Thursday, 4 October 2012

Third quarterly review

If all goes to plan, I will be on my way to Pelee tonight when this is posted. Weather looks great for western strays! Ah, the magic of the blogosphere)

It is now October 4th, which means it is time for my quarterly review on my big year progress! Check out my first quarterly review and my second quarterly review.

After my second quarterly review halfway through the year, I was sitting at 317 species and I thought my chances were pretty good to break the record. Now, I am sitting at 332 species and only 7 away from setting a new record! We are now coming up to peak rarity season in Ontario so I think my chances are pretty good. How good, though? Read on....


Like I mentioned in my other quarterly reviews, a quick and easy way to judge the success of a Big Year is to look at the number of rarities that one sees. Anyone who reads my blog should know that I went about categorizing every Ontario species into six codes - Code 1 equaling birds that are easy to see, and Code 6 being birds which have shown up only once or twice EVER in Ontario. I figured that to set a new big year record, I would probably need to see somewhere between 20 and 30 species that are code 4 or higher. In the first quarter of the year, I saw 9. In the second quarter, I saw 9 more. And in this 3rd quarter, I have added 5 more. My pace is slowing down but I could afford that after the blazing hot start I had to the year. And of these 5 that I added, two were code 6 birds (Thick-billed Kingbird and Magnificent Frigatebird), species that I never thought I would ever see in Ontario!

Thick-billed Kingbird - Presqu'ile P.P.

Let's look at the birds that I have seen, broken down into the codes.


Code 1
Halfway through the year, I had seen 213 out of the 214 Code 1 birds. The last remaining species was Stilt Sandpiper, an autumn specialty which I added on July 18. So long, Code 1!

Stilt Sandpiper - Milverton sewage lagoons

Code 2
Halfway through the year I had seen 55 out of the 62 Code 2 birds. Since then, I have added 6 more: Red Knot, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Arctic Tern, and Nelson's Sparrow on James Bay; Red-necked Phalarope near Guelph; and Parasitic Jaeger down at the beach in Hamilton. All of these birds were expected, however the Arctic Tern was one I could have easily missed on the Bay since we only had one! The only remaining Code 2 bird is Purple Sandpiper, a species that I should get easily this autumn.

Nelson's Sparrow - James Bay coast

Code 3
During the second quarterly review, I wrote about having 31 out of the 41 Code 3 birds in the bag. Since then my pace has quickly dropped off and I have only added 3 more: Long-tailed Jaeger, Black Guillemot, and Sabine's Gull. The Black Guillemot was a bonus bird on James Bay in August, though I will probably see some additional ones in a few weeks when I head back to the ocean. Still, it was nice to get out of the way. Long-tailed Jaegers were relatively easy this year in Hamilton, but Sabine' Gull can be very difficult some years and I often worried about missing this one. I had a trip planned to Nova Scotia during the peak Sabine's Gull time in Hamilton: 10 days in early September. Fortunately we had a banner year for Sabine's, and one day I saw 54 of them, including 6 adults!

Sabine's Gull - offshore of Hamilton

There are 7 remaining Code 3 birds, and they are:
Pacific Loon
Glossy Ibis
Red Phalarope
Black-legged Kittiwake
Western Kingbird
Cave Swallow

Back in July I wrote that I thought my odds of seeing Gyrfalcon and Black-legged Kittiwake were about 75%, and the other species about 50%. Despite three months passing I think my odds of seeing all these birds are relatively the same, since most of them are late autumn specialites that you can't really expect to see before October. The exceptions are Glossy Ibis and Western Kingbird. I think my chances have decreased significantly for both of these, since most autumn reports are from August and September. However, quite a few Western Kingbirds have still shown up later in the autumn and in fact the first one I ever saw in Ontario was from November 14. There is still hope! At any rate, I expect to see no less than 4 of these remaining species, which would bring me up to 337.

Possible species I could add:
If I made it to my predicted 337, I would only need to see two more rarities to set the record!!! I made a post not too long ago about what some of these species could be. To read it, click here. Unfortunately, my Northern Wheatear trip failed to turn up the target species, and it is getting late in the year for a Swainson's Hawk to show up (though they have been seen until the end of October in Ontario). However, there are quite a few that are very real possibilities, such as Rufous Hummingbird, Townsend's Solitaire, Black-throated Gray Warbler, a rare alcid, Slaty-backed or Ivory Gull, Northern Fulmar, and Northern Gannet to name a few. Plus, there are always a few wildcard birds every autumn that no one sees coming. If all goes to plan I hope to add two more rarities to the year list up on Netitishi Point in James Bay in a few weeks!

Northern Fulmar


The ones that got away

Part of the reason why I have 332 birds on my year list and not 335 or more are the birds that got away. If I had made it up to Thunder Bay or Rainy River in mid/late September like one of the other guys doing a big year, I might have seen Smith's Longspur. If I had been a little more on the ball when I chased the Red Phalarope at Pelee, or gone to the hawkwatches more often to try to get a Swainson's Hawk, I might have a few more to the list. I also didn't try as often as I should have for Barn Owl this summer, despite there being a few pairs few and far between in Ontario (to be honest, driving around back roads for hours on end to hopefully hear a Barn Owl isn't much fun). If I had been in southern Ontario when the Sage Thrasher was found at Long Point, I could have taken a boat out there the next day to see it and add Western Kingbird while I was at it.

My competitors

Anyone who follows the Ebird Top 100  can see that there are two other birders also doing quite well this year. Andrew Keaveney and Stu Mackenzie are both having phenomenal years and are not far behind me this year. I believe that both birders are sitting between 323 and 325 birds for the year, only a few behind me. I don't have their actual lists so these numbers may be off slightly. This is a pretty big gap though and it will be tough for them to continue climbing. However, Stu is situated at Long Point and already this fall he has found a Swainson's Hawk, Sage Thrasher, and Western Kingbird. Andrew has had pretty bad luck chasing birds throughout the beginning of the year, but now that his luck is turning he is climbing the ladder!

I have seen 23 code 4+ birds this year, but Andy has seen approximately 21 and Stu approximately 20. What that means is that they still have some easy ones to get, since they are keeping pace with the rarities! If Stu went up north this fall/winter, he could grab Boreal Owl and Three-toed Woodpecker. He also needs Pomarine Jaeger and Long-tailed Jaeger. Andy still needs all 3 northern owls, Laughing Gull, and California Gull.

It will be interesting to see how the final three months play out! Will 339 be enough to set a new record?

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