American Birding Podcast



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 already taken advantage of). He had a famously slow start to the year, missing a number of long-staying rarities before throwing everything into the effort later in the year and closing on Komito’s long-time total quickly, passing it definitively only after the decisions of records committees in Alaska and New Mexico, and the ABA CLC, were made official.

That someone could pass him with a full 12 month effort, and some luck, was almost certain. But that someone would do it in July, with more than 5 full months still remaining, was unthinkable. And yet, here we are.

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ABA Big Year Birders (l-r) Olaf Danielson, John Weigel, and Christian Hagenlocher

We’ve got a change in the leaderboard for the first time this year. Despite trailing the first half of the year, John Weigel is the first past Hayward’s mark, with a Buller’s Shearwater seen out of Half Moon Bay, California, as the magic bird. That such a relatively mundane species would be the record-breaker is indicative of Weigel’s year, which was front-loaded with lots of rarities allowing him to spend the summer picking up breeding birds across the ABA Area. Since we checked in last month, Weigel has been through Texas, Arizona, Maine, Alaska, and California. With the exception of Plain-capped Starthroat and Mexican Violetear, both annual low-level vagrants in the ABA Area, ever species he has seen since passing 700 a month ago has been a regularly occurring breeding bird. Weigel has seen all but 7 ABA Code 1-2 birds this year, so his list now is dependent on where he will be spending his fall, and whether the rarities will show up there. 770 does not seem to crazy a possibility. His most recent bird, Baird’s Sandpiper in Arizona, is 751 (+2 provisional, Pine Flycatcher and Cuban Vireo).

You can follow John at Birding for Devils.

Olaf Danielson set a blistering pace for the first half of the year, though he has fallen behind Weigel this month. He’ll still likely crack Hayward’s record as he is sitting, as of the writing of this post, at 748 following a Craveri’s Murrelet in California. His late June/early July saw him in many of the same places as Weigel, including Texas, Arizona, Maine, and California, and it’s almost certain that their fall schedules will overlap a fair bit too. With few breeding birds left, the vagrant hotspots of California and, particularly, western Alaska are likely on the horizon for both.

You can follow Olaf at his blog, The Bad Weather Birder.

Christian Hagenlocher continues his quest for 700, which would make him the youngest birder to reach that total in a calendar year. He sits at 692 as of publication, and is currently criss-crossing the continent by car picking up remaining breeding birds. There’s no reason to think he won’t find those 8 birds. His schedule puts him in the west for the rest of the year. He’s currently in Arizona with plans to travel up the coast in coming months before ending in Washington.

You can read Christian’s blog at The Birding Project.

I have also heard of a fourth birder, Laura Keene, who is also taking on an ABA Big Year in 2016. As of last accounting, her total is apparently in the 670s, an impressive total in any average year and pace that should see her reach 700, where she would be the second woman to do so. If Christian and Laura can reach 700 by the end of the year, it will be the first time that 4 birders have topped 700 in the ABA Area in the same year. Impressive stuff!

Best of luck to all Big Year birders. We’re excited to see how 2016 concludes.