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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Quest for 700 ABA Birds

The other 700 club!
It's been a long time since I hit a birding milestone in the ABA area.  In fact, I haven't really hit one since I started graduate school.  Back in 1997 we had just one small baby in the family and during the summer before starting graduate school I made an effort to get a special bird for my #600 ABA species by flying up to Michigan to see a Kirkland's Warbler.  

Since that time we've had two more kids, moved five times, and the birds haven't come as fast as I might have hoped.  I only got 19 new birds while getting my MA and PhD degrees in Austin.  After leaving Austin, I was able to do some traveling for my work with Audubon, and picked up another 53 species in my nearly 5 years there.

In the past few years, the additional new species have come much slower.  There were a couple years were I only got one new bird for the ABA area.  This year so far I've seen three (European Golden Plover--see my video below of first NJ record bird, Bar-tailed Godwit, and Whiskered Tern).  In doing some record-keeping house cleaning today, with all the splits over the last few years and a new listing rule giving me back the African Collared-Dove from Los Angeles that I saw in 1985 (thank you ABA!), my ABA list spreadsheet shows I'm now at 696 species for my North America list--a good handful closer than I anticipated to the 700 ABA milestone.

Once upon a time 700 was considered a very respectable ABA list.  In fact, the first person to reach 700 species sightings in North America was Joe Taylor in 1972.  Before that, birdwatchers who had seen 600+ species in North America were considered elite members of a prestigious 600 Club.  In 1973, Jean Piatt wrote Adventures in Birding, a now classic account of his and his wife's quest to join the 600 Club. Nowadays, dozens of birders report lists over 800 species, and at least one is claiming to have seen over 900 species in North America north of Mexico.

But I'm still poking along slowly as I approach 700.  I'm heading to Florida in December for a family vacation to Orlando, but don't expect any new birds.  Unless I take a few days away from the theme parks and cruise down to south Florida, where a few other possible new birds for me are in the offering, such as the introduced Egyptian Goose (established Florida birds were recently added to the ABA checklist), Red-cheeked Bulbul, Spot-breasted Oriole, and Purple Swamphen.  Now that I realize how close I am to 700, I may have to make some new travel plans here soon!

Since I can't imagine ever spending the kind of money that it takes to get to 800 for North America (multiple Alaska trips, and chasing rare birds wherever they appear across the lower 48), this may be my last ABA milestone.  I'm looking forward to seeing what my next four new birds will be!

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