Saturday, 12 November 2011

An Ontario Big Year

Its official - I am going to do a big year next year. For those who don't know, a big year is an attempt to see as many species as possible in a given geographic area over a one year period. In the last few years, I've become interested in this concept, and I regularly followed Russell Cannings ( last year as he set the BC record, seeing an astonishing 373 species in his home province. This year, John Vanderpoel is attempting this on a much bigger scale - the ABA area (North America north of Mexico, essentially). He is currently sitting at 733 species, not far from the record set by Sandy Komito and made popular by the movie The Big Year (which I still have not seen, though I own the book). John's blog is

In Ontario, the Big Year record is an astonishing 338 species, set by Glenn Coady in 1996 as far as I am aware. This is a huge number, one that many believe won't be broken. Most years, about 350 species are seen in Ontario, including all the mega rarities. So to beat the record, I will need a ton of time, help, and luck! A few hurricanes certainly would help too. While I don't think I will break Glenn's record, I am certainly going to do my best. I haven't even seen 338 species of birds in Ontario in my life, let alone in one year so a huge effort will be required to even come close to his record!

Between now and the end of this year I will make a series of posts regarding my Big Year, including strategies, the pros and cons of doing a big year, breakdowns of possible species, etc.

Why am I doing a Big Year this year? First of all, I will be graduating from the University of Guelph in April and I plan on working as little as possible during the year. I have arranged my schedule next semester so that I am taking easy courses and have only a few classes a week. This will enable me to chase birds virtually anytime. I will need funds at some point, so hopefully I can get some contract work for a few months during the summer! Also, with no school to tie me up in the fall, I will be able to do some big trips and some serious chasing of rarities. I would love to make it up to Netitishi Point on James bay for a few weeks. Also, my girlfriend, Laura, is away in Scotland for school. It sucks that she's not around, but at the same time I will be able to devote more time to birds when she is away. It seems like this would be an ideal year for me to attempt a Big Year, so I'm gonna do my best!

I will be in Nova Scotia visiting Laura until January 6, so that will delay the beginning of the Big Year. I also am heading to Scotland for a couple weeks in February (generally a slow time for birding here, anyways), Baja California for a week or so in August, and possibly Nova Scotia for a bit in the summer. Other than that I should be around for the whole year.


  1. Sounds like the perfect recipe mate! An all-out big year is something you'll always remember and record or no record you'll see some fantastic places and make awesome new friends! Records are made to be broken, and now that the grape vine has gone high-tech, you'll have a slight edge over Glenn. Just gotta hope for the birds! Strategy-wise I would recommend keeping your phone with you and ON at all times, and your first priority in Jan should be cleaning up every single rarity present in the province before worrying about winter specialties.

    Good luck!

  2. Awesome!!!
    I'm looking forward to it :-D

  3. Hey Russ,
    I'll definitely be drawing on you (and anyone else I can!) for strategy/techniques as the year goes along. I'm pretty stoked, and if the birds cooperate I think I'll have a decent chance at getting close to the record!

  4. Josh, Congrats on this decision! Man,,, you must be close to the record even without officially being in a big year. If I see any rarities, I will surely let you know, but as you can probably tell, I'm not burning it up in that department! Congrats btw on all the recent great finds such as the Razorbill and the Loons!

  5. Dwayne- thanks!! You're doing alright this year - that avocet was a sweet find.

    If nothing else, this Big Year will be an awesone opportunity to check out parts of Ontario I've yet to see (the northern coast, rainy river, etc)!