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Double the Pleasure

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I've got a trick question: where in the U.S. can you begin a big year, and on day 1 do the following – – begin the first day of the big year hearing a Dickcissel, and follow with Upland Sandpiper, Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Red-headed Woodpecker and many more species, and end the day with Common Poorwill? 66 species in all. Of course, this is not much of a trick question for those of you who read my blog post two weeks ago. While I don't  think there are many places that all of these birds, or even many of them, can be found on January 1st in the U.S., my most recently begun big year did not begin on January 1st. It began yesterday, July 1st! These birds are birds that I saw on July 1st in Pennington County, SD. I expect that there are quite a few places where all those birds can be found on July 1st.

Dickcissell

As you now know, I've done it. I've started another big year – in the middle of an ongoing big year that is a “normal” big year, begun on January 1st. Two big years at once. At least they are in the same geographic area. I do not have to be two places at once.

I know it’s strange though. I've attempted to explain the idea of doing two overlapping big years at once to a couple of other birders and they just stared at me with blank faces. It is true that most birders don't really understand why someone would do any kind of big year, so how could they understand someone doing two simultaneous big years? At least I didn’t start either big year in the middle of a month as Ted Floyd did. I think that there’s only so much confusion I can tolerate.

But for a big year aficionado, why not give it a try to do overlapping big years? The confusing thing for me, however, is how I’m going to keep track of it all. Only one day has gone by, so I still can remember all the birds that I’ve seen in my one-day old big year (which I'm calling "big year B" in an attempt to keep the two big years straight). I know that I will soon run into difficulty trying to remember which birds have been seen in which of these two years, but right now in “big year A” (begun Jan. 1), I’ve seen most of the Pennington County possibilities, so for a couple of weeks until migrants start trickling noticeably through the county, I can probably concentrate on big year B birds that I’ve already seen in big year A but not yet in big year B. Are you lost already?

The whole mental thing about doing two big years at once is perhaps a reason do them both. I have a birding friend, who also learns to sing complicated pieces of music to keep her brain agile, and I have done Jumble and Sudoku puzzles for the same reason. Using the brain on complicated things is supposed to ward off, or at least delay, mental problems as we get older. So doing two years should keep my brain struggling and therefore sharper.

The real reason to start a big year now, however, is that in July it’s great fun to be seeing each bird species as new for the year. Driving down a prairie road yesterday on July 1, the Lark Buntings and Horned Larks and Grasshopper Sparrows were no longer just more of the same that I’d been seeing for weeks. They were new for big year B, and that made me see them and appreciate them all over again. I laughed out loud in delight at the beautiful song of a Western Meadowlark filling my car with notes, and screeched to a halt to see four Common Nighthawks all sleeping on fence posts near each other. Everything seemed bright and new and more exciting than it had the day before. I know, it’s all in my head, but how can it be wrong to be so in love with birds and birding that I want to give myself yet another excuse to spend more time outdoors where the birds are, and to help each day feel newer and brighter?

Common nighthawk

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Lynn Barber

Lynn Barber

Lynn Barber started birding at the age of 7. In 2005, she broke the Texas big year record with 522 species, and in 2008, she tallied 723 bird species in the ABA Area. An account of her ABA Big Year, entitled Extreme Birder: One Woman’s Big Year, was published in the spring of 2011. Her second book, Birds in Trouble was published in 2016. While living in North Carolina, Lynn was active in Wake County Audubon and on the board of the Carolina Bird Club. Moving to Texas in 2000, she was active in the Fort Worth Audubon Society, serving as its president for 3 years. She is a life member of the Texas Ornithological Society, and became its president in April 2009. She now lives in Anchorage, Alaska.
Lynn Barber

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  • Anon

    I think it is a great diversion to do something like this — and don’t think it has to be too tough to track it given most listing software — not sure what you use, but most should be able to answer the query ‘create a life list for between date X and date Y’ —

    However, I definitely think we should hold the line at the question of what counts for ‘official’ big days and big years, and leave them with a midnight / Jan 1 required start time — For ABA reporting, for local state equivalent reporting and the like, I think the current rules should be maintained. So for those ‘Big ABA Years’ and ‘Big State Years’ that you’ve written about doing in the past and setting records or near-records on, I would not consider them official unless they started on Jan 1 —

    We already get this with Big Days that straddle two calendar days in one 24 hr period — sensible & rewarding, but not ‘official’ — if being official doesn’t matter, then more power to you for juggling the multiple versions!

  • If I were crazy enough to do this, I think I’d create a second eBird account with an alter-ego name and have that account (we’ll call it Lynn Barber B) start birding on July 1. That way you won’t have to remember what you need in the field, just enter it all and share it with Lynn Barber B. Then you could set it up for personalized state needs alerts for each account. The bonus being that other eBirders will look at the Top 100 list and think there are now two Lynn Barbers rampaging across South Dakota!

  • I would like to one day have eBird tell me which 365 day period in my life I have seen the most species in. That would be a fun number for a Top 100 list.

  • There are so many weird lists I’d like eBird to generate for me, and while I don’t know anything about technology, it seems a few lines of code could make things like your best 365 days easy for the database to spit out. But I do understand the listing features are just the tease at eBird to get us to keep feeding it data. Still a little list-generating box under the MyBird tab would be some great time-wasting fun.

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