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Announcing the 2016 ABA Awards Recipients!

The ABA Board of Directors recently voted to make three presentations of ABA Awards in 2016. The awardees… [read more]

Announcing the 2016 ABA Awards Recipients! Announcing the 2016 ABA Awards Recipients!

2016 AOU Check-list Proposals, Part 1

It's time, once again, for split and lump season, or at least the first part of the long prelude to changes… [read more]

2016 AOU Check-list Proposals, Part 1 2016 AOU Check-list Proposals, Part 1

The TOP 10: Craziest ABA Vagrants of 2015

By Nate Swick and George Armistead For the last couple years the annual Top 10 Best Vagrants post… [read more]

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Introducing the 2016 ABA Bird of the Year!

We're excited, at last, to share this year's ABA Bird of the Year and artist. Thanks to artist… [read more]

Introducing the 2016 ABA Bird of the Year! Introducing the 2016 ABA Bird of the Year!

Photo Quiz: December 2015 Birding

Hmm... Well, it's a decent photo, and the bird is well presented. This can't be all that hard, can it? It's… [read more]

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The ABA’s Spark Bird Project Puts Binoculars in the Hands of Kids

What could a kid discover if they had the tools we birders often take for granted? What could they find? Birds,… [read more]

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Nikon Monarch 7

Rare Bird Alert: July 22, 2016

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As it has been for what seems like the entirety of the year, southeast Arizona has been the place for ABA Area rarities, as birds notable birds continue once more into the latter half of July. Tufted Flycatcher (ABA Code 5), Flame-colored Tanager (4), and both Plain-capped Starthroat (4) and Berylline Hummingbird (4) were seen into the week, though the last only into last weekend.  In addition, the Little Egret (4) in Maine does not seem to be going anywhere soon.

Bird of the week is the ABA Area’s 6th record of Nazca Booby (5), an adult seen out of Monterey this week. I had erroneously noted in a standalone post that this was the farthest north this equatorial species had been seen, forgetting that it’s not even the farthest north this year. This is, remarkably, the second Nazca Booby in Monterey County in 2016, quite a change from a bird that had not been conclusively recorded as naturally occurring in the ABA Area as recently as 4 years ago.

Photo: Elizabeth Hamel

Photo: Elizabeth Hamel

We get to report one potential 1st this week. A Cassin’s Kingbird near Bradwell, Saskatchewan, would be the first for the province, and one of only a few records for Canada.

Staying out west for what is a relatively light report this week, in Alaska, an Eastern Kingbird was a surprise on the Bering Sea outpost of St Paul Island.

British Columbia had a White-faced Ibis in Ladner and a Chestnut-sided Warbler on private property in Victoria.

A pair of Ruddy Turnstones in Washoe were noteworthy for Nevada.

Arizona had a Nutting’s Flycatcher (5) reported from Cochise, well away from the species’s well-known haunts in the west of the state. Also, a pair of Black Skimmers and a Hudsonian GodwitArizona’s 8th, were in Maricopa.

Maryland had a Ruff (3) in Harford.

In New Jersey, at least two separate groups of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were in the state, in Salem and Cape May.

And in Nova Scotia, another Ruff (3), this one in Amherst.

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Omissions and errors are not intended, but if you find any please message blog AT aba.org and I will try to fix them as soon as possible. This post is meant to be an account of the most recently reported birds. Continuing birds not mentioned are likely included in previous editions listed here. Place names written in italics refer to counties/parishes.

Readers should note that none of these reports has yet been vetted by a records committee. All birders are urged to submit documentation of rare sightings to the appropriate state or provincial committees. For full analysis of these and other bird observations, subscribe to North American Birds <aba.org/nab>, the richly illustrated journal of ornithological record published by the ABA

ICYMI: The big Big Year debate: What’s the number to beat, anyway?

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The ABA Blog has been in existence for almost 6 years, and there’s a lot of good content back in the archives that deserves an audience now that it might not have received way back when. So, semi-regularly we will bring some of that stuff back. Here’s one by Ted Floyd and Greg Neise that is particularly prescient as two birders independently break the ABA Area Big Year record this week.

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Today’s debaters: Greg Neise (l), ABA Web Developer; and Ted Floyd (r), editor Birding magazine

Editor’s Note
: With Colorado birder John Vanderpoel coming down to the wire in his attempt to knock off Sandy Komito’s top ABA-area Big Year (or rather, as the movie The Big Year would have you believe, attain the title of ‘best birder in the world”), Birding editor Ted Floyd and ABA web developer Greg Neise take a look at some of the questions surrounding Komito’s very big year and ask whether Vanderpoel’s final tally will eclipse it, fall short of it, or maybe manage both at the very same time.

