NeilyWorld Birding Ottawa - Listers' Pages
OTTAWA BIG YEAR
(The Quest for 250)
One challenge that serious listers in any area sooner or later take up is that of the Big Year. It is essentially a year list that has been deliberately intense to maximize the number of species seen. This entails a large-scale planning effort, honed birding skills, combined with being in the field birding as much as is humanly possible for the time span of one calendar year. An element of luck is also involved. In Ottawa, the Ottawa/Gatineau 50-km Checklist Circle (centred on the Peace Tower), affectionately known as simply "The Circle", is the area used by most birders to do a Big Year. For a graphic and further description of this area, see the Circle page. They are also done in the Outaouais area, but this section will deal only with the Circle Big Year.
The rules are the same as for Year Lists, since that's what it is. The Ottawa/Gatineau 50-km Checklist Circle Year List is defined as the total number of species of wild and unrestrained birds identified by a given observer within the checklist circle during a single calendar year. Birds must be on the official area checklist to be counted. This includes all those on the latest OFNC printed checklist and those accepted subsequently by the Birds Records Subcommittee of the OFNC.
The target for circle Big Years in Ottawa is usually considered to be 250. This is possible, but very definitely not easy. It requires large expenditures of time, knowledge of the area, and good timing with visits to various birding spots. It also requires an understanding spouse or none at all.
By checking the Ottawa Big Year Checklist, you will find that there are 100 species that would be very difficult to miss, basically "gimmes". Representative birds would be Canada Goose, Barn Swallow and Song Sparrow. Check out the complete list of Very Easily Found birds. Another 50 are common and easily found, and would not be missed in a Big Year. Representative birds of this group would be Rough-legged Hawk and Marsh Wren. Check out the complete list of Easily Found birds. The next group of 40 species are classed as fairly easily found and would not likely be missed in a serious Big Year attempt. Representative birds of this group would be Red-breasted Merganser and Philadelphia Vireo. Check out the complete list of Fairly Easily Found birds. A serious attempt to reach 250 requires all 190 of these three easier groups be found.
The next group of 40 species are classed as found with some difficulty, and is where big years are made or lost. Many of these birds are either very local breeders, uncommon migrants or irregular winter visitors. Time and effort, repeated attempts and a bit of luck will allow most of these birds to be found. They range from Merlin, Gray Partridge and Common Redpoll, possibly the easiest of this group; to Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot and Orange-crowned Warbler, likely the hardest. Check out the complete list of Found with Some Difficulty birds. A serious attempt to reach 250 requires almost all of these 40 birds, bringing the cumulative total to 230. Every one of these you miss makes the task more difficult.
Now we get to the hard part. There are 35 species in the next group. They are classed as "lucky to find, but possible". These are rare to very rare birds that are mostly migrant or winter only species. Some may not be present every year. Here’s where it gets really tough, to reach the goal of 250 species in one year in Ottawa, you will need 20 more species than were in the first four groups. That means getting over half of the
species on this page. Join the OFNC's Rare Bird Alert (or have someone who is a member pass on alerts to you), follow the bird status line faithfully and target these birds ruthlessly. Spend all your available time in the field. You will still need a bit of luck. Check out the complete list of Lucky to Find But Possible birds.
There is one further group, classed as "need help from bird god", in which are listed the remaining very rare and accidental species on the checklist. In a given year perhaps five will be seen. Follow the bird status line and rare bird alerts faithfully and respond quickly. Target any of these birds that are available, each one is a bonus. Check out the complete list of Need Help from Bird God birds. Then there are the super bonuses, new birds to Ottawa! Good luck!
There are better years than others for doing Big Years. Some years are exceptional for rarities, but it is not possible to foresee which ones will be best. The only indication you really have will be what kind of winter birds are present going into the new year. February is the least critical month, while 200 species have been found by a single observer in May alone. It is a must to be afield every day possible during migration and to relentlessly target all breeding species in summer.
NeilyWorld's Birding Ottawa website provides several tools you will find useful in planning your Big Year. For useful hints as to the best use of your field time during each month, check out the Month by Month Hints section. The Where and When to See section lists sought after species and gives suggestions for how to find them. This section includes most species which require special effort to find in the Ottawa area. It also includes some more common species if of special note. It does not include accidentals not likely to recur. It will provide a starting point for Big Year strategy.
The site guide is another useful tool with which to build a game plan. The Ottawa Checklist Circle is conveniently divided east-west by the Ottawa River. The southern part, in Ontario, is divided by the Rideau River; and the northern segment, in Quebec, is split by the Gatineau River. This results in four roughly geographically equal segments, The Southwest, The Southeast, The Northeast and The Northwest. Click on one of these to reach a map of loop or linear tours available in that area. Choose one of those and you have a map and listing of the birding sites along that particular route, each with a clickable page of its own. Information on each site along the way provides specific directions to the spot (both independent and route/loop oriented), information on how to bird the area and an idea of what birds might be expected, with special emphasis on the less common or more sought after species, what rarities have occurred in recent years, and directions to the next site in that route or loop.
There is also a complete and clickable Alphabetical Birding Site Index for locating specific sites quickly. But more useful to Big Year enthusiasts, is a "Best" Sites Tool, allowing the user to bring up a clickable list of top birding spots by time of year, quadrant, habitat or type of bird. When time is of the essence, use the Best Sites Index to gauge a site's usefulness in specific searches.
Because rare birds are going to be VERY important to a good Big Year, be sure to check the Birding Ottawa RBA, which attempts to keep abreast of the latest local rare bird reports and provides links to the appropriate site pages, if available, for further information. And to help you generate an historical perspective, see also the past RBA's beginning in the year 2001 at Past Years' Rare Bird Alerts.
In winter, at the beginning and end of your Big Year, NeilyWorld provides another set of useful pages. The Birding Ottawa Winter Specialty Status page attempts to give a rundown of birds of special interest in Ottawa's chilly winters. It too provides links to the appropriate site pages, if available, for further information. And there is also a reference archive, beginning in the winter of 2003 - 2004 of Past Winter Specialty Status pages.
As an additional tool for winter birder's, NeilyWorld is pleased have Ron Pittaway's permission to present his informative, educational and always interesting Winter Finch Forecast. He gathers information regarding conditions in the northern boreal forests and syntheses this to forecast the occurrence of these birds in southern Ontario. Here too, there is a reference archive, beginning in the winter of 1999 - 2000 of Past Winter Finch Forecast pages.
The Useful Tools section gives a rundown on local birding books, maps, rare bird alerts and other useful information sources. Use them all. Tell all your birding friends you are doing a Big Year and keep them appraised of what birds you still need. The birding community in Ottawa can be very competitive, but, despite that, is almost invariably cooperative. They love to help others. Just ask.
to submit your list totals or updates.
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Copyright © 2000 - 2014 Larry E. Neily
Last update: August 26, 2014