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ABA Area Big Year Update: Four Record Breakers in 2016

With only three weeks left in 2016, we’ll switch to weekly updates of the four Big Year birders as they push to the end of the year. The biggest news since the last time we checked in is that there are now four birders who have passed Neil Hayward’s 2013 mark of 749, at least once provisional species are added. Christian Hagenlocher sits comfortably at 748 (+2), putting him at a likely 750 once the smoke clears. Congrats to Christian!

ABA Big Year birders (l-r) Olaf, Danielson, John Weigel, Christian Hagenlocher, Laura Keene

ABA Big Year birders (l-r) Olaf, Danielson, John Weigel, Christian Hagenlocher, Laura Keene

John Weigel continues to lead the pack, adding 3 species at three corners of the ABA Area since our pre-Thanksgiving update. Late November saw him in Florida where the now annual La Sagra’s Flycatcher was found at Bill Baggs State Park. Two days later he traveled to Gambell, Alaska, where he was among the three Big Year participants to net the continuing Pine Bunting, the ABA’s 4th record. In early December he headed to Quebec and found the wild-appearing Common Shelduck which adds one to his provisional count. Weigel’s list is looking very complete, but he is notably still lacking Smith’s Longspur, a Code 2 species and a seemingly easy tick whenever the month calms down enough for him to make a go at it. As of December 2, his list is 776 (+3).

Olaf Danielson remains just shy of Weigel’s record as he has for the last several months. His travels have taken him to make of the same places as the other birders, which is the nature of the last stage of the Big Year game. Danielson also made the trip to Gambell for Pine Bunting, as well as Florida for La Sagra’s Flycatcher and Quebec for the Common Shelduck. Olaf’s list also includes both Intermediate Egret and “Massachusetts Duck” banked as provisionals, referring to an interesting bird in western Alaska this year that is, as yet, unresolved and an odd duck in Massachusetts initially ID’d as a potential Eastern Spot-billed Duck, though the consensus seems to be turning towards calling it an unusual hybrid.  Intermediate Egret is represented on the ABA Checklist by virtue of a salvaged specimen from the Aleutians, so technically speaking the bird would not need to be counted as a provisional. But as Olaf only counts these birds provisionally awaiting ID confirmation, we’ll follow his lead here. All told, Olaf’s list sits at 774 (+4).

Laura Keene passed the record in our last update and hasn’t slowed down. She has continued to clean up breeding birds that she missed earlier in the year in addition to picking up ABA Area rarities like La Sagra’s Flycatcher and Pine Bunting on opposite sides of the continent. Her most recent bird is Bohemian Waxwing, seen in Anchorage, Alaska. She now sits at 754 (+2).

Congratulations are in order for Christian Hagenlocher who, with a Northern Saw-whet Owl in Massachusetts, becomes the fourth birder *this year* to break Neil Hayward’s Big Year record. He also added Little Gull and Pink-footed Goose while in that state. Because this total includes provisional species, it is Christian’s plan to keep birding at least until he reaches 750 without provisionals. A Barnacle Goose in New York puts him currently at 749 (+2), so it looks as though he is likely to reach his goal.

Congrats to all the Big Year birders. We’ll check back with them next week.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
  • Rick Wright

    Astonishing! My prediction: ABA area big years just won’t be worth the trouble after the way these birders have cleaned up in 2016.

    • Ted Floyd

      I disagree.

      Including the Hawaiian Islands in the ABA Area adds a fantastic new element of strategy to the mix. It’s not just the getting of the native landbird species, which, I gather, takes multiple days. There’s also the matter of seabirds, migrants, and established exotics. Going forward, does the ABA Big Year birder have to make multiple visits to Hawaii? Or just one lengthy visit? At what time (or times) of year? And to the possible exclusion of what species and regions in continental North America?

      It’s a whole ‘nother ball game, come Jan. 1, 2017, with ABA Big Years.

    • Morgan Churchill

      Plus a major factor helping the current big year is the number of splits that had happened between now and when Sandy Komito did his big year. With another decade of changes in bird distributions and taxonomy, + a good year for vagrants (AK actually seemed kind of slow this year), a new record is very plausible, and that doesn’t even count Hawaii being added in

  • Justin Cale

    What a year! This is amazing!

  • Christian’s Northern Saw-whet Owl was in Iowa c/o Don Poggensee: http://www.thebirdingproject.com/blog/2016/12/23/owl-i-want-for-christmas

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