Confused?  Read on…

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Greg Neise: For those readers who may not know what we’re talking about—or why—the story is basically this:

In 1998 Sandy Komito completed an ABA big year, finishing with 745 species. That record has stood since, and no one has come even close to it.

Komito BookBut Komito contends that his record is actually 748, because that’s how many countable species he saw that year. In addition to the 745 species published, he saw four birds that were not on the ABA Checklist at the time: Elegant Quail, Belcher’s Gull, Bulwer’s Petrel, and Yellow-throated Bunting. The Big Year rules state that only birds that are on the ABA checklist are countable.

Those four species had to be accepted by the record committees in the states they were seen, and then the ABA can accept them to the checklist. In the case of 1998, this took months, and the ABA list totals, and indeed even Komito’s own book about his big year, had gone to press.

Of the four species, three were accepted (Elegant Quail was not). So therefore, Komito saw 748 that were eventually added to the ABA Checklist. But is his record 745 or 748?

This was pretty much an academic question, or something relegated to birding trivia, because the chances of anyone beating that record were considered by some to very low. But now, John Vanderpoel has seen 740 species through Dec. 19th, 2011, and it’s conceivable that he might set a new record.

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Ted Floyd: Records are made to be broken!

But never mess with the records themselves! The numbers stand forever. Babe Ruth’s career 714 home runs, his single-season record of 60 homers, etc. I’m delighted to have those records broken. But don’t mess with the actual numbers.

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GN: I agree … but how do we arrive at “the number”? Is what was published at the time set in stone, or is there room for some revisions?

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TF: Yeah, I’m inclined to go with what was published at the time. So, yes, it’s “set in stone.”

You can revisit practically any record, reanalyze it, tweak it, update it…

So many of the famous records in Major League Baseball (and other sports) are actually wrong! Even some of the most famous numbers. When you go back and look at the actual historical record, you realize they’re off by one or two or sometimes more. You can analyze that stuff forever. It’s better, I think, to go with the number that was published at the time.

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GN: Okay … so how does that work for the ABA Big Year contest? Komito played by the rules, because he did not count the three birds in question until they had been accepted. So, in one sense, he’s getting bit by a technicality.

But going forward, others would look at this and simply count those species. If they were not accepted, well … then what happens?

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TF: Two responses, Greg, one contrarian, the other more harmonious.

On the one hand, yeah, he got bit. Here’s a (presumably) neutral example: Rock Pigeons (Rock Doves, back then) didn’t “count” on Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) until, I believe, 1973. I’m fine with that. Now we all know there were Rock Pigeons on CBCs in New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere in, say, the 1960s. But we don’t go back and add +1 to all those CBCs. I’m okay with that. Yeah, those old CBCs got bit by the technicality. Tough!

On the other hand, I get the “spirit of the law” you’re talking about here. In comparing records, you have to look at the context. That’s true for Barry Bonds vs. Babe Ruth, it’s true for the 2011 Pittsburgh CBC vs. the 1969 Pittsburgh CBC, it’s true for Vanderpoel vs. Komito.

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GN: I see your point, but that still leaves a lot of gray area where I think there shouldn’t be any.

Let’s say a big year birder rushes to California to see a first ABA record. The bird is positively identified, and documented, but it takes the California records committee 9 months to make a ruling on the record.

Does the birder count that bird in his/her total before it’s been accepted?

Or should birders simply not waste the money chasing first ABA records, because there’s a significant chance they won’t make it through committee in time to be published?

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TF: I agree with you 100% on something: There’s a lot of gray area!

But I’m fine with that. That’s what makes it fun.

For the strict purpose of playing the big year game, I think you have to go with the rules at the time. Thus, you get multiple Dark-eyed Junco “ticks” prior to the 1973 “lump”; or you get two species of “white-cheeked geese” (Canada, Cackling) in 2011, but not in, say, 1998 (prior to the split). And who knows?—in 2025, maybe we’ll say there are five species of Dark-eyed Juncos, 80 species of “white-cheeked geese,” and only one species of gull!! But you don’t go back and tweak the numbers; you just stay with the number from the particular year in question.

(By the way, I think it is definitely worth it to go and see a bird—whether or not it’s countable or “listable.”)

