Sunday 1 July 2012

Recap after 6 months

Below you will find an analysis of how my big year is shaping up so far, but first I'll mention the recent highlights from my last week of fieldwork near Thunder Bay.Unfortunately I didn't have time to break out my camera for this trip, but I did have a few neat sightings which I will mention. One thing for sure - I love birding in the north WAY more than in the south. Yeah, there isn't as much rarity potential when you're miles away from anywhere in the middle of the bush, but there's something to be said about not seeing a single vehicle, person, piece of garbage, etc when out birding! The diversity of breeding birds is great too, though the sheer numbers of biting insects can be a tad annoying at times. And how often do you get to see multiple Moose, Black Bears, etc when birding in southern Ontario? The megafauna in the north always keep things interesting.

-21 species of breeding warblers....I actually had more Connecticut Warblers than Yellow Warblers (another nice thing about the north)
-breeding Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers. When I first heard the GRYE call I had a hell of a time figuring it out what it was until I saw it. I'm sure if I was at a sewage lagoon in southern Ontario (compared to Black Spruce/Muskeg in northern Ontario) I would have had no trouble IDing it! This was the first time that I had seen a Greater Yellowlegs perch on the top of a Black Spruce, which I thought was pretty cool
-male Scarlet Tanager way up north...not sure why it was up there
-lots of the typical northern fare....Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers; Winter Wrens, both kinglets,and Blue-headed Vireos everywhere; Boreal Chickadees; over 50 Lincoln's Sparrows; Black-backed Woodpecker, etc
-Northern Goshawk acting territorial (though I didn't stick around to find the nest)

Black-throated Green Warbler (to break up the text)

Big Year review and analysis (after 6 months)

It is now July 1 which means that my Big Year is officially 1/2 over. I am sitting at 317 species for the province, meaning that I have 21 more to go for me to tie the record. But tying the record isn't my goal, therefore I need 22 more to beat the record! With a big year the difficulty level certainly increases as the year goes on and adding more species is an event that happens very infrequently! Am I still on pace to break the record? Read on to find out...

One quick and dirty way to see how well a big year birder is doing is to look at their number of rarities. I already figured out earlier in the year that to break the record I would need to see well over 20 rarities. There are 276 species I have classified as codes 1 and 2 (meaning virtually guaranteed), 41 species classified as code 3 (very difficult but I'll have a shot at each one this year) and 165 classified as codes 4 through 6 (rarities that only occasionally show up in the province). If I saw all 317 codes 1, 2, and 3 birds then I would need to see an additional 22 rarities on top of that. At the start of the year it seemed unlikely that I would get all the code 3 birds so I figured that I would need to get about 30 of the rarities (codes 4-6) to break the record.

Back in early spring when I wrote my first Quarterly review (click here) I had seen 9 codes 4-6 rarities. Since then I have added an additional 9 birds! All of the rarities I have seen this year are as follows:

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) 

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (4)
Bell's Vireo (5)
Western Tanager (4) 
Western Grebe (4)
Chuck-wills-widow (4)
Blue Grosbeak (4)
Curlew Sandpiper (4)
Kirtland's Warbler (4)
Northern Bobwhite (4)

As you can see I am still on a great pace for rarities! I have 18 so far. However I think the pace of rarities will drop off. Most of the "easier" rarities I have already seen - birds like Kirtland's Warbler, Black-headed Gull, Black Vulture, Western Grebe, Blue Grosbeak, and Northern Bobwhite. These were all birds that were on the cusp of being a code-3 instead of a code-4. As you can see there aren't a lot of code 5 and 6 birds in my list! Let's take a look at the birds I have coded as 1, 2, and 3.

Code 1
I have seen 213 out of the 214 code 1 birds, with the only one missing being Stilt Sandpiper. I could have chased several of those so far this year but opted not to since they are much more common in fall migration. I anticipate adding this one to my list before the month is over.

Code 2
I have seen 55 out of the 62 code 2 birds. The remaining 7 are:

Red Knot
Purple Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Red-necked Phalarope
Parasitic Jaeger
Arctic Tern
Nelson's Sparrow

Red Knot is easy since I'll be studying them for 2 weeks in August. Purple Sandpipers show up regularly along Lake Ontario and even up in James Bay every November. Buff-breasted Sandpipers are regular on sod farms, sewage lagoons, and even shorelines in late summer/early autumn. Red-necked Phalaropes are fairly regular autumn migrants. Parasitic Jaegers are guaranteed for anyone who spends some time lakewatching in autumn at one of the hotspots. Nelson's Sparrow I should get in James Bay in August, but if I somehow miss them I should find some fairly easily during migration in October in southern Ontario. Arctic Tern is the one I am worried about since I only have one more legitimate shot at it this year (James Bay for two weeks in August). I should get it in James Bay but it is very possible that I will miss it. The chances of it showing up somewhere else this year are very very slim!

Code 3
I have really been concentrating on these birds this year and as a result I have seen 31 out of the 41 code 3 birds. The remaining 10 are:

Pacific Loon
Glossy Ibis
Red Phalarope
Long-tailed Jaeger
Black-legged Kittiwake
Sabine's Gull
Black Guillemot
Western Kingbird
Cave Swallow

I am hoping to get 7 of these birds. I think I have a very good chance (around 75%) of seeing Gyrfalcon, Long-tailed Jaeger, Black-legged Kittiwake, and Sabine's Gull. This adds up to getting 3 of those 4. My odds of getting the rest (Pacific Loon, Glossy Ibis, Red Phalarope, Black Guillemot, Western Kingbird and Cave Swallow) are maybe 50% so I'll hopefully see 3 of those 6. Maybe I'll .uck out and actually see 7 or 8 of these 10 species instead of 5 or 6!

If my planned trip to Netitishi Point on James Bay in the late autumn falls through these odds will change considerably...let's just hope the trip goes through since it is my best shot for getting Pacific Loon, Red Phalarope, Gyrfalcon, and Black Guillemot.


Out of the 18 remaining codes 1-3 birds I am hoping to get at least 13, but hopefully 15 or 16. If I get 13 of them my yearlist will be 330, meaning that I'll need to see an additional 9 rarities to break the record. I have seen 18 rarities in the first half of the year, so hopefully 9 in the remaining six months is doable!

Like I mentioned, all of this is dependent on if I can do the remaining trips I have planned. Additionally, rare birds are just that (RARE!) so there is no guarantee that I can get another 9 this year. It will be interesting to see how the remainder of the year plays out!


Alan Wormington said...

So another southern Ontario birder converted to the potential of great birding in the north! Its the best kept secret in Ontario.

Corey said...

Wow I have a hard time driving to Muskoka from London every too weeks I don't no how you can do all the driving lol not to mention it must cost an arm and a lag for gas.

Anyway was wondering if you have seen many smooth green snakes and massasauga rattle snake this year?

Anonymous said...

Hey Corey,

I haven't really done a lot of herping this year but have come across a couple of Massasaugas and a Smooth Greensnake in the Muskokas. Cheers