Wednesday, January 7, 2015

AZ Big Year - Recovery

For the past week I have been trying to recover from the previous year.  Late in 2013 I set a goal for myself to observe 400 species of birds in Arizona during the 2014 calendar year.  My goal was personal, could I do it?  I believed this would be a good incentive for me to explore and learn about new birding locations around the state.  I knew that I had no planned trips outside of Arizona except for a week in Colorado.  And most important, my wonderful wife agreed that this was the year to go for it! I was not competing with anyone and I was not trying to set a new record.  I learned of the previous record only a day or two before starting while discussing my plans with another birder that happened to be the previous record holder.  I believe he said something to the affect that it was time for a new record. A new record has been set.
Though I did not advertise that I was doing a big year, I did not hide it either.  From the onset three other birders knew I was making my attempt. Early on, several folks noticed my eBird total for the year skyrocketing and asked. As the year progressed I felt that it was kind of common knowledge among the state’s birding community.  I was however surprised to find that I was mentioned and congratulated in a posting to the ABA Facebook page.
I was out birding 305 days in 2014.  Eighty-nine of those days were dedicated to Big Year Birding.  Most of the remaining days I was birding for another purpose, guiding, scouting, or volunteering and I saw many of the year birds in this way. For guiding & volunteering activities I put 14400 miles on my truck and 12150 miles specifically dedicated to the Big Year.  Data from eBird indicates that 444 species of birds were recorded in Arizona during 2014. Of those, ten (10) are not countable by ABA standards and I did not see any of them. That leaves twenty-one (21) species I did not see during the year.  I made attempts but failed to see five of the 21; Slate-throated Redstart, California Quail, Common Grackle, Lapland Longspur, and Least Flycatcher.  For various reasons, I chose not to chase or could not chase the remaining sixteen (16) birds that I did not see.  [The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper stands out amongst this crowd; the report that it was no longer present arrived the day before I freed up and had planned to go.]
Interesting side note: The California Condor at the beginning of the year was not countable by ABA Standards.  Before the end of the year the committee that determines such things, voted such that the California Condor is now countable.  Their decisions led to a trip to the Grand Canyon where not only did I see the Condor, I also saw a Pine Grosbeak.
Another side note: I anticipated that the AOU Checklist Committee would vote to split the Curve-billed Thrasher.  I saw and photographed both forms of Curve-billed Thrashers during the year. The split didn’t happen.
No one single species stands out above the others as the best bird of the year.  I saw seventeen new state birds during the year:
Bell's Sparrow
Baseline Rd-Salome Hwy
Tundra Swan
Prescott--Willow Lake
Pinyon Jay
Near Williams
Black-capped Chickadee
Fredonia-277 Altus Ln
Am. Three-toed Woodpecker
Near Jacob’s Lake
Ring-necked Pheasant
Yuma-5800-5998 W County 9th St
Broad-winged Hawk
De Anza Trail--Tubac
Dusky Grouse
Green's Peak
Gray Jay
Sheep Crossing
Caspian Tern
Glendale Recharge Ponds
Black-billed Magpie
Teec Nos Pos Wash
Long-tailed Jaeger
Lake Havasu City--N Pittsburgh Pt
Worm-eating Warbler
Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve
Blue-headed Vireo
stakeout Sinaloa Wren, Tubac (2013-2014)
Red-headed Woodpecker
Aravaipa Canyon--west trailhead
California Condor
Grand Canyon NP--Bright Angel Lodge
Pine Grosbeak
Grand Canyon NP--Yavapai Point

And I saw 370 new country birds:  Apache 49, Cochise 15, Coconino 22, Gila 35, La Paz 35, Maricopa 65, Mohave 40, Navajo 4, Pima 11, Pinal 26, Santa Cruz 8, Yavapai 37, Yuma 23, [did not visit Graham & Greenlee].
I was asked the other day, “What’s next?”. My quick response was “a year of Zen birding”. I really haven’t decided what that means yet; I guess I’ll let that philosophy gel in my mindfulness for a while.  I do want to learn bird distribution in Pima County better.  Since becoming the Pima County eBird editor, I have learned how much more there is to learn about Pima County birds and birders.
I now declare my 2014 Arizona Big Year complete.  While the birding ended on December 31, I felt that I needed to tie up some loose ends before declaring that I’m done.  I have a few other loose threads to pull on, like determining how many species I photographed and cataloging all the year’s photographs.  I'll take care of those if I feel like it and have the time.  It’s been a blast and now it’s time to move on.

The hat that has been with me all year has been hung in (semi) retirement.

I will always remember: Life is simple. Eat. Sleep. Bird.