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GN: Okay … so, when are the official ABA big year totals published? Actually, the correct question is, by what date to contestants have to have their numbers submitted?

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TF: I should know the answer to that question…

But, to go back to the “spirit of the law,” I think we’re basically talking about “countable” birds during the big year in question.

And there’s the rub. The list of “countable” birds changes practically every single year.

In a sense—a felicitous sense, if you ask me—this debate will never be resolved. Let’s say Vanderpoel gets 746. Okay, simplistically speaking, he “broke the record” (or so I would say; you might disagree). But that doesn’t end the debate!! Thus:

“No fair! Vanderpoel didn’t have access to ‘the fallout of the century’ at Attu in 1998.”

But:

“No fair! Komito didn’t benefit, as Vanderpoel surely has, from the near ubiquity of cell phones—and instant info on all North American rarities, everywhere, all the time.”

The debate will go on and on. I like that. Closure is boring.

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GN: I understand all of that, and agree wholeheartedly.

My question concerns only what is countable and when it’s countable. We know (and agree) that splits and lumps don’t count either way. What it is at the time, is what it is.

Fairness?! Ha! If the world were fair, I’d have the Big Year record. But life isn’t fair.

My concern is for how this affects the contest going forward. I think the ABA is going to have to set some kind of rule concerning first ABA Area records. To simply leave it to the leisure of the state records committees seems wrong to me.

Or maybe that’s part of the game too? If you’re lucky, and your ABA-first birds make it through committee in time, bingo! If not … sorry, Charlie.

==

TF: Two points:

1. I totally agree with you. This particular matter needs clarity. If I see the Hooded Crane (wow!) today, and the ABA Checklist Committee puts that species on the ABA Checklist, but not until 2015 (lots of rounds of voting, let’s say), do I get to count it for my hypothetical 2011 big year?

2. But are we sure there’s not already a “solution” to this problem? I confess, I’m not 100% up on all the rules. Needless to say, this is an item for the ABA’s Recording Standards & Ethics (RSE) Committee to weigh in on.

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GN: 1. Some would say that if the ABA Checklist Committee puts the species on the ABA Checklist because of the sighting of the bird you saw in 2011, then yes. If it is another, later sighting of the same species, then obviously no.

2: I’m not certain either … but I will say that when I interviewed him about this, Komito was very certain that that is the way the rules work.

==

TF: You can probably anticipate my response. As always, I am of two minds!

Part of me says, sure, go ahead, update his total—especially if that’s the way the rules work.

But the other part of me says, sheesh, you’ve sure opened up a can of worms with this. Once you start tweaking records, there’s just no stopping it. I mentioned splits and lumps already. But what if we were to change the definition of the ABA Area? (See Kingbird Highway; that’s not an idle question.) Y’know what this reminds me of: The notorious “asterisk” by Roger Maris’s single-season home run record. (Because they had “changed the playing field,” so to speak, with a 162-game season, instead of a 154-game season.) Once we change Komito’s record, we’ve gone down a slippery slope…we’ll soon be revisiting practically ever other listing record.

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GN: Here’s the rule we’re concerned with, from the 2010 ABA Big Day & List Report:

“The species must be (a) included in the current published ABA Checklist, as modified by subsequent Supplements, or (b) formally accepted for inclusion in the next ABA Checklist or Supplement. Species listed as ‘species of hypothetical origin’ and species that have been deleted from the main ABA Checklist are NOT considered to be accepted;”

So, if I’m reading the rule correctly, Komito’s number would be 748, yes? The “subsequent supplements” bit is a little gray … but I take that to mean the individual bird in question.

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TF: Okay, but what’s the “statute of limitations,” if you will?

I assume Komito got Pacific Wren (and Winter Wren), Mexican Whip-poor-will (and Eastern Whip-poor-will), Cackling Goose (and Canada Goose), etc. Those armchair splits surely qualify under “modified under subsequent Supplements.” But as of *when*? That’s the question. If he can go back and count Belcher’s Gull, Bulwer’s Petrel, and Yellow-throated Bunting, why can’t he also add a wren, a whip-poor-will, and a goose?

==

GN: Because they were not species *at the time*. Even if the wren or the whips were split on January 2 1999, they wouldn’t be countable. They didn’t exist.

The case of the petrel, the gull, and the bunting is different. These were species at the time … they did exist. They were in committee while the report was being published.

So, here’s what I think—how I interpret the rule pertaining to this situation.

