I remember well the first time I saw 100 bird species in a day. Obviously it was a good day in its own rights, but there was something very satisfying about that nice round milestone number. As there was when I saw my 500th bird species, my thousandth, and so on. So when 2022 started to look like the year of the great pushback after endless lockdowns, I began to wonder whether it might be possible to hit another milestone: to see 1000 birds in a year.
In global birding terms this is not exactly a stretch goal: people have seen as many as 6833 species in a year, but they were younger, and either richer, intending to get richer by self-promotion, heavily sponsored, or all of the above.[i]
But for an ordinary bloke of ordinary means, and with 65 years on the odometer, 1000 seemed like a tough but not totally implausible goal.
And if it could be done, 2022 looked like the year to do it. The combination of trips long-planned and trips cancelled and rescheduled multiple times due to the pesky virus might just put the number 1000 in play.
1000 birds – the theory
So I checked my records and some trip reports.
- A decent year in Ontario, allowing for time spent out of the country but no rarity-chasing, should be about 230.
- Santa Marta Ecuador and La Guajira in Colombia should be good for 250 or so, though with a certain amount of overlap (boreal migrants seen in their wintering grounds and then seen again in Ontario).
- Ecuador was bound to be good, but how many of those species would be overlaps with Colombia?
- Birdquest was regularly reporting 600+ species in northern Peru. But with trip reports by bird tour companies, you always have to ask whether that was 600 seen/heard by the guide or a realistic 600? And again, how many of those would be overlaps with Ecuador?
- The South Atlantic would be epic but there were only about 60-80 species to be had. (Albeit great ones such as my first penguins outside of a zoo).
But when I added up the conservative estimates it looked like 1000 was do-able. If all went well…
1000 birds – the execution
Which of course it didn’t. Omicron put paid to the January expedition to Colombia, and severely restricted my efforts to get the desired winter birds in Ontario. So no Lapland Longspurs, no Northern Saw-whet Owls, and no Northern Shrikes were seen, though fortunately we were able to get to Algonquin Park in February and notch all the finch specialties as well as the wily and elusive Black-backed Woodpecker.
In March I was off to terra incognita, in the form of Southwest Ecuador. Ecuador is, of course, on my to-do list, but the timing of this particular voyage allowed me to avoid losing a deposit from a cancelled trip. We certainly saw some spectacular bird species including the star of the show, the Jocotoco Antpitta, but the sub-optimal aspect from a 1000-in-a-year perspective is that the Tumbes dry forest ecosystem which is the big attraction of Southwest Ecuador would also feature largely in the Northern Peru trip (about which more later).
Travel was possible in March but it was still in the era of heavy Covid protocols, so I had to stay two extra days in Quito to ensure I had a negative PCR test. On the plus side this allowed me to book two day trips. At the Antisana volcano on the first day I managed to see the final one of my three essential South American birds: the iconic and incomparable Andean Condor. It’s just the largest bird of prey in the world, the largest flying bird in the world by combined measurement of weight (15kg) and wingspan (3.3metres), able to soar for hours without a single flap of its mighty wings (five hours and over 100 miles without a wing flap in one recent study), roosts and breed at elevations of 3,000 to 5,000 m, … I could go on, but you get the picture. One was pleased.
Back to Ontario
A week in Pelee in May helped to tick off most of the usual suspects for Ontario, and even added a couple of life birds (Worm-eating Warbler and White-faced Ibis). The fact that the week turned into a week and a half due to a painfully expensive car repair shall go unmentioned.
The rest of May and most of June were devoted to working on the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, so June added a whopping total of four birds to my year list.
And then it was July and Northern Peru. My plan had been to work my way down to Peru at some future date, but here again I needed to use up a deposit and by that time we knew enough about the Covid pest to guess that July and August were the months least likely to be feature an outbreak.
Peru was a bit of a slog. An extended trip coupled with the fact that it takes a long time to get there and back meant that I was away from 9 July to 2 August. And there was a lot of marching up and down the hill involved. But it was eminently worth the pain – epic birds in epic numbers in epic scenery. I will save the details for a future post.
