American Birding Podcast



Did You Remember to Turn Off the Oven?

Every time I leave the house, even just to go to the grocery store, the old habit of asking myself this type of question comes to mind. (I was actually going to entitle this “did you remember to unplug the iron” but how many of us actually do any ironing nowadays?)

This blog post is about trying to remember in a timely manner to do what needs to be done. In my case now that we are at the end of December, it is about the process of preparing for and planning a big year. Or it could be about planning any big birding adventure. Years ago when I did more international bird travel, the months before each trip were spent buying and studying the relevant bird books, figuring out, buying and washing the right types of clothing, and making lists of what I should take along and what I should be sure to do before I left home.

Doing a big year in the ABA area or in a single state is like taking a year-long trip, like a mini-version of Noah Strycker’s no-holds-barred-worldwide huge trip of a big year. While doing a state big year does not generally require buying new bird books or learning wholbe new sets of birds or planning every trip in advance, the results (I assume) are likely to be better the more prepared one is.

So, what kind of preparations am I making before I head out the door on January 1 to begin my Alaska big year? In my mind, most of what I am doing is what I would do before any extensive bird-related travel, so even if you never are going to do a big year, this list might prove a useful starting point for your future bird travels, especially if you have not done big-time bird-travelling.

Following in no particular order are some of things I’m trying to remember to do before my big year (and throughout my big year as I plan particular portions of the year):

-Make lists, such as lists of possible birds, sites to visit, contact information for people who live at or have birded those sites, and what I need to take for different seasons and sites.

-For planning extensive and varied birding over a longer time period (such as a big year), study the calendar and the bird books, to try to figure out a schedule that maximizes possible bird species in the time period, with an emphasis on somehow balancing the making of reservations with at least some flexibility to enable the making of last-minute plans for unexpected rarities. I use a lot of Post-It notes.

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When I did my Texas big year, I began the year with a 10-day circumnavigation of the entire state, with the aim of then doing shorter, targeted trips for birds that I had missed and for rarities that arrived or were found later. Somewhat similarly, but of course for completely different birds, for my Alaska big year, my current plans (somewhat subject to change) are to bird the greater Anchorage area for the first two days and then do a week-long trip to Juneau and Ketchikan for wintering birds that don’t get as far north as Anchorage and for some lingering rarities that may still be around or may be found between now and then. After that, we’ll see. Of course when spring and the birds arrive, I’ve made back-to-back reservations to try to squeeze in as much of the birding action as possible.

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-Go through my bird books again and again. My favorite for this is the National Geographic bird book because of its range maps and information on distribution and plumage variations.


-Go through any books or websites with description of birding sites in the area that will be birded. In my case, I have mainly been poring over A Birder’s Guide to Alaska (West).

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-Go to eBird to find information on sightings of particularly hard-to-find species (or species about which I am just not familiar) to learn where these birds have been seen and to figure out likely locales and times for finding them in the future.

-Go online (and talk to others) to learn about travel logistics – how to get to desired destinations (planes, ferries or other boats, driving), what getting around in the birding areas requires (boots, bear or bug spray, etc.) and what types of accommodations and rental cars are available, if relevant.

-Try to make sure that I bring equipment and other stuff along that will be useful, such as a cell phone that works in the area to which I am going, food to cover times when no food will be available nearby, hand and toe warmers for possibly extended times of cold, raingear, warm enough gloves and shoes and hat.


-Figure out a way to organize my notes, travel info (rental cars, plane flights, motel info, etc.) so I can find it again and can take along on particular trips all of what I need but not unrelated stuff.

Writing this post has of course gotten me all revved up to just get going on the big year! One last thing to remember in the midst of all this preparation for the big year and during the big year itself is – I need to breathe every now and then. I need to remember that the reason to do this big year for me is because I love to go birding and a big year gives me an excuse for doing nonstop birding. For me it is fun! Although all the planning details should help the year be a better year, my real goal is get out and bird during my big year. The number of species will hopefully be related to how much birding I do and how good my plans are, but of course part of the fun of any birding is the challenge due at least in part to the fact that the birds themselves having not seen my lists and my plans may have other ideas.

I’m about as ready as I can be, which is good, because it’s about to happen!

PS. If you want to follow my big year regularly during 2016, you can check out my blog ( where I will try to post regular updates of my birding travels and some photos, and my web site ( where I will try to keep my year list up-to-date.