As many birders do, I keep a "year list" of all the species I see each calendar year. Of course, anyone can keep any kind of list they want to. For me, the year list that I tend to care most about is one that takes place within the American Birding Association area (Alaska, Canada, and the lower 48 states).
Last year, in 2011, I realized as I was finishing up grad school in March/April that my year might end up being pretty decent. I had plans to take the summer off and travel/bird so I figured I would keep careful track of what year birds I had.
In fact, I was lucky to see a lot of the country last year, I visited at least 41 different states. For the first time in many years, I didn't bird in Canada or Alaska so my year list essentially became a "lower 48 year list".
Many people asked me throughout the year "How's the Big Year going?" but I always had to explain. I didn't do a Big Year, that was never my intention. A Big Year is one of those behemoth goals where people spend thousands of dollars criss-crossing the country ticking every single species they can. If something shows up in Alaska that they need, they fly there. Me, well, I just kept track as I putzed around the country. Even when December came around, I never went far out of my way just for a year bird... I didn't want it to turn into that. Maybe I should have targeted stuff in hindsight? Nah.
Anyway, I ended up tallying 586 species last year in the lower 48 states. My previous best year list that I have records of is 465 set in 2008, 100+ fewer species. With 586, 2011 became my best year ever (and will likely stay that way for some time).
Here is a family-by-family run down of what I saw and what I didn't:
Family Anatidae - DUCKS, GEESE, SWANS:
I had 43 species in this family with highlights being BARNACLE GOOSE, MUSCOVY DUCK, EURASIAN WIGEON, and FALCATED DUCK. I didn't see any of the 4 eiders or TUFTED DUCK.
Family Odontophoridae - NEW WORLD QUAIL:
The only miss in this family was MOUNTAIN QUAIL. We almost missed MONTEZUMA QUAIL in Arizona but we eventually got lucky near Paradise. Fitting, huh?
Family Cracidae - CURRASOWS, GUANS:
There is only one species in this family in the ABA, the PLAIN CHACHALACA which is common in South Texas.
Family Phasianidae - PARTRIDGES, GROUSE, TURKEYS, OLD WORLD QUAIL:
I barely snagged half of the birds in this family. Highlights were LESSER PRAIRIE-CHICKEN and GUNNISON SAGE-GROUSE although I ended up missing GREATER SAGE-GROUSE, GRAY PARTRIDGE, and CHUKAR. Other misses include all of the PTARMIGAN and SPUCE GROUSE.
Family Gaviidae and Podicipedidae - LOONS, GREBES:
The only miss from these families was ARTIC LOON which I didn't expect in the lower-48 states.
Family Diomedeidae, Procellariidae, Hydrobatidae - ALBATROSSES, PETRELS, SHEARWATERS, STORM-PETRELS:
I didn't participate in any pelagic trips in 2011 which essentially means this category is a wash. In fact, I only tallied two species from this category from land: SOOTY SHEARWATER and PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER.
Wow, ok, making this blog is taking forever. I'm going to speed things up.
I've often said how I think it's more interesting to look at the misses in a given year than the birds you actually snag. I think you'll agree that some of these misses are just plain funny. Without further ado, the top 25 most-embarrassing or most-painful misses from 2011:
Glaucous Gull (!)
Common Tern (!)
However, there were many highlights and good birds to balance things out. I ended up adding more than 20 new ABA birds which isn't easy to do once in the 650+ range. Some highlights that come to mind include:
Barnacle Goose (CT)
Falcated Duck (CA)
Common Ringed Plover (CA)
Ruff (OR & CA)
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (CA)
Roseate Tern (FL)
Antillean Nighthawk (FL)
Red-throated Pipit (CA)
Le Conte's Thrasher (AZ)
White-throated Thrush (TX)
Aztec Thrush (AZ)
Colima Warbler (TX)
Yellow-faced Grassquit (TX)
Crimson-collared Grosbeak (TX)
Spot-breasted Oriole (FL)
Last but not least, we were lucky to snag two different ABA Code-5 birds this year (in other words, they're extremely rare). First was a BLACK-VENTED ORIOLE in southern Texas. The other came on the second-to-last day of 2011, a NUTTING'S FLYCATCHER on 30 DEC in Arizona to wrap up a fun year of birding.