DIY Big Year: Are You Ready For 2018?

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Sep 21, 2017 | by Greg Miller
lighthouse at Petite Manan Island

lighthouse at Petite Manan Island – photo by Greg Miller

Is it too soon to start making plans for next year? I know. I know. I can hear some of you saying that we are just finishing up with summer and heading into the beginning of fall. And you don’t want to think of winter, let alone next year.

But if you have ever entertained doing a birding Big Year, it is best to lay out some plans. Maybe you like the thought of doing a Big Year but you know you cannot take off the whole year and you certainly don’t have the money to travel for a whole year. But maybe, just maybe you might entertain something more feasible—like your own personal Big Year—where you see more species of birds in one geographical area than you have ever seen before.

Ok. Maybe this idea is starting to take hold. Where would you go? How many species is a reasonable goal? How many species would be a personal best for you? How many trips do I need to take to make this happen? How will I know where and when to go? What is the most efficient strategy? Think it’s impossible? Think again.

I can hear you thinking. I’m here to help. How? The last few years I have compiled some research and made it available to everyone for free. I call it the Impatient Birder’s Guide to North America (IBG). It is data that I’ve gotten from eBird, an online database of birders’ checklists submitted from around the world. This data gives scientists, researchers, and curious guys like me the ability to look at the world of birding in a whole new light. And I believe in the future it will literally change how we bird.

Did the word “Impatient” grab your attention? Did it make you laugh? Probably. Because that is the world we live in. Every year goes by faster and faster. The clutter of everyday life clouds our abilities to look very far into the future. And then there is so much that happens over which we have no control.

I will soon post the latest results of my newest iteration of Impatient Birder’s Guide. But with its publication I will be posting here on how you can use it to your advantage. Previously, I’ve rolled up data by State and/or Province. This newest release will have data for all 50 States. But instead of rolling up data for a whole State, I’ve narrowed it down to the most eBirded Counties in the United States over the period from 2006-2016.

These counties are ones that had 15,000 or more checklists submitted during 2006-2016. I wanted every State represented. Some States did not have any counties that met the 15,000 checklist threshold. For States that did not have at least 3 counties in the list, I made exceptions. For those I chose the counties that had the highest number of checklists even though the totals were less than 15,000. But isn’t that arbitrary and subjective to do that? Yes. Yes, it is. Like I said above, I’m not a scientist. I’m just curious. And a data geek.

Here are some of my assumptions:

  1. These counties are probably close (or are in) populated areas. They are convenient for birders who live there. And they are probably close to airports with reasonable access.
  2. If a county made it into the list and it was not in a very densely populated area, then it probably represents a county that has such good birding that it is deserving of a special trip.
  3. This limited amount of counties will leave off some of the best places to find specific species. Or maybe it will even leave off some species that are not found in any of these counties.

Here is a summary of my findings so far for IBG 2016:

  • Represented by 299 counties with a minimum of 3 counties in all 50 States
  • Uses data from over 7 million checklists submitted between 2006-2016
  • Contains records for 984 species (eBird taxonomy)
  • Covers a little under 10% of the number of counties in the U.S.
  • Represents about 11% of the land area of the U.S.
  • About 56% of the population of the U.S. can be found in these counties
  • About 45% of all the checklists the U.S. in eBird for 2006-2016 come from these counties
  • These counties have reported about 87% of all the species for 2006-2016 in the U.S.

Watch for updates coming soon!

-Greg Miller

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