Tuesday 14 January 2014

Quest for 400

I stole this idea from Brandon's blog. It's a fun way to kill time at work...

In the Ontario birding scene, reaching 400 total species for your all-time Ontario list is a lofty achievement. A total of ~490 species have been recorded in Ontario all time and each year between roughly 350 and 360 species are reported throughout the province. The birder with the highest Ontario list is Alan Wormington with 443 species - the next highest is somewhere in the low 430s. I am not sure how many birders are in the exclusive "400 club", but probably two dozen or so.

My Ontario list is currently sitting at 364 species. What I will attempt to do is predict the species I will add until I hit 400! I should mention that I doubt I'll actually ever hit 400 since I do not plan on living in Ontario the rest of my life (heck, I would be surprised if I was still here in 5 years), but you never know.

First up, the birds that would be nearly a guaranteed lock to add before I reach 400, roughly ranked from easiest to toughest:

1. Ruff - this species isn't even rare enough to be on the review list! There used to be 4 or 5 a year, but in recent years that number has dwindled. There have been several I could have chased, and several more which I "dipped" on
2. Swainson's Hawk - some hawkwatch stations report half a dozen each autumn. There are about 60 provincial records. Enough said.
3. Tufted Duck- they show up every couple years and have a history of hanging around. Heck, there's one on the Niagara River right now!
4. Eurasian Collared-Dove - this stupid invasive species was supposed to be common in Ontario by now but it's not. One day we'll curse their existence. Maybe.
5. Rufous Hummingbird - one of my biggest misses! These cheeky wee bastards show up nearly every year at bird feeders in Ontario in the fall
6. Ivory Gull - over 30 records, with more than half of those being birds that hang around for several days
7. Lark Bunting - another big miss. Close to 30 provincial records! I bet if I spent a summer living in Rainy River I would find one.
8. Tricolored Heron - used to be pretty much annual - now there hasn't been one in 7 straight years
9. Northern Wheatear - according to some there is a 50/50 chance of seeing them on the coast of James Bay in the autumn...I'm 0 for too many
10. Cinnamon Teal
11. Willow Ptarmigan - I didn't go on the guided bus tour to the Darlington nuclear plant back in summer, 2011. One day I'll make it up north and see them on the breeding grounds.
12. Snowy Plover - 6 records in the last 13 years. All but one hung around for multiple days

Snowy Plover - Los Angeles, CA

13. Ash-throated Flycatcher - these are becoming pretty close to annual in recent years.
14. Say's Phoebe - I've chased two unsuccessfully in the last two years, maybe the third time will be the charm?
15. Black-necked Stilt 
16. Ross's Gull - one of my most wanted birds - 11 provincial records, with half of those chaseable
17. Smith's Longspur - they even breed in Ontario! Trouble is, I probably won't get up there in the near future
18. Least Tern - I think a rare tern will be added to my list before 400, and Least is not the least likely
19. Dovekie - I feel like Netitishi owes me one after four weeks of cold and wind in late autumn.
20. Sage Thrasher - 17 provincial records
21. Swallow-tailed Kite
22. Fork-tailed Flycatcher 
23. Black-headed Grosbeak - will be an easy tick, coming to someone's feeder in November or December
24. Gray Kingbird 
25. Vermillion Flycatcher - maybe this is wishful thinking since there are only 5 provincial records, but I WANT IT

If I get all 25, that means I only need 11 more species...here are my guesses - I would be surprised if I get more than 3 or 4 of them right.

rare hummingbird - could be 15 candidate species. Anna's is probably the most likely

Anna's Hummingbird - Arizona

Bewick's Wren - I better get one soon because they are not doing too well in the midwest. Hard to believe they used to be an occasional but regular breeding species!
Glaucous-winged Gull - this is a hugely overdue bird for Ontario. It seems like it will be any year now that we will all add it to our lists...
MacGillivray's Warbler - someone will find one in November or early December and it will be seen for several weeks.
Ancient Murrelet - because why not?
Pink-footed Goose - more and more showing up further away from the Atlantic every year - just a matter of time until Ontario gets one
Black-capped Petrel - 26 records. All were associated with hurricanes in 1893, 1955, 1996, and 2003. If we get another hurricane at the right time of year, BCPE will be almost too easy!
shearwater sp. - if I put in more time at Netitishi Point in the autumn, a shearwater is imminent. Probably Manx, Sooty, or Great!
Cassin's Sparrow - most don't stick around (8 records) but I think I'll find one some day
Garganey - only four provincial records, but I have a good feeling about it
Green-tailed Towhee - 7 provincial records, and they often hang around

