Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Planning a Big Year

Big Birding Years are a fun way to challenge yourself. Your skills will undoubtedly improve as you learn more about identification and attempt to anticipate where particular birds will turn up and when. Big Years can be done in large areas like BC, or you can do them in an area as small as your yard. It's a way of motivating yourself to get outdoors and visit areas that you might not otherwise know about. It adds another fun angle to an already enjoyable past-time, and can also bring fellow birders together in the spirit of friendly competition! And of course you can add a healthy-flavour to it by making it a non-motorized year!

Although many folks won't be interested in the more-or-less "high-octane" style of Big Year that I performed in 2010, a self-paced BC Big Year can be attractive to many and I would thoroughly recommend it. Just by visiting Vancouver Island, Vancouver, the Okanagan, and the Peace River regions, in one year (at appropriate times)... any birder could rack up close to 300 species-- That's a lot of birds!

For those interested, here are some strategic pointers and some personal stats:

#1 Rule: If you're serious about a big year, you need to chase rarities. You miss them half the time but in the long run it will be worth it!

Jan-Mar: Concentrate on winter specialties (e.g. Gulls, redpolls, gyrfalcon, Harris's Sparrow, etc.), woodpeckers, game-birds, and owls (I had 13 species of owls by March).

April-May: It's migration time. The two main places you want to be are #1 The Coast (for rarities and shorebirds), and #2 The Okanagan (for tough breeders like Grasshopper Sparrow, Flammulated Owl, and Williamson's Sapsucker). This is also the time you want to clean up on all passerine breeders if possible--everything from Black-throated Gray Warbler to Boreal Chickadee.

June: Best time to visit the Peace Region as all birds are back and singing away. I found that July was getting a little late for birdsong and May was slightly early for some species. If possible you can continue north-west up the Alaska Highway for more northerly breeders like ptarmigan and Arctic Tern etc., at least rarities tend to tail off around June-July.

July-October: Seabirds, shorebirds, and rarities. This is the CRUNCH TIME which will make or break your year. Basing yourself near the coast will be helpful but if your big year is centered around your home-turf, you can still find some goodies.

Nov-Dec: Winter clean-up and sporadic rarity-chasing. I only added 5 species in November and only 1 in December. Some years can be better than others. Good birds did show up but they were things I already had like Acorn Woodpecker, Palm Warbler, Iceland Gull, and Northern Mockingbird.

My 'PACE' Breakdown:

100 species by January 7th (i.e the first day I hit the coast)
200- March 26
300- May 26 (314 by end of May)
330- Aug 7
350- Aug 30
370- Nov 10 (373 at year's end)


  1. The American Black Ducks at Yellow Point should not be controversial in any way. One thing we need to get away from in BC Birding, is feeling ashamed of doing what is right, just because some crank posts an anonymous message on the internet.