To join Greg on one of these tours visit BigYearTours.com or call 888-875-9453

In 1998, Greg zig-zagged 130,000 miles across the USA, while trying to hold down a full-time job, aspiring to reach at least 700 species of birds in one calendar year. "The Big Year," a novel by Mark Obmascik detailed his travails alongside two competitors. The book was later turned into a movie of the same title that starred Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson!

Why Southeast Arizona in Summer?

Why Southeast Arizona in Summer?

Chiricahua Mountains - view near Rustler Park
Chiricahua Mountains – view near Rustler Park – photo by Greg Miller

 

The question I get asked the most about going to Southeast Arizona in August is “Why August? Wouldn’t it be terribly hot?”

Well. Yes, it is hot. It’s extremely hot in the desert with temperatures sometimes reaching over 100 F. But it is usually quite comfortable in early morning. So bird the desert in early morning and then go into the mountains for the rest of the day where temperatures are 10-20 degrees cooler. In some places you may even need a sweater or a jacket!

But, they say again, “Why August?”

Well. Let me ask you a question. Do you know how migrant birds here in North America winter in places much further south than their breeding grounds–like Central and even South America?

And you probably reply “Yes”.

And do you know how this birds migrate north to breed in summer in North America?

And you probably reply “Yes” again.

Has the little light bulb in your brain turned on yet? Have you gotten your “Aha!” moment yet? No?

Many species make their “northern” nesting places in Southeast Arizona. Birds that then retreat in winter months south of the Mexican Border. In fact, there are more than 40 species that are found here in summer more easily than anywhere else in the United States or Canada. And that is a big number when one is building a list–whether a life list or a year list.

And besides, Southeast Arizona is like the Galapagos Islands of North America. The mountain ranges are like islands jutting out of the desert. And each of these “sky islands” have unique habitat that more closely resembles that of Mexico than the United States. It offers unique habitat for specialty birds.

Did you know that according to eBird data that if you live in any state east of the Mississippi River your best bang for the buck for number of new species is Southeast Arizona in summer. Not only that, but the rugged scenery of Southeast Arizona is absolutely beautiful. You should totally go there!

Hey! And did you know there is a Big Year Tour coming soon, August 13-19, 2017? Read about it at BigYearTours.com!

2016 Big Year – Summary

Lucifer Hummingbird hovering
Lucifer Hummingbird hovering – Arizona – August 2016 – photo by Greg Miller

 

The 2016 Big Year Tours with Wildside Nature Tours were a lot of fun and far more successful than I imagined. My original goal was for 500 species of birds, all in the Lower 48 States. But instead of doing an individual Big Year, I set out to do it with tour participants. And with everyone’s help, we pushed over the top with a final total of 545 species. And we helped raise a total of $27,000 for the American Birding Association’s Young Birder program!

I want to personally thank every one of our participants who helped each other in the field to see birds they’ve never seen before, lent a hand to those who needed help getting around, and were patient as individuals to promote the group welfare. It was a pleasure visiting so many of the place I birded during my own Big Year in 1998. And I want to thank Leica for the quality optics I used this year in support of our goals and the ABA Young Birders.

To those of you who missed a tour you wanted to go on or missed the year’s trips entirely, you have a second chance. We are doing this again this year! It’s not too late to sign up. Check out the upcoming Big Year Tours for 2017 here at bigyeartours.com. And you can still read blog posts from 2016 at bigyearblog.com.

This Big Year Tours plan was not a perfect one, but it was the best I could do with what times were available in my schedule in 2016. And really, isn’t this how everyone’s Big Years go? It’s all about being efficient and focused with the time you have.

Here is some winter reading for you—a summary of some interesting data for 2016. I certainly hope you can join us in 2017 for more cool birds, spectacular scenery, and tons of fun!

Only eight species were seen on every single one of our 11 one-week trips:

Great Blue Heron
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Greater Yellowlegs
Rock Pigeon
European Starling
House Finch
House Sparrow
(Did you expect Northern Harrier & Greater Yellowlegs on this list? And how could we have missed Mourning Dove on this list? Yep. Surprises for me)

More than half the number of species seen (52%–285 species) were encountered on only 1 or 2 trips. This means that the tours listed do an efficient job of picking up new species for the year total. And less than 100 species were seen on more than 50% of the tours.