Armchair ticks or losses don’t count. If you see a subspecies that’s split, even immediately after your big year, it doesn’t count. The same goes for lumps. If a species is lumped after your big year, you don’t lose that tick.

But in the case of first ABA-area vagrants, I think the rule is interpreted differently. If you see an bird that represents the first ABA record of that species, and that record—the individual bird you saw—is accepted, then that species should be added to your big year total.

So, by my reckoning, Komito’s number to beat is 748.

But I also think that if that is the way the rule is to be interpreted, it needs to be written a bit more clearly.

==

TF: Summing up, I have two overall points:

1. If we rewrite the record books (i.e., change Komito’s published 745 to a revised 748), we’ve opened a Pandora’s box. Does Komito have to remove Crested Myna from his list? But if he saw Rosy-faced Lovebird (addition to the ABA Checklist likely), can he add it? What about California Condor? Why can’t he add Cackling Goose and Pacific Wren? Do we really have to wait until 2077 (let’s say) for the AOU to re-split the Dark-eyed Junco complex? What about big years from before the Gadsden Purchase? Heck, what about big years from before the founding of the ABA? (People did big years back then, of course.) What if Greenland gets added to the ABA Area, as has been proposed? This just goes on and on and on.

2. Let the published numbers stand as they are, and…let the real fun begin! Vanderpoel vs. Komito, (Jim) Vardaman vs. (Ted) Parker, (Kenn) Kaufman vs. (Floyd) Murdoch, (Ludlow) Griscom vs. (Roger Tory) Peterson, Lynds Jones vs. whoever else was doing big years 100 years ago… It’s just like Ruth vs. Maris vs. McGwire vs. Bonds… We hobbyists will talk about it forever, and that’s what makes it so fun.

#ABArare – Nazca Booby – California

On July 16, a whale-watching vessel out of Monterey, California, found more than whales when all on board were treated to an ABA Code 5 Nazca Booby, the 5th confirmed record for the ABA Area and the 2nd from the central California Coast, the farthest north this species has ever been documented.

Photo: Elizabeth [read more…]

ABA Area Big Years: July Update and a Record Broken

From the beginning of the year, that Neil Hayward’s 2013 ABA Big Year record of 748 was going to be overtaken never seemed to be in doubt. Hayward was the beneficiary of a great many new species in the ABA Area, from both splits and introduced exotics (including one mid-year split that all birders have [read more…]

Blog Birding #280

Pokemon Go is a full-scale phenomenon right now, and many birders have noted the similarity to our own hobby of seeking and finding. Anna Fasoli at The Nemesis Bird goes deep.

The parallels to birding are uncanny. In a nutshell, you are on a quest to find these adorable yet intriguing creatures, and some of [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: July 15, 2016

By mid-July we’re starting to see migration pick up again, as the number of unusual shorebirds around the ABA Area, both rare on a continental and local scale, has increased quite a bit in recent days. It continues to be a fantastic year for Ruff in the ABA Area, as many new and continuing individuals [read more…]

Join the ABA in July for a Chance to Win a Complete Set of ABA State Field Guides!

It’s time to announce another membership prize offer and reveal the winner of last month’s Novagrade digiscoping adapter.

This month, book publisher Scott & Nix is giving us two complete sets of ABA State Field Guides. The set will include guides to New York (Corey Finger), Texas (Mark Lockwood), Arizona (Rick Wright), Minnesota (Laura Erickson), [read more…]

It’s OK to Talk to Strangers – at Least if They Have Binoculars

Strangers who became friends, north of Belle Fourche, SD, July 2015

I was desperate to find another birder, but generally speaking there are few to be found in the Black Hills. Yes, I had eBird, BirdsEye, printed resources, maps, but there is no intelligence like recent, local intelligence. It was late July, and I [read more…]

Open Mic – The Endangered Species Act and Birds: A Wild Success?

At the Mic: Jason A. Crotty

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is difficult to evaluate, as its success is tough to define. Should the criteria be avoiding extinction, avoiding further decline, increasing population by some specific amount, achieving a complete recovery, or something else? Moreover, a species is only listed when it is already in [read more…]

Blog Birding #279

Summer birding is upon us, and monsoon season in the southwest shortly to come.Cassidy Gratton, writing at Bourbon, Bastards and Birds pens a fine tribute to this wonderful time of year.

Already, the seeds of cumulus clouds are above us. They will grow steadily throughout the day. The monsoon is a slow and relentless clock, [read more…]

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