Big Year birders are trickling back from western Alaska, as the meat of the rarity season comes to a close there, and just in time for the excitement of peak rarity season in the rest of the continent. By early October, most ABA Area breeding birds that spend the winter in Central and South America are there of well on their way. If there’s a Code 1 or 2 bird outstanding on anyone’s list, the chances of nabbing it get longer by the day. Now that Weigel and Danielson are are north of Neil Hayward’s 2013 total, what competition remains is among themselves and mostly icing at this point. But Laura Keene makes a strong push in recent weeks to overtake Heyward’s 749 as well. Could three, or even four, birders break the record this year?
John Weigel still leads the pack by a hair, having spent most of the time since we last checked in on St. Paul Island. His long sojourn there has paid off, having added Jack Snipe and Red-flanked Bluetail in the Pribilofs, then a brief run to to south Texas for the cooperative Variegated Flycatcher before returning to St. Paul to add Mottled Petrel. He mentions on his blog that he briefly considered heading down to Arizona to see the cooperative Lesser Sand-Plover, but decided to instead count an individual he flushed on Gambell, but was frustratingly not relocated by other birders there, a decision few could fault. His current list sits at 765 (+2).
You can follow John at Birding for Devils.
Olaf Danielson did make the trip to Arizona for the sand-plover, and was successful in his quest. Though he has not spent as much time in western Alaska, Olaf has managed to make do in the Lower 48, picking up the San Francisco Dusky Warbler (along with Least Storm-Petrel offshore) and making the relatively easy trip to south Texas for the Variegated Flycatcher. He currently sits at 764 (+1).
You can follow Olaf at his blog, The Bad Weather Big Year.
Laura Keene was also on the scene of both the Arizona sand-plover and the Texas Variegated Flycatcher, which, along with some Pacific pelagics and a handful of goodies from St. Paul (Red-flanked Bluetail and Jack Snipe) plus a Bay-breasted Warbler in Ohio sees her drawing ever closer to Heyward’s total. In fact, her 733 (+2) is well ahead of Hayward’s total at the end of September, and if she holds pace and sees a productive last three months, she could top it as well.
The last member of the foursome, Christian Hagenlocher, has come into the fall with renewed vigor as well. Despite looking like he might sit the rest of the year out on the west coast, he also made the trek to Texas for the Variegated Flycatcher, and is back from western Alaska having moved up to 726 (+2), behind the other three but, notably, ahead of Hayward’s 2013 total at this point as well.
You can read Christian’s blog at The Birding Project.
With all of the unknown variables that could potentially come into play in the last 80-odd days of the year, it’s impossible to predict where these four birders will end up. But with two birders over the top and two more on the doorstep, the possibility that four birders will break the previous Big Year record this year has to be considered. What an extraordinary year. Good luck to all four as we head into the homestretch.