January 4: The Results Are In!
Today, the American Birding Association announced the final tally for the big year
. During 2016, John managed to see a staggering 780 bird species. (He topped out his list with a Graylag Goose, Red-footed Booby, and Whooper Swan in his final week.) Olaf followed close behind, with 776 birds, followed by Laura Keene with 759 birds, and Christian Hagerlocher with 750 birds. Congratulations to all four birders who broke the previous big year record of 749 birds!
N.B.: The final tallies will likely change. Each birder has a set of “provisional” species, which aren’t on the ABA’s checklist—yet. Once these species (the Pine Flycatcher, Common Shelduck, and Common Vireo) are reviewed and added to the checklist in the coming months, the final species counts will change, but the rankings will remain the same.
January 1: Olaf Finds One Last Bird, Year Ends with John Still Ahead
In the final days of the year, Olaf didn't let up, going after two of the birds Kenn Kaufman mentioned as possibilities in our previous update. After failing to spy a Kelp Gull in Newfoundland after several days of searching, the Norwegian birder made his way to Idaho, where he reported
seeing the Red-flanked Bluetail. That brought his final count for 2016 to 776 birds, versus John's 777 birds. Right now, it appears John will be the big year champ, but we'll have to wait a few days for the ABA to review the final species lists of all competitors and announce an official winner.
December 30: Kenn Kaufman on Which Birds John and Olaf Could Still Get
With one day left, we asked Audubon Field Editor Kenn Kaufman about John and Olaf's possible strategies and which birds they could have seen in these final days. Here's Kenn:
"The only birds they still need for their year lists are the extreme rarities. A possible Kelp Gull was found and photographed in Newfoundland on December 23. Kelp Gull is on John's list, but not Olaf's. However, there's a question about the ID of the Newfoundland bird. Kelp Gulls are usually rarities in North America, but for a few years there were some nesting on the Chandeleur Islands off the coast of Louisiana. Unfortunately, those birds also interbred with Herring Gulls, so there are a few Kelp X Herring Gull hybrids wandering around. Experts are debating whether the current Newfoundland bird is a pure Kelp Gull or a hybrid.
December 26th produced reports of two major rarities. A possible Long-billed Murrelet was sighted on the coast of Massachusetts. It may be hard to re-find, but that's a species that John and Olaf both need for the year. Also on the 26th, a Red-flanked Bluetail was photographed at Hell's Gate State Park, Idaho. John has that species for the year already, but Olaf doesn't. It's hard to guess whether the Idaho bird might stick around long enough for Olaf (and others) to see it, but this vagrant from Asia just might have settled in on a winter territory.
So, the big year birders had to make some tough decisions on strategy in these final days: which birds to chase, and when?"
December 25: John Breaks His Silence, Adds a Bird
For almost a full month, there was nary a peep from John, leaving many big year followers wondering whether he was due for a big update—or a big upset. On Christmas day, he updated his blog
with a new species: a Smith's Longspur
, which he saw in Oklahoma. The bird is one that Olaf had already sighted and that experts considered a given for John in the final weeks. (He also added a provisional species, a Graylag Goose.) That gives John a lead of two as we head into the final week of the competition.
December 21: The Race Gets Even Tighter
There’s only nine days to go, and Olaf is still adding to his list. In Portland this week, he finally saw a Brambling—and managed to get photographic evidence. The small brown bird with a black head is common in Europe and Asia, and occasionally strays down to the U.S. West Coast from Alaska during migration. That puts Olaf only one bird behind John as they enter the final stretch.
December 16: Olaf Snags One More, Now Two Behind
What suspense! With only half the month left, Olaf updated his blog yesterday to say that he found a Rustic Bunting in Neah Bay, Washington last week. He headed there specifically for the bunting, and despite cold and snowy conditions, managed to find it within an hour of arriving. The bird brings Olaf's total to 774 and puts him only two behind Weigel, whose blog has been quiet most of the month. Could Weigel be saving up for a big update? We'll see.
December 9: Olaf Pulls Within Three
The top two birders are keeping apace and tracking down the same species in quick succession. Last night, Olaf reported a La Sagra’s Flycatcher in Key Biscayne, Florida, closing John’s lead to three species. He also added a Common Shelduck, which he spotted in Quebec, to his provisional list. (Provisional birds are those that require approval from the American Birding Association before counting towards a big year total. Audubon does not include provisional species in its official counts. Read the complete rules here.) What’s more, both species—La Sagra’s Flycatcher and Common Shelduck—were recently seen by John in the same locations. Olaf is on John’s tail, with only 22 days to go.