shortest time possible.  The travel!  Regular Big Year participants do a crazy amount of travel - but I doubt they go to all 50 states (and yes, pushy "include Hawaii in the ABA" people, the aloha state would count).  How patriotic!  The downside, of course, as we've covered here before, is that the list of state birds is completely terrible.  Oh cool, I saw another cardinal!

Heard Only/Nocturnal Flight Call Only

Two variations on an "experts only" theme.  This one's perfect for those birding snobs out there who are above having to lift optics to their faces to get a closer look at a bird.  It would be a lot like a normal big year, really, except way way harder and with a lot fewer pelagic trips.

Alphabetical Big Year

Hahaha can you even imagine this?  You would have to start with the first bird in the ABA checklist - alphabetically - and had to move bird-by-bird.  I love it.  You can get an alphabetical checklist by downloading and resorting the .xcl from the ABA website.  So, you'd have to start on Jan. 1 by finding an ... anyone know it without me telling you? ... think ... an Abert's towhee.  Once you saw one, you couldn't count Bird #2 unless it was an Acadian flycatcher.  Bird #3 is back to the southwest for an acorn woodpecker.  This would be so fun.  There might have to be a rule that, like, code 4 and 5 birds don't count, otherwise you'd get stuck on #8 Amazon Kingfisher and never make it anywhere.  Someone do this c'mon I dare you.

OK are there other ideas? 


Art D. said...

How about "get 100 species in every ward in DC in year"?

Doug H. said...

I always liked the concept of the "see a new species every day" big year. (Each day you have to get a 'foy')

Frank Izaguirre said...

Place-named Species Big Year is definitely a cool idea! But some species are named after places they're very rare in, like Connecticut warbler. Getting one of those would be a coup.

I have an idea: The Honorific Bird Name Big Year. Seek out all the birds with honorific names (Wilson's warbler, Bachman's sparrow, etc) in the ABA Area. Then, on the corresponding blog, write a post about that person's life and contributions to ornithology once you've spotted his/her species(s).

Michael Olsen said...

Technically, a bird with "American" in its name can be seen in Canada as well -- which will help the viewing possibilities for many species. Unfortunately, though it would be fun, the idea of a "place-named species big year" shows again how silly, and USA-centric, some of the AOU names are: e.g., Cape May Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo, etc. I, living in Ontario, will stand a much better chance of seeing all those species than anyone in the places they're named for....

Anonymous said...

One that would be cool ans challenging:
Big year in a straight line.
Meaning one and only one strsigt itinerary.
One you visited a state or province, you can't come back again.
A connect-the-dots-big-year!

Alexander Dunn said...

I'm on the limiting fossil fuels big year ideas here but which include: 1. big year through a single window (hilarious scenes of frantic running to the window as a weird raptor flies by).
2. The work commute big year (only from the car, bus, bike, train, traffic etc...) two chances every day.
3. The Greyhound big year. You get to travel only by Greyhound.

NickL said...

These are all excellent suggestions!

Frank - I nominate you as the first ever Honorific Bird Name Big Year participant. Let me know how I can help.

Michael - I think the silliness of some of the places birds are named after would be part of the charm of the big year. After all, it's not about doing it easily, it's about doing it the hard way. Plus, we'd have to visit your fair nation to see the Canada Warbler (but, alas, not the Jay anymore).

Alexander - I think fossil fuel big years are really taking off. Those are cool ones.

Doug - Yeah I remember those Bird a Day you know if anyone actually ever completed that?

Art - sounds like a challenge...!

Anonymous said...

How about: the bird doesn't count unless you take a positive id photo of it?

Laurence Butler said...

How about the Dr. Nelson Briefer Big Year?

A Northern Goshawk in all 50 states.

Anonymous said...

I've wondered before about the logistics of getting 100 species in every county in a state in a year, or if that's too low a bar, having a "total tick" competition.

The advantage of this is that it would be possible to hold down a job while doing it.

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