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!
IBG is my creation–Impatient Birder’s Guide. Latest data in my database is from the 299 most-eBirded counties in the United States from 2006-2016. I am highlighting Santa Clara County, California today. Why? January is the “best time to go” to Santa Clara County for the greatest number of anticipated species seen in one week by an average birder. To a local Californian who knows all the nooks and crannies in this birdie county you may end up with a substantially higher number.
Santa Clara County is a fabulous place to bird. This county lies at the south end of San Francisco Bay. In the west are coastal mountains. In the east are the large grasslands of central California. On the northern edge is the southern part of San Francisco Bay with fabulous marshes and mudflats. The birding can be pretty spectacular all year. You can look at a map here.
How many species can you expect to see in a week? Well, according to my data, 128 species. You can see some good birds in the mountains and some in the grasslands. But to me, the marshes and mudflats of the southern Bay Area are some of the finest. The shorebirding here is simply amazing. And there are tons of waterfowl, too. The sheer number of birds can be dazzling.
Some of the best places to bird in the county include: Palo Alto Baylands, Sunnyvale Baylands Park, Shoreline Park, and Los Gatos Creek County Park. There are many other great spots, too. You can check out the best eBird hotspots in the county here.
An illustrated checklist of birds can be found here. And an overview of county birding in eBird can be found here. As of the writing of this blog, 386 species have been reported in the county. A total of 269 species have been recorded in January alone. Check out this bar chart of species reported in Santa Clara County, California in January here.
Back in 2015 I was sitting with Kevin Loughlin, owner of Wildside Nature Tours, in his house near Philadelphia. We were brainstorming about an idea I had to do a few “Big Year” style tours. Together we came up with 11 one-week tours. These 11 tours were crafted around Wildside’s busy birding festival schedule and filling in gaps where the existing Wildside schedule could afford to be stretched. I had my homemade database with eBird data so we could find the most efficient places to go birding in the time slots we had available. And this is how Wildside’s Big Year Birding Tours schedule was born.
Since January of 2016, Wildside Nature Tours has been running Big Year Tours. These tours are designed to get the highest number of *unique* species for each one-week trip so that if a birder took all 11 trips they should end up with over 500 species of birds in the United States. That’s half of all the species in North America in just 11 weeks. These tours will give a birder a little taste of what it’s like to do a Big Year but in an easier-to-handle one-week-at-a-time commitment.
The name of this particular trip is FLORIDA: Central Specialties Birding. But “Central” Florida includes Ocala National Forest in the Northern part of the State, out to Merritt Island NWR on the East Coast and south to Ft. Lauderdale, and west to Ft. Myers and up the West Coast up through Tampa, and back to Orlando. So this really covers a large portion of the State of Florida.
Florida is a wonderful place to start your year. Not only will you get many Florida specialty species, but also a large number of wintering species that spend their summers further north. You can find a list of species we saw on our inaugural tour in 2016 here: 2016 Central Florida species list.