Fast Track Big Year Plans

Great Kiskadee displaying crown - Quinta Mazatlan - McAllen TX - 2012-12-12

Great Kiskadee displaying crown – Quinta Mazatlan – McAllen TX – 2012-12-12 photo by Greg Miller

Have you been following the Big Year drama this year?  Several birders are doing really Big Years and one, Neil Hayward is tied with Sandy Komito’s 1998 record at 745 species plus 3 provisional species (new birds for North America yet to be approved).  Will he break the record this year?  Time will tell.  You can read more about his Big Year here.

Hopefully you all have had a delightful Christmas with family and friends.  I have had a wonderfully quiet Christmas and some time to collect for next year.  Are you thinking about next year yet?  Do you have any birding goals?  Have you ever thought about a Big Year?  They can be awfully expensive.  Maybe you have fancied a smaller Big Year but didn’t know best how to go about getting to your goal.

Enter eBird, a fabulous Citizen Science project on a grand scale.  They collect birding checklists from around the world in an online database.  This data can be accessed by anyone, not just scientists.  It provides a terrific resource.  But can it make a plan for Big Years with goals for 300, 400, or 500 species?  The quick answer is, Yes.  Yes, it can.  That is what this post is about–Fast Track Big Year Plans for goals of 300, 400, and 500 species in the ABA Area (American Birding Association’s designation includes the Lower 48 United States plus all of Canada and Alaska).  Let’s get right to it:Fast Track 300

So where does one start in planning any birding Big Year?  Go for the very best place to give you the biggest variety of species in the shortest amount of time.  Then the next best place where you can find the most amount of species that would be new (not duplicates of what you already found at the best place).  This method would be continued until you reach your goal.  Fortunately, someone has taken eBird and done all the work for you.  It should be noted that this information is only as valuable as the accuracy of the submissions into the eBird database.  Still, this may be your best information for now.  So here we go.

Week #1: Texas – April 22-30; 240 new species; total species = 240

First of all, Texas is a very big state.  And in looking at the results I can tell that this would be a very big week involving birding the Upper Texas Coast as well as the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  That is pretty aggressive for most people.  But, it does offer a huge variety of species hitting the peak of spring migration in the Upper Coast as well as getting LRGV specialties.  It affords the easiest place on the continent to pass the 200-mark.  Many birders with good skills can see even more with this trip.  I know birders who have recorded just over 300 species in a week.  But for the average birder 240 species is not an unreasonable expectation.

Week #2: Alaska – June 1-7; 130 new species; total species = 370

Speaking of large states, Alaska is enormous.  Looking at the species list for this trip I can tell it will involve more than just birding in the Anchorage area.  There are a number of sea bird species that will require a trip to either the Pribilofs or Gambell to get all the target species.

This will easily get a birder past the 300-mark.  But I figure most folks will not want to stop here.  Either they will be doing more in their year or they are using this to help boost their life list.

Fast Track 400

Follow the plan for 300 species.  Then add one more trip.  There are many ways to get the next 30 species, but I will give you the best one:

Week #3: Arizona – May 1-7; 65 new species; total species = 435

Most of this trip will be spent in the Southeast corner of the State.  Many breeding species occur here and no where else in North America.

Fast Track 500

You would think getting to 500 is easy.  But it will actually require some effort.  In fact, it requires almost double the effort of reaching the first 400 species.  As your birding list increases, it will become increasingly difficult to get to those new goals of 600, 700, 800, etc. Follow the tracks for 300 & 400.  Then do these trips to ensure getting to your goal of 500.

Week #4: California – September 8-14; 29 new species; total species = 464

California is another big state.  And this week will include lots of driving, too.  There are a number of Southern California birds to add.  But the biggest number of additions will require a pelagic trip (an ocean-going birding trip) or two.  Monterey is a good place to start for a wide variety of sea faring species.

Week #5: Maine – June 22-30; 22 new species; total species = 486

Most of your travel here will be along Coastal Maine.  It should be noted that you will need a trip out to Machias Seal Island (or other equivalent) in Down East Maine for Atlantic Puffins and other sea birds.

