Interim assessment of record possibilities

I’m stuck in the Seattle airport because I’ve missed my connecting flight to Reno, Nevada, to see about a Yellow-browed Warbler – the third ever record in the ABA area, and the first for the ‘lower 48’. Big numbers of California birders already saw the Asian bird, and huge numbers of diehards are almost certainly looking right now, seeing as its noon on a Saturday. My Victoria, BC-to-Seattle first leg was delayed while we sat on runway for an hour for reasons that remain unclear to me – something to do with paperwork and tower competence, according to cabin crew. Captain didn’t bother telling us.

I’m not sure what to do next. Next flight gets me to Reno after dark. The flight I missed was going to get me to Reno in time for a drive to Lake Tahoe with plenty of time to search for the YBWA that was found there two days ago. There have been no reports of sightings so far today – which doesn’t bode well.  Strange coincidence that it is, I spent the last two days searching in vain for another Yellow-browed Warbler – the second ever for the ABA, in Victoria. Seems I was a day late for a bird that had been seen by many for the six days leading up to my visit. I think I’ll delay committing to the 5:30PM Seattle to Reno flight for a couple of hours, and see what happens on the ground in central California.

My time in the Seattle airport has given me the opportunity to crunch my Big Year stats, as of today, to see where I stand, with just nine weeks left to go.

 Stats update as at 25 October (post dipping on Yellow-browed Warbler in Canada).

I’m ever-more frequently asked about the likelihood of setting a new ABA Big Year record this year. Here are some of the bare-bones stats, which look encouraging:

Current ABA year count: 823

The established ABA Big Year record is 836 species, which means I need to encounter 14 more species this year to set a new record.

Current ‘Continental’ year count: 763

I have 60 ‘Hawaii only’ species on my year-list. A number of these are still findable in the continental portion of the ABA area. The established ABA Big Year record is 784, so 21 non-Hawaiian species now required to break record, which seems unlikely without a newly found motivation to converting various ‘Hawaii only’ birds – e.g. Eurasian Skylark, Short-eared Owl, etc. In truth however, I don’t feel particularly motivated to chase these. With the passing of time, I’m confident that the ‘Old ABA’ area stats will be relegated in the same manner as the old ‘yards, not metres’ track and field records – e.g. who cares who ran fastest in the hundred yards dash back in the 60’s?

Additional stats, if only of interest to myself:

Current ABA life-list: 871 (836 in 2016, with an additional 35 species so far this year)

New birds for John’s ‘Continental’ ABA life-list: 29

Current ‘Continental’ ABA life-list: 823 (784+29)


Current list of targeted species

The following ‘hit list’ is comprised by discussion participants on Birdforum, a popular international online discussion group (thanks guys!):


Lake Tahoe

Yellow-browed Warbler

(trying tomorrow after missing the Canada bird!)


Northeast in winter:

Purple Sandpiper
Great Cormorant

Black-headed Gull
Barnacle Goose

Florida in winter:
Short-tailed Hawk

Los Angeles any time:

Yellow-chevroned Parakeet

Texas soonish:

Least Grebe

Audubon’s Oriole

Kodiak Island winter:

Steller’s Eider


Winter vagrants to lower 48?

Yes, please!


Red-vented Bulbul
African Silverbill
Oahu Amakihi
Mariana Swiftlet
Oahu Elepaio

Yellow-faced Grassquit (unlikely)


Other possible targets?:

Gray-headed Chickadee Alaska

Least Storm-Petrel San Diego

Whooper Swan Alaska end of year



I’m heading back home for a few days (4-7 November) to attend the semi-annual Aussie Ark/Devil Ark Gala Dinner event, and to catch up with co-managers at work. Then, Robyn will come back with me for an indefinite spell pursuing above hit-list, including a visit to Oahu to complete my Hawaiian efforts. The plan is to spend the penultimate week on Adak Island hoping for Whooper Swan, then to be in striking position for any last-minute Christmas bird-count generated rarities. Then, as hard as it is for me to imagine right now, getting off the road, and settling back into the real world. It’s been an eventful, but far-too-long year during this, my fourth big year of birding (Australia 2012 & 2014, ABA 2016 & 2019; and I’m really looking forward to contributing at work and the exciting times in which Aussie Ark is moving.