August was essentially a non-birding month as I tried to wade through 3000 images from Peru. The only additions to the list were a Loggerhead Shrike on the Napanee Alvar (on the fourth attempt!), plus Grasshopper Sparrow and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo with the North Leeds Birders on Amherst Island.
September brought along another trip cancelled and rescheduled multiple time: Moosonee and Moose Factory with the Ontario Field Ornithologists. This trip was more about riding the Polar Bear Express and seeing the far north of Ontario than it was about year listing, but to my surprise I did get some very nice additions including LeConte’s Sparrow and Red-necked Phalarope, nabbed a Canvasback to make up for the ones I missed in March by being out of the country, and had a close encounter with my nemesis bird, the Fox Sparrow.
Then list went quiet for October. The time at home with Lynn balance needed some reinvestment and I had committed to spending two weeks working for the man. I also needed time to plan for and obsess about the biggest trip of all: Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica.
The South Atlantic Odyssey
This scheme had been cooked up with old muckers Geoffrey McMullan and Andrew Harrison of the Army Ornithological Society. The extended timeline between booking a place and going on the trip neatly bookended the Covid interlude, and it came to pass that we went, we saw penguins, we returned. It was an amazing wildlife experience which I will eventually write up as a blog post, and it also effectively ended the year of the 1000 bird goal. The only addition before ENDEX was a Tundra Swan seen with Rick Lott and Grant Kaduck on the Kingston Christmas Bird Count.
So, you might observe, Kaduck has been avoiding the elephant in the room. Did I actually get to 1000 bird species in 2022?
1000 birds? – the results please
Well yes. 1121 to be precise, and that’s on the restrictive ebird/Clements taxonomy. So yay for me. 😊
The circumstances of 2022 were unique, so the likelihood of hitting 1000 again seems small. But I’m chalking it up as once of those things, like running a marathon or jumping out of an airplane, that I have experienced and don’t need to aim for again. Granted, a major lottery win might change that perspective, but since I don’t buy lottery tickets the contingency, as Jeeves would say, is remote.
2022 by the Numbers:
- Year bird #1: American Goldfinch, Home, 1 January
- Year Bird #1000: White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, Cruz Conga, Cajamaraca Province, Peru, 29 July
- Year bird #1121: Tundra Swan, Wolfe Island, 18 December
Numbers by country/region:
- Ontario – 241. A surprisingly good number given that I spent about three months out of the country
- Ecuador (Field Guides) – 411. Did I mention Andean Condor was one of them?
- Peru (Birdquest) – 633. No, they did not exaggerate.
- Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica (Birdquest and Oceanwide Expeditions):
- Argentina – 77 . Including Tierra del Fuego (Birdquest) and the hotel grounds in Buenos Aires
- Falkland Islands – 60.
- South Georgia – 32. Including my new favourite bird – King Penguin
- High Seas – 10
- Antarctica – 0. It’s a long and sad story for another time.
The more mathematically inclined among you will have sussed out that those numbers add up to 1464, not 1121. That’s the impact of overlap between different locations. FYI the longest overlap was White-rumped Sandpiper – Snake Island, Frontenac County and Gypsy Cove, Falkland Islands.
Credit where credit is due
I didn’t do this all on my own. Much credit goes to my main birding accomplices, particularly Richard Lott, Geoffrey McMullan, Andrew Harrison, John Licharson, Janis Grant, Barb O’Neill, Erwin Batalla, Christine Hough, James Thompson, Peter Blancher, and other members of the Kingston Field Naturalists and the North Leeds Birders.
OFO Trip Leaders also get a shout out: David Milsom (Peterborough) , and Martin Parker (Moosonee)
I relied heavily on the eyes, ears and outstanding local knowledge of some great guides and bird gurus, including Willy Perez and Gabriel Bucheli (Ecuador), Leo Garrigues and Carlos Altamarino (Peru), and Pete Morris (Argentina and the South Atlantic).
And finally, thanks to the birds. Just for being there and doing what they do.
[i] The current record holder is Arjan Dwarshuis at 6833. If you google this the first half a dozen results will be for Noah Stryker, who ended up at 6042. This either means that Google prioritizes US results, or it favours results closer to your IP address’s location. The next time I am in the Netherlands I will test this.