So anyways, there you go! There is also the possibility of species splits. Two species that might be split and therefore countable someday include Vega Gull and Harlan's Hawk.

Harlan's Hawk - Moosonee, Ontario

There are a wide range of other species that I might add which wouldn't be entirely unexpected. Following are some of the more likely ones. Who knows!

Bullock's Oriole
Western Wood-pewee 
Rock Wren
Lewis's Woodpecker
rare alcid - Thick-billed Murre, Atlantic Puffin, 
Burrowing Owl
Clark's Nutcracker
Ferruginous Hawk
Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Great-tailed Grackle
Hermit Warbler
Lazuli Bunting
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Swainson's Warbler
Virginia's Warbler
White Ibis
Wood Stork
Yellow-billed Loon


Looking back at the last five years (basically when I started birding seriously), the following species I added to my Ontario list which I would have considered nearly impossible to predict. Essentially, species with only a few prior, or no prior, records for Ontario. They are:

Black-throated Sparrow (2009)
Black-tailed Gull (2009)
Phainopepla (2009)
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (2010)
Neotropic Cormorant (2011)
Smew (2011)
Magnificent Frigatebird (2012)
Thick-billed Kingbird (2012)
Brown Booby (2013)
Elegant Tern (2013)

Thick-billed Kingbird - Presqu'ile PP - Ontario

That averages out to two a year.

Let's say that I average 3 birds a year on top of the unpredictable ones, so about 5 birds a year. Purely a guess, but I would say not an unreasonable guess. At that rate I should hit 400 in about 7.5 years, or when I turn 31. Obviously with each passing year (and consequently less bird species you "need") it is tough to add to your growing list. Alan Wormington once told me he averages 1.5 new birds a year, and has been averaging this for quite some time. But it will likely take me quite some time to reach that point! Regardless, I don't feel like trying to figure out how the rate of new birds/year will change with time, so I'll just add an extra year to the predicted age I'll be when I see #400. My prediction is that I will be 32, if I spend the majority of the next 8.5 years in Ontario (a huge caveat!).

  It makes me wonder - what is the youngest age that someone has hit 400 for Ontario? There are a few other young(ish) birders who are on pace to break 400 at a young age. Ken Burrell is already at 380. Brandon predicts he will be 30 or 31 when he hits the milestone! But both of them also started birding at a younger age than me... ;)        


Alan Wormington said...

Dream on !!!

Anonymous said...

Harlan's won't be split

Anonymous said...

I kill time at work by doing work.

Brent Turcotte said...

I will be lucky to reach 300 species of birds if I stick to North Bay. I'm at 238 species and get to spend about one week per year in Southern Ontario. Since I have kids, I'll be in North Bay for awhile. Instead I'm aiming for 1000 taxa of everything (birds, butterflies, dragonflies, bugs, mammals, herps, plants, lichens, mushrooms, mosses etc). I likely somewhere around 800 now. Should be able to get that within four to six years I think, less if I work hard at it.

Anonymous said...

Lol, if you see the time of the post I made the post in the evening...was thinking about the idea at work though and made a quick list!

Anonymous said...


That's a cool goal - good luck! I find it is often more rewarding when I'm out looking for everything (herps, birds, insects, plants, etc)

Brent Turcotte said...

Biggest issue is ... what field guides do you take and which ones do you leave at home or in the car? Carrying more than two in the field in my pouch is impractical and heavy. Also, it is important to have fun, it is easily to get into new species overload when starting on a new aspect of nature. Also, I still plan to go after the uncommon and rare in my favorite areas (birds, dragonflies, butterfiles) even though they won't add much to the final list.