Monday, 12 March 2012

Quarterly Review

The calendar says March 12, but since winter is nearly over I thought I would post a review on how my Big Year is going so far.

Warning - if you don't really care about the theory behind a big year and the numbers, look away now........

When doing a Big Year it is impossible to predict in March how you will stack up at the end of the year since you will have seen less than half of your final tally. As well, the early part of a Big Year (winter: part 1, if you will) should be focused on seeing rarities, first and foremost, as well as finding winter "specialties". I have been extremely successful with the rarities and moderately successful with the wintering birds.


First, lets look at total numbers. If I was feeling ambitious I would turn some of these data into graphs, but I'm not that ambitious. 

So far, I have seen 153 species this year in Ontario, approximately 45.1% of the 339 total species I will need to see to break the record. In previous years I have seen, by March 12:
2009: 93 species out of a total of 286 (32.5%)
2010: 100 species out of a total of 304 (32.9%)
2011: 94 species out of a total of 289 (32.5%)

So I've seen way more this year compared to the last three, in which I've been eerily consistent.
These numbers only tell part of the story, however.

 First of all, Ontario has had better birding in total this year. The number of species reported to Ebird by March 12 are:
2009: 153
2010: 162
2011: 157
2012: 182

Look at that jump from the previous three years! Some of this is because the number of people submitting data to Ebird is increasing yearly, but that should only account for very minor increases (probably only 2-3 species). Mike Burrell did a really great post about the number of people using Ebird here. Since hundreds of thousands of Ontario sightings are submitted a year, very few species get "missed" being reported to Ebird annually - usually only a couple of single-observer sightings from someone not yet converted to the wonders of Ebird. Anyways, I digress.

The other reason for the huge jump this year is because of the winter that wasn't, allowing many birds to winter in Ontario that usually don't, as well as an early spring. There are a number of species that have already been reported in Ontario that normally don't for another week or two. Long Point had a Forster's Tern a few days ago, and I just saw a report of Barn Swallows! For a cool CBC news segment on the winter that wasn't, including some clips from Mike (you get around!), see here.

Secondly, I've done a ton of birding this year and have seen most of the common birds. Last year at this date I hadn't been farther north than Kingston, thus missing about 10-15 "northern" birds right there (which I ended up getting as the year went on). This year I have been to Pelee; Niagara 4 times; Long Point twice; Ottawa 3 times; Cochrane, Sault Ste. Marie, and Thunder Bay (same trip); Bracebridge twice, North Bay, etc. I have seen birds in 31 of Ontario's 50 counties. You get the picture!

So basically, my total of 153 species is inflated somewhat because of Ontario's weird winter, early spring, and my numerous picking up of the common birds. Nonetheless, it is high for a reason - namely, rarities.

I have seen 9 species that I had coded as codes 4-6, meaning super duper rare in Ontario. They are:

Mountain Bluebird (4)
Black-headed Gull (4)
Fish Crow (4)
Gray-crowned Rosy-finch (5)
Spotted Towhee (4)
Band-tailed Pigeon (5)
Black Vulture (4)
White-winged Dove (4)
Smew (6)

I predicted I would need to see all of the code 1 and code 2 birds (piece of cake), nearly all of the code 3 birds, and at least 20 genuine rarities. And I'm almost halfway there with the rarities! We've had a really unprecedented year for rarities - normally late April to early June, and mid September to early December are rarity time, not January to March. Even if the rest of the year is relatively "normal" I should see (knock on wood) over 20, maybe even 30. If I end up seeing 30 mega rarities it gives me quite a bit of breathing room, in case I happen to not cross paths with a Worm-eating Warbler, or Glossy Ibis, or maybe even a Great Blue Heron ;)

 There have been a few that have gotten away - namely the Black-throated Gray Warbler that didn't hang around til I got back from Nova Scotia early in the year, and the Common Gull that decided to show up while I was in Scotland. I think I've seen every other code 4 to code 6 bird that has been seen in Ontario this year.


Winter/boreal birds I have done fairly well on, with a few obvious holes. Some of the species listed are found throughout the year, I just listed them as winter specialties since they can be easily found in the winter.
Owls: 8 for 10
Finches: 11 for 10 (all the regulars plus the rosy-finch!)
Bohemian Waxwing: check
Geese: 6 for 6
 King Eider, Harlequin Duck, and Barrow's Goldeneye: check
Spruce and Sharp-tailed Grouse: 0 for 2
Three-toed and Black-backed WPs: 1 for 2
Gulls: I've seen all the gulls reported in Ontario this winter, except for Kittiwake and the aforementioned Common Gull.

Boreal Owl I will do my best to get calling on territory in April and the grouse/Three-toed Woodpecker I will get as the year goes on. I should have a good chance at Kittiwakes this fall. The one glaring hole is Northern Hawk-Owl. I really hope I can get one on territory this summer since they might not be around in December!


But, not so fast! I may be on a really good pace so far, but there are other big year birders out there. I won't only be competing against Glenn's 1996 record of 338 but also the likes of some 2012 birders. Only a few days ago I was sitting in 5th place, according to the Ebird Top 100 (Ontario, 2012).
My excuse is that I have been focusing my energy on rarities (still missing birds like Winter Wren, Red-throated Loon, Great Blue Heron), I have been out of the province for 3 weeks so far and I am a full-time student. Once I graduate in April all hell will break loose! :)


  1. I think you have skipped a few classes to go
    birding. You are hardcore now, and it will take
    over your life.

  2. you're killing it already!

    That list of code 4-6 birds you've seen is incredible

  3. I'm pretty sure that the other BY birders have also seen all of those species except for the finch, Smew and maybe the Spotted Towhee?And you missed the BTG Warbler.

    So, as you know, you need to set yourself apart! Especially considering that Stu is going to see a lot of rarities while banding that you're not going to be able to see! I would claim that he might see more rarities while banding than you'll see by chasing everything that people see around PP. But I could be wrong.

    Netitishi is one way ;)

    It's fun keeping track of you and the other BY birders, it feels kind of creepy though :p