by Lynn Barber
Doldrums do occur, but one always hopes that big year doldrums are temporary at worst. From my experience, however, they are inevitable. It does not seem to matter where the big year is done - they will occur. But WHEN doldrums occur varies considerably depending on where you have chosen to do a big year, the weather and bird happenings that year in your chosen area, and of course, on how fanatical your big year is. Of course such down times can be converted into a nice long time to nap and rest up from the chase, so the doldrums can be very welcome.
Doing a big year in Texas, because it is such a big state, means that doldrums are mostly not a problem if you have the means and time to head out to any part of the state at any time. If it is winter at the beginning or end of the year you can always go to the Lower Rio Grande Valley and look for birds normally found south of the border, or you can go to the Panhandle and look for wintering owls and hawks from the far north. If it is any time from March through May, it's migration time for warblers and sparrows, particularly in east Texas at the beginning of that period and in west Texas at the end of it. From July to October fall migrants that were missed in spring, from shorebirds to warblers, can be sought to fill out the year list. At least in the 2 years (2003 and 2005) that I attempted a big year in Texas, however, from mid-June to at least early July, there were periods of serious doldrums. Even when there is no bird species that is KNOWN to be around to chase, the doldrums can be filled, if there is sufficient fanatacism, by wandering around in interesting,possibly birdy, areas and hoping something will show up.
An ABA big year covering the continental U.S. and Canada, which of course is a bit larger area than Texas (as even most Texans will admit), is much like doing a Texas big year - on steroids. If travel funds and time were unlimited I do not think that doldrums would necessarily be a problem in an ABA big year. The area is just too huge and I am sure that there would always be birds to chase if one had no limitations on one’s travels. But I will never know. I did have periodic doldrums in my ABA big year, which were times when there were just no new birds (as far as I knew) that were possible unless I spent huge sums and took time that I did not have, looking for rare birds that were probably at best a needle in a haystack. As in all things, whether one goes out birding then is a factor of how much one "needs" to add the bird to the big year list, as well as whether it is an affordable or cost-effective venture.
Right now in South Dakota, it seems to be doldrums time and it has been for a while. This being on my mind led me to write this post. Of course, if I hadn't been running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off since January 1st this year, it might not seem so slow now. I would have lots of species left to chase, but they are already on my year list. Except for the SD resident birds that I am unclear about how to find, including for example, the American Three-toed Woodpecker and Ruffed Grouse, until a couple of days ago I had almost run out of ideas of birds to seek. The very good news is that doldrums do indeed appear temporary here too. Just this weekend there were two reports that the Greater Sage-Grouse have started their spring lek displays. Even though a couple of us had tried twice in the last week or so to find them, they are just fairly difficult to find in their sage/grassy habitat unless the Sage-Grouse are displaying, although they are always present in SD.
I'm sure that is no surprise to you that I'm off to northwest South Dakota as soon as I can, with my windows rolled down, listening for Sage-Grouse. I’m hoping that this is the beginning of a non-doldrums time. I know that when May comes I am likely to be thinking wistfully back to these good old days as I race from warbler spot to shorebird spot to warbler spot… Such suffering a big year birder endures.
I am including a picture of a Greater Sage-Grouse that I saw in Colorado in 2008, a far snowier picture than I am likely to get now in South Dakota.