07 January 2012

2011 Year List

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.


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:

Mountain Quail
Gray Partridge
Greater Sage-Grouse
King Rail
Bar-tailed Godwit
Red Phalarope
Glaucous Gull (!)
Iceland Gull
Sabine's Gull
Common Tern (!)
Arctic Tern
Smooth-billed Ani
Long-eared Owl
Flammulated Owl
Spotted Owl
Allen's Hummingbird
White-headed Woodpecker
Hammond's Flycatcher
Pinyon Jay
Bicknell's Thrush
Baird's Sparrow
Chestnut-collared Longspur
Audubon's Oriole
White-winged Crossbill
Lawrence's Goldfinch

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.