Saturday 12 October 2019

Wrong Way Listing

Here is a list of ten birds. I would like you to guess what is special about it.

Slavonian Grebe
American Bittern
American Golden Plover
Black Scoter
Red-throated Diver
White-fronted Goose
Baird's Sandpiper
Red-necked Phalarope
Acadian Flycatcher
Alder Flycatcher

Need a clue? I would have thought the final two birds on the list would have given the game away. No? OK, I'll tell you. These are birds the commonest American birds that are not on my ABA list but that are on my BOU (UK) list. Four of them are of course common to both areas, but the others patently are not. In fact out of the 100 most common gaps on my American list, fully a third are birds I've seen in the UK. Given how frequently I go to America this is amazing really, what on earth have I been doing wrong?

Going repeatedly to Florida is one of the things I've done wrong. The birds are incredible, but barely any of them are ticks. I'm going again soon, and there are perhaps five new species on the cards. Mostly I'll be photographing Willets I expect....

Going on family holidays is another. I get the odd session where I pick up a few here and there, but there is no real birding. I went to Monterey in 2016. Did I go any pelagics? In Atlanta all I saw was horses. In Utah and Arizona, snow....

In fact I've only been on three trips to America where my ABA list has advanced significantly. A full week in the Pacific Northwest was superb and added 75 species, four days in Arizona the following year added 55, and three days in southern Texas added 34. American big listers get 700 in a year, my total across countless visits is 419. I need to pull my finger out.

The alternative argument is that listing is a pile of nonsense and provided you are out birding and seeing and enjoying birds for what they are, rather than as numbers based on where they are, then that is all that matters. If you have to have a list, make it a world list. My world list is around 1,800. In 2015 a guy called Noah Stryker saw 6,042 in a year, smashing the previous record. The very next year another guy called Arjan Dwarshuis saw 6,833.....


  1. To be fair, even I don't have the goose on my ABA list. Tough one that, don't beat yourself up over it.

    As for the rest, what's that weird thing folks do nowadays with finger and thumb over their forehead...

    1. Actually, just checked and I DO have the goose, but not the Baird's. My Top 10 absentees include such rares as Peregrine, Mute Swan and Collared Dove. Top drawer dross indeed.

  2. I've never done much birding either in the middle on in the far north. Something to consider perhaps.