Friday 15 January 2021

A Middlesex Biggish Year?

Up until last year, I never really wanted to limit myself to just Middlesex County. It seemed like a pretty boring place. I would look at the historical records and think to myself "the good old days are long behind us now". Then we had 2020, when all of a sudden the "good old days" were starting to happen again. I added over 20 species to my county list, a feat I thought would be impossible. Having such good birding in 2020, especially in the fall, lit a fire under me. I wanted to see what else I could turn up. 

And so, my initial plans at the start of 2021 of just trying to see some birds early on and then lay off morphed into a plan to try and see as many birds as I could in the span of one calendar year.

Some may call it a "big year", but I'm more going to call my little attempt a "biggish year". I'm not going for any record (which is like 247 or 248 by the way, set by Bill Lindley in 2020), I just want to have some fun. I know I'll be in the county full time until at least the end of June, so why not? After that, we'll have to see what goes on (I have hopes and dreams that take me out of Middlesex I wish to accomplish, but with the current state of the world, only time will tell how realistic they are!) Chances are I'll get in some birding in the latter half of the year as well.

It seems whenever someone wants to do a year listing attempt, they make up some codes, usually ranging one through six. These detail the likelihood one is to see a certain bird that year. I made up some of my own. They aren't perfect, but I think they'll work for my purposes.

Code 1 

These are the commoners. Just by birding, I am pretty much guaranteed to come across them at some point in the year. There are 129 species in this category, and includes things such as  Canada Goose, Killdeer, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Phoebe, Tree Swallow, Song Sparrow, and Yellow Warbler.

Code 2

These are the more uncommon birds that usually require special effort or to get somewhat lucky to stumble across them. They aren't necessarily rare, but I may only come across a few of them in the year. Most are probably guaranteed in a good year. There are 63 species in this category, which includes Horned Grebe, Virginia Rail, Great Black-backed Gull, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Fox Sparrow, and Canada Warbler. 

 Code 3

These are typically annual or almost annual birds, but there are usually only a few records of them each year in the county. Rarer breeders that are more restricted to where they breed, or are uncommon in the areas where they breed, are included here. There are 34 species in this category, including Trumpeter Swan, Ruffed Grouse, American Bittern, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Acadian Flycatcher.

Code 4

These are the rarities. They cannot be expected to be recorded annually. A few of these are irruptive species (winter finches), while others are genuine rarities that may stir up interest from the birding community, even outside of our local one. There are 49 species designated under this code, including Greater White-fronted Goose, Black Scoter, Eared Grebe, Ruddy Turnstone, Wilson's Phalarope, Sedge Wren, White-winged Crossbill, and Summer Tanager.

Code 5

These are the birds that would make my whole year if I saw one. These are the rarest of the rare, with less than five records since 1963 (which is the furthest back in the records I can go for most species, although some earlier dates are included in the spreadsheet). Birds that are also deemed to be highly improbable as a result of loss of habitat or a population decline (ie Western Meadowlark) are also under this code. There are 65 species in this category including Brant, Rufous Hummingbird, Yellow Rail, Marbled Godwit, Glossy Ibis, Mountain Bluebird, and Kirtland's Warbler. 

Code 6 and Introduced/Non-countable

Code 6 belongs to our extinct species, Passenger Pigeon. Two species, Northern Bobwhite and Gray Partridge are non-countable. An exception may be made for Ring-necked Pheasant, but only in certain circumstances may it be deemed "good enough".

For reference, in 2020 when I saw 224 species, the breakdown was this:

Code 1: 128

Code 2: 59 

Code 3: 21

Code 4: 13

Code 5: 3

It will be tough to beat! 

So, what's a good goal? It is hard to say right now! Some years, such as last years, the birding is great (which is what I hope happens again), and others, birders trying for a high year list struggle to break 200. I think we'll have to play it by ear, but in the event of a "good year", I think anything in the vicinity of 220 is respectable! 

This should be fun. Lets see what happens...