Amazingly, about one third of the species seen (34%–184 species) were seen on one and only one tour of the 11 one-week tours. Following is a list by tour of one-tour-only sightings:

January – Southern California
Ross’s Goose
Greater Scaup
Bufflehead
Mountain Quail
Brown Booby
Ridgway’s Rail
Yellow-footed Gull
Spotted Dove
Prairie Falcon
California Gnatcatcher
Townsend’s Solitaire
Bell’s Sparrow
Red Crossbill
Scaly-breasted Munia

January – Florida
Egyptian Goose
Muscovy Duck
American Flamingo
Snail Kite
Purple Swamphen
Limpkin
Whooping Crane
Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Florida Scrub-Jay
Sedge Wren
Western Spindalis
Spot-breasted Oriole

April – Texas & Louisiana
Swallow-tailed Kite
Mississippi Kite
Clapper Rail
American Golden-Plover
White-rumped Sandpiper
Gull-billed Tern
Seaside Sparrow

May – Ohio & West Virginia
Trumpeter Swan
Ruffed Grouse
Rough-legged Hawk
American Woodcock
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Wood Thrush
Louisiana Waterthrush
Blue-winged Warbler
Swainson’s Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Henslow’s Sparrow

June – Maine & New Hampshire & Vermont
Common Eider
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel
South Polar Skua
Razorbill
Black Guillemot
Atlantic Puffin
Roseate Tern
Arctic Tern
Black-backed Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Alder Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Winter Wren
Canada Warbler

June – Montana
Canvasback
Gray Partridge
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Red-naped Sapsucker
Cassin’s Vireo
Pinyon Jay
Black-billed Magpie
Sage Thrasher
Chestnut-collared Longspur
McCown’s Longspur
Green-tailed Towhee
Brewer’s Sparrow
Baird’s Sparrow
Yellow-headed Blackbird

August – Southeast Arizona
Scaled Quail
Gambel’s Quail
Zone-tailed Hawk
Baird’s Sandpiper
Western Screech-Owl
Northern Pygmy-Owl
Lesser Nighthawk
Common Poorwill
Magnificent Hummingbird
Blue-throated Hummingbird
Lucifer Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Broad-billed Hummingbird
Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Elegant Trogon
Gila Woodpecker
Arizona Woodpecker
Gilded Flicker
Tufted Flycatcher
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Greater Pewee
Gray Flycatcher
Cordilleran Flycatcher
Buff-breasted Flycatcher
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Thick-billed Kingbird
Bell’s Vireo
Mexican Jay
Mexican Chickadee
Bridled Titmouse
Black-capped Gnatcatcher
Bendire’s Thrasher
Crissal Thrasher
Olive Warbler
Lucy’s Warbler
Virginia’s Warbler
Grace’s Warbler
Hermit Warbler
Red-faced Warbler
Painted Redstart
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Canyon Towhee
Rufous-winged Sparrow
Botteri’s Sparrow
Cassin’s Sparrow
Five-striped Sparrow
Yellow-eyed Junco
Hepatic Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak
Varied Bunting
Hooded Oriole
Scott’s Oriole

September – Bay Area California
Black-footed Albatross
Pink-footed Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Black-vented Shearwater
California Condor
Bar-tailed Godwit
Ruff
Red Phalarope
Cassin’s Auklet
Elegant Tern
Vaux’s Swift
Yellow-billed Magpie
Lawrence’s Goldfinch

October – Washington
Cackling Goose
Harlequin Duck
Pacific Golden-Plover
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Mew Gull
Slaty-backed Gull
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Northwestern Crow
Pacific Wren
American Dipper
Varied Thrush
Lapland Longspur
Fox Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow

October – New Jersey & Pennsylvania & Delaware
Long-tailed Duck
Great Cormorant
Purple Sandpiper
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Rusty Blackbird

November – South Texas – Rio Grande Valley
Plain Chachalaca
Least Grebe
White-tailed Hawk
White-tipped Dove
Common Pauraque
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Ringed Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Aplomado Falcon
Green Parakeet
Great Kiskadee
Couch’s Kingbird
Green Jay
Black-crested Titmouse
Clay-colored Thrush
Long-billed Thrasher
Olive Sparrow
Altamira Oriole
Audubon’s Oriole