Week #6: Montana – June 8-14; 18 new species; total species = 504

Montana is another huge state.  And yes, this is going to involve lots of driving.  You will need to see longspurs in the plains and montane species in the mountains in the western part of the state.

And there you have it.  Fast Track Big Year plans for 300, 400, and 500 species.  This is just a terse introduction.  If there is interest from the birding community, I will be happy to elaborate on these destinations and the target lists.  If you need help on many of these areas, you should consider purchasing birdfinding guides from the ABA (American Birding Association).

Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful 2014!!!

12 thoughts on “Fast Track Big Year Plans

  1. A few years ago, I set a goal of 300 birds. I had a full time job, other obligations and limited resources. I lived in Northern California, so I quickly checked off my first 100, then I visited SE Arizona and picked up a bunch more. What put me over the top was a trip to visit family in Florida and a boat trip to the Dry Tortugas for nesting sooty terns and brown noddies. I picked up brown boobie and a lot of migrating warblers, too. Final total was 302, including several lifers. It should have been more, but I need a winning lottery ticket first.

  2. Pingback: Blog Birding #167 « ABA Blog

  3. Greg, Great list and thanks for all your helpful posts! Question: Do you have week 5 and 6 switched or are the dates for week 6 in July not June? Second question: are you going for another Big Year?!

    • Hi Madeline,

      Actually, the Week #’s refer to the sequence of importance in getting to 500. It is not in line with sequence for calendar. A little confusing I suppose. I made the assumption more folks would use this to build their life lists rather than doing even a mini Big Year–even though that is what I put in the title of my post, right? Sorry for the confusion.


  4. Great post. I read The Big Year book last semester and watch the movie over Christmas break. Just thought I’d look you up. I’m actually trying my own little Big Year right now but, since I am a college student and a fair ways in debt, I won’t be spending much, if any, money on it. So far I have 41 species on my list. Thankfully, I live in the northwest (Vancouver Island) and I go to school in the southeast (Florida), so I have a great opportunity to get birds from both ends of the continent. I read your blip on eBird too and went right away and made myself an account. Real helpful.
    All the best,

  5. Visiting southern Arizona February 13-19… We don’t want to miss out , so any info would be greatly appreciated! We need the best spots to bird and stay! It’s our first time there, and we hope to add to our florida/ohio /michigan lists… Thanks in advance!

    • The big spots are Madera Canyon and nearby Florida Canyon (rufous-capped warbler & elegant trogon) near Green Valley, the Paton House (violet-crowned hummer) in Patagonia, all the canyons in the Huachuca Mountains (Ramsey, Ash, Miller, etc.) near Sierra Vista, the San Pedro river near Sierra Vista and the Chiricahua mountains on the New Mexico border. If you have time, try to get up to Bosque del Apache near Socorro, New Mexico. There are many other spots you will be passing. Google the roadside rest area in Patagonia and Wilcox. I had grey silky flycatcher and Montezuma’s Quail at Coronado National Monument. Check eBird for Arizona daily. I like staying at the Best Western in Green Valley and Casa de San Pedro (a great place) in Hereford (South of Sierra Vista). Good birding and have fun!

      • Thanks for the birding tips…. We are staying in Tuscon and hope to bird Madera canyon and Patagonia … Hope we see some hummingbirds … Since we are visiting in winter we may be early!
        Thank you!

        • Hope you have a wonderful trip. Watch for yellow-eyed junco at the Kubo B&B in Madera Canyon. They have lots of feeders there.

  6. Hi Greg,
    Nice blog. My wife and I just recently got into birding, mainly for Photography. We are attempting our own Big Year trying to see how many birds we can identify in the US. Currently live in Kansas but have plans to go to the Ft. Myers area this week, then Palm Springs in April (although after reading your blog maybe Texas would have been a better choice?..:)) Then in May to spot some Warblers in Magee Marsh. Much fun!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *