Tuesday, July 2, 2013


This is a slow week for me. I'm enjoying being home, spending time with Gerri and the cats, and getting all those things fixed that I've put off for the past few months - top of the list being: air conditioning!

Sally and Khiva.

It's also a good opportunity to plan the second half of my Big Year. I'm at 653 and the dizzy heights of 700 aren't too far away - especially when I compare mine to other recent Big Years. The record pace was set by Sandy Komito in 1998, who was at an incredible 692 by now, and ended the year with 748 species. John Vanderpoel narrowly missed the record - with 743 - and was at 654 by June 30th. If I include Aplomado Falcon from Texas (which the state hasn't accepted on their list and nor have I) as John and Sandy did in their lists, then I'm tied with John at 654.

I still have a lot of "common" birds (codes 1 and 2) left - 48 of them in fact:

CODE 1 (17)
  • Mountain Quail
  • California Quail
  • Cory's Shearwater
  • Pink-footed Shearwater
  • Great Shearwater
  • Sooty Shearwater
  • Audubon's Shearwater
  • Wilson's Storm-Petrel
  • Leach's Storm-Petrel
  • Barn Owl
  • Vaux's Swift
  • Allen's Hummingbird
  • Nuttall's Woodpecker
  • White-headed Woodpecker
  • Oak Titmouse
  • Wrentit
  • California Towhee

CODE 2 (31)
  • Chukar
  • Himalayan Snowcock
  • Sooty Grouse
  • Sharp-tailed Grouse
  • Mottled Petrel*
  • Black-capped Petrel
  • Buller's Shearwater
  • Black-vented Shearwater
  • Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel
  • Ashy Storm-Petrel
  • Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
  • Black Storm-Petrel
  • Whooping Crane
  • Common Ringed Plover*
  • Yellow-footed Gull
  • Bridled Tern
  • South Polar Skua
  • Scripps’s Murrelet
  • Whiskered Auklet
  • Spotted Dove
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
  • Black Swift
  • Island Scrub-Jay
  • Yellow-billed Magpie
  • California Gnatcatcher
  • California Thrasher
  • Sprague's Pipit
  • Smith's Longspur
  • McKay's Bunting
  • Tricolored Blackbird
  • Eurasian Tree Sparrow
All of these, with the exception of Common Ringed Plover and Mottled Petrel are probably doable, which - with a lot of birding - would get me to 700. And I'm sure I'll pick up a rarity or two (code 3-5) somewhere along the way...

OK - I hear you. Enough with numbers already. Bottom line: should I carry on reading this blog? Are you going anywhere exciting with cool birds and funny road signs? Well, here's my second half planner:

  • 7.6 Cape Hatteras pelagic - first east coast pelagic of the year
  • California - first trip to CA this year
  • 7.21 - Florida pelagic out of Ponce de Leon (and second try for Budgie!)
  • Mid-west for Sharp-tailed Grouse, Chukar (if missed in CA)
  • Nevada - Himalayan Snowcock?
  • CA pelagics
  • MA pelagic for White-faced Storm-petrel (8.24)
  • Dutch Harbor, AK - Whiskered Auklet
  • Gambell, AK (8.31-9.6)
  • Vancouver Island - Skylark
  • MA for Barn Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owl
  • IL / MO for Eurasian Tree Sparrow
  • Texas for Smith's Longspur, Sprague's Pipit and Whooping Crane
  • AK for McKay's Bunting (how much colder can AK be?)
  • East coast pelagic for Great Skua
Lots more opportunities to add to this collection....

Feel free to throw any feedback, suggestions, rotten fruit and vegetables this way. I'm probably missing some obvious things, and I know that I need to start doing more pelagics, which can be good for surprise rare birds.

Now, back to getting that A/C fixed...


  1. Hey Neil, good stuff. I'm living this Big Year vicariously through you and enjoying it every step of the way. Couple thoughts:

    1. I wonder... if you're at 653 now and manage to see all the code 1 and 2s on your list (minus a couple), wouldn't you be at 700, not 690 - even before added vagrants?

    2. Are you going to try for Ross's Gull at all? I know they're seen in Barrow in the fall...if you're in Alaska in late September you might have a shot at them.

    3. I live in Tampa and just found Budgies on Gulf Winds Circle in Hernando Beach last week. If you would like any company when you're down here in July I'd be happy to join you in your quest.

  2. Hi Thad!

    Yes - you're the second to point out my poor math! You're right - the code 1 and 2s would get me to 700 - which makes things a *bit* easier!

    I'm hoping for Ross's Gull on Gambell - as well as Ivory Gull. But you're right, if I miss them there (which is very likely) then Barrow makes sense. Of course, if I'd gone to Gambell this spring, I'd probably have got both already.

    I'd love to team up for Budgie! I spent a couple hours there earlier this year and missed them. So, yes, I'd appreciate the help / company. I'll let you know when I'll be down there.

    And congrats on some successful birding in Colombia. I love the shot of the Santa Marta Screech Owl!

    Thanks again for reading the blog and getting in touch!
    - Neil

  3. "Should I carry on reading this blog?", you ask? Absolutely! I am loving this blog and thoroughly enjoying your adventures, the way you tell about them, and your fast climbing numbers. Love the new Tropicbird "top"! Keep the posts coming!

    Dave Hardin
    Newton, North Carolina.

    1. Thanks Dave! Glad you're finding it entertaining.

      I'll be down in NC tomorrow, heading for Hatteras and my first east coast pelagic of the year. Hopefully I'll have some good stories.

      Thanks for reading!
      - Neil

  4. Neil,

    I'm enjoying your blog. If you go for Snowcock, you can easily get Chukar at Antelope Island State Park in the Great Salt Lake. For strategy recommendations on Snowcock hunting, give me a call at 513-702-3451 (cell)

  5. Oops...Snowcock comments by:

    Steve Bobonick
    Cincinnati, OH

    1. Thanks Steve - I'll definitely be in touch! Both these birds are going to feature in my July adventures.

      Say hi to Cincinnati for me - I was there for Christmas. Gerri grew up there and has family there.

      Thanks for reading the blog.
      - Neil

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  7. When you go to the Salton Sea for the Yellow-Footed Gull, a Barn Owl would be a quick tick at Sono Bono Headquarters. One owl has been day-roosting in a palm tree outside the restrooms for several years.

    Kevin Gin
    Pasadena, CA

  8. As Kevin mentioned above, that Barn Owl has been a reliable staple at the Sono Bono HQ for years. Guy McCaskie is the authority on all things in Imperial County and regularly birds the south end of the salton sea during the week. I would definitely recommend contacting him before a visit.

    Many of the birds you mentioned above are fairly common in California right now. If you come through Orange County send me an email. I'm trying to do a big year for that county this year so I have a pretty good idea of what's around at the moment (or I could get you in contact with people in neighboring counties).

    Tom Ford-Hutchinson
    Irvine, CA

    1. Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the additional info. That would be great to get the Barn Owl during the day. And thanks for the suggestion of talking to Guy - I'll get in touch before I get there.

      That's great that you're doing a county big year. Even for a much smaller area, I'm sure that's still a lot of work and a lot of driving. I'm definitely not looking forward to SoCal traffic! Thanks for the offer about local birds - can you mail me your email address? I'm sure I'll have questions.

      Thanks for reading the blog!
      - Neil