Big Year 2016 – Rarest Birds

Rank Species Tour
780 Tufted Flycatcher SE Arizona
734 Western Spindalis Florida
705 American Flamingo Florida
700 Five-striped Sparrow SE Arizona
681 Black-capped Gnatcatcher SE Arizona
669 Mexican Chickadee SE Arizona
663 Aplomado Falcon Texas Rio Grande
653 Buff-breasted Flycatcher SE Arizona
650 Spot-breasted Oriole Florida
643 Yellow-footed Gull Southern California
639 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Washington
632 Thick-billed Kingbird SE Arizona
629 Baird’s Sparrow Montana
628 Spotted Dove Southern California
625 Bar-tailed Godwit Bay Area California
618 Brown Booby Southern California
617 Green Parakeet Texas Rio Grande
613 Bendire’s Thrasher SE Arizona
612 South Polar Skua Maine
610 Slaty-backed Gull Washington
605 Lucifer Hummingbird SE Arizona
600 Greater Pewee SE Arizona

 

Above I have listed the “rarest” birds seen on the 2016 Big Year Tours with Wildside Nature Tours. The rank is derived from eBird data for the Lower 48 States as of December 31, 2015 based on the total number of checklists submitted for each species from 1900-2015. There are just over 900 species reported in the Lower 48 States in eBird for this time period. All our target species were 1-500, or the 500 most reported species in the Lower 48 States. These were surprises we bumped into along the way. The lower the rank, the more common the species.

2016 Big Year Tours with Wildside Nature Tours were so much fun we’ve decided to do it all again! Check out bigyeartours.com for our upcoming trips.

Big Year 2016 – Cumulative Totals by Tour

2016 Big Year Tours - Cumulative Totals by Tour
2016 Big Year Tours – Cumulative Totals by Tour  (click image for a larger view)

 

The chart above shows the running totals as the Big Year Tours progressed in 2016. These tours with Wildside Nature Tours were so much fun we are doing it all again in 2017! Check out bigyeartours.com for more information.

Big Year 2016 Totals by Tour

2016 Big Year Tours - Totals by Tour
2016 Big Year Tours – Totals by Tour (click for a larger view)

 

2016 was a TERRIFIC year! The 11 one-week tours with Wildside Nature Tours tallied a total of 545 species of birds! The chart above lists the totals by tour for each of the 11 tours. We had so much fun we are doing it again! Join us this year, 2017, for more fun in the field!

 

Texas Rio Grande Valley – Day 6

  Today was the last day our Texas Rio Grande Valley tour. And it was our 11th of 11 trips with Wildside Nature Tours this year. This morning we drove all the way out to Falcon Dam State Park. The drier habitat there got us five new species for the tour but no new species… Continue Reading

Texas Rio Grande Valley – Day 5

Day 5 in the Rio Grande Valley started with, well, more rain. And our first birding stop was <…drumroll…> south of the Border Fence. A conversation like this may have occurred: Person A: Is that the Fence everyone is talking about? Person B: Yes. Person A: But we just crossed through it. Are we in… Continue Reading

Texas Rio Grande Valley – Day 4

  We began our day at what is probably now my favorite place to bird in the Lower Rio Grande Valley–Estero Llano Grande State Park near Weslaco, TX. If I had only one South Texas site to visit, this would be it. It is really a remarkable place to visit! Always a crowd favorite is… Continue Reading

Texas Rio Grande Valley – Day 3

  Never a trip goes by without having to face a few obstacles. We woke up to pouring rain this morning dampening our plans to go to Estero Llano Grande. So we checked radar and decided we would try to catch a short dry spot in Cameron County–the county just east of us. As soon… Continue Reading

Texas Rio Grande Valley – Day 2

  We loaded our vehicles this morning at 5:00am and headed up river. Our first stop was the tiny river town of Salineño, TX. We got to watch the sun decorate the landscape in front of us as it rose in the sky. The first light of morning here is always magical. The day started… Continue Reading

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