Let’s take a look back at the year 2017 in terms of bird listing accomplishments. In 2016, two birders shattered the old year list record for North America. John Weigel’s Big Year resulted in a list of 780 species, narrowly beating Olaf Danielson’s count of 778 species.
Those records were not broken in 2017 despite three impressive Big Years. Comparisons of North American Big Years is problematic now because the American Birding Association, the keeper of listing records for North America, redefined North America to include Hawaii. The decision is defensible on geopolitical grounds but makes little sense to me on biological grounds. Nonetheless, birders attempting to break the North American Big Year record will need to plan a trip to Hawaii, like the three top Big Year birders in 2017.
Yves Morell found 813 species with an additional four rarities that will require confirmation by a state or provincial rare bird committee before they can be counted. Brothers Ruben and Victor Stoll also found 813 species but only have three provisional species.
For the truly obsessed, the World Big Year beckons. In 2015, Noah Strycker identified 6,042 species, birding in over 40 countries. Noah’s record obliterated the previous World Big Year record of 4,341 species. Noah’s record did not last long. The Dutch birder Arjan Dwarshuis listed 6,852 species in 2016, nearly two-thirds of all the birds in the world. I am not aware of any 2017 Big Years that threaten that record.
Closer to home, Josh Fecteau of Kennebunkport set a new Big Year record for Maine. His total of 317 species edged out the previous record of 314 species set by Doug Hitchcox.
Josh did not begin 2017 with the intention of doing a Big Year. Seeing Pink-footed Goose and Great Gray Owl in January provided the impetus to bird intensively for the rest of the winter and spring.
Every year brings a few rarities to Maine and those species can make or break a Big Year. Vermilion Flycatcher, Fieldfare, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, and Little Egret were among the rarest of the rare in 2017. Other unusual birds seen included Ross’ Goose, Red-billed Tropicbird, Black Vulture, King Rail, Connecticut Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Painted Bunting.
Josh reached the 250-species mark on May 18 and the 300-species mark on August 29. A Summer Tanager seen on November 1 is the species that broke the record. A Dovekie seen on New Year’s Eve was the 317th of Josh’s odyssey.
For most kinds of organisms, species diversity increases as one moves from the polar regions to the tropics. That pattern is evident by comparing Josh’s impressive Big Year total of 317 species to the current Big Day record, set in 2015 in Ecuador, of 431 species!
That Big Day record was set by a team of four international birders: Dušan Brinkhuizen, Tuomas Seimola, Rudy Gelis and Mitch Lysinger. The previous Big Day record was 354 species, conducted in Perú.
The Ecuadorian team felt that a Big Day in excess of 400 species was possible since Ecuador has over 1700 species of birds. The challenge is how to sample the many habitats with the mere 12 hours of daylight.
The strategy was to thoroughly bird the Amazonian forests along the eastern slope of the Andes beginning at midnight. At dusk, the plan was to hop on a plane to the shore and bird the coastal regions after dark.
October 8, 2015 was the day. By 4:49 the list stood at 16 species with the fabled dawn chorus yet to come. By 8:45, the list had 195 species and grew to 329 species by 2:00 PM. By the time the team reached the airport, they had 392 species, shattering the old record.
Surveying heron and seabird roosts on the coast and observing night-feeding shorebirds, the team added another 39 species. An amazing day.