We fell a bit short of our expected list total for our first month. We recorded 272 species. We had expected to get 275 – 300.
Most of our shortfall can be explained by the fact that we have yet to see much in the way of true winter. As we pointed out while we were in New England, we have only had a few really cold days and only one or two days of snow. Without winter weather, we are also out of many “winter birds.” We suspect that mild weather has allowed the finches, redpolls, crossbills, and similar species to stay farther north and to be out of our reach. We lacked the flexibility, and the budget, in our early schedule to go farther north to seek those species.
We have had generally very good results in the south (especially with rarities in the RGV) but even there we have seen some evidence that the unusually warm winter has kept some bird numbers down. We won’t know until we see the final reports, but this may end up being the warmest winter ever in parts of the country.
We also had some really bad misses. Either through poor strategy, or poor execution of the strategy, we have missed several birds that were there and that we should have seen. Again, our budget held us back in a few cases: we didn’t want to spend extra money to stay longer in an area and continue searching for a bird. As John Vanderpoel pointed out, that was a false economy. Having to go back later will be more expensive than staying longer in the first place. Lesson learned. We hope next month goes more smoothly.
Another factor, that likely cost us as many as 10 species, was our decision to eschew the ugly, traffic-snarled urban birding in and around Miami and other big cities. That kind of stress is just not something we want to put up with on our Big Year.
Finally, we had some plain bad luck. In several cases, birds that were present in an area for weeks or months prior to our arrival had disappeared just before we came. We had expected to count the Brown Booby in MA and the Black-vented Oriole in TX but those birds had stopped being seen just days before we arrived in their area. We know that we should try to get to the area of a rare sighting as soon as possible, but sometimes that is just too hard or too expensive to do.