Getting Ready for a Brand New Year List

ebird2Tomorrow is January 1st, which means it’s almost time to reset the current year list to 0 and start all over again. This is one of the highlights of winter for me, because on January 1st every bird is new again…even the pigeons and starlings, even the crows. Without a brand new year list to work on, I lose the motivation to get outside and see what’s around, particularly since there are fewer and fewer birds to see as the winter wears on.

I’ve been reviewing my New Year’s Day lists for the past eight years, trying to gauge how many species I might see tomorrow. Here is how they stack up:

Year summary 3

The one thing that’s obvious is that the more places I visit, the more species I am likely to find. I usually try to go to one place with open water (Bate Island, Billings Bridge, or Mud Lake), one place where I can find woodland birds (usually Jack Pine or Sarsaparilla Trail), one place with feeders (Hilda Road, Jack Pine Trail, or Mud Lake), the Trail Road Landfill, and the open fields between the landfill and home. I should be able to find most of the common winter birds with just a few stops, and hope to finish New Year’s Day with at least 20 species even without any winter finches or unusual overwintering birds (such as the White-crowned Sparrow or Northern Flicker seen in previous years). While I don’t expect to find another New Year’s Northern Goshawk, we do have overwintering Black-backed Woodpeckers and Snowy Owls around this year; it would be great to find another Black-backed Woodpecker tomorrow as I have never found one on New Year’s Day before.

Snowy Owl

With luck I will find one of the Snowy Owls in my area on New Year’s Day.

I took a peek into the future using eBird’s new Target Species tool, trying to figure out which birds I am most likely to see tomorrow. If you use eBird to record your sightings, it can generate a list of species that you haven’t yet seen in a given county for a given period of time, for either your life list or your year list. It is based on the number of complete checklists entered into eBird for that period, using them to calculate the percentage of checklists that have listed a particular species. I chose the month of January to see what the most commonly recorded species are in Ottawa for that month. Based on 2,657 complete checklists (where observers recorded ALL species they saw, not just the notable ones; a good reason why you should always enter everything you see to eBird, not just year birds or rarities!), here are the top 18 birds I am likely to see tomorrow:

The 18 species most recorded in eBird during the month of January

The 18 species recorded most often in eBird during the month of January

These are all the birds have been recorded on more than 10% of the complete checklists submitted during the month of January. Rounding out the top 20 are House Finch (9.7%) and Red-breasted Nuthatch (8.2%).

The next ten birds are all still fairly easy to find, though some can only be found in good irruption years: Pileated Woodpecker, Red-tailed Hawk, American Black Duck, American Robin, Common Merganser, Wild Turkey, Snowy Owl, Snow Bunting, Bohemian Waxwing and Great Black-backed Gull. Forget about the Bohemian Waxwing tomorrow, though; while it is recorded on 3.76% of all January checklists, it has been very scarce in Ottawa this winter. We’ll substitute Brown Creeper instead, sitting in 31st place at 3.12%.

The least likely bird to be found next month? Lesser Scaup, with a 0.03764% frequency, and the last bird on the list with a non-zero value. (For some reason it includes species with a 0.00000% frequency, such as Common Grackle, Snow Goose, Harris’s Sparrow (!) and Fieldfare (!!!), which I imagine have been recorded only once in January, in Ottawa, in all of mankind’s history!)

Black-backed Woodpecker, one possible species I am hoping to see on New Year's Day

Black-backed Woodpecker, one possible species I am hoping to see on New Year’s Day

However, when it comes to birding, it is all a matter of luck: not only being in the right place, but being there at the right time. The above 30 birds are certainly all fairly easy to get, but finding them all in one day (well, in about 4 hours, the average length of time I’m out birding on New Year’s Day) takes a LOT of being in the right place at the right time. At least the weather looks good for tomorrow morning – cold and mostly cloudy, with no snow until later in the afternoon. Good weather is important when birding, as at least one of my previous New Year’s Day outings was curtailed due to a snowstorm that blew in a mere hour after I left home. That doesn’t look to be the case tomorrow!

I’m looking forward to laying my 2014 year list to rest and getting out bright and early tomorrow to start my 2015 list. Until then, happy new year and good birding!

5 thoughts on “Getting Ready for a Brand New Year List

  1. Happy New Year, Gillian! As I write this it’s already 2015, and I’ll be starting my new Year List as well. I’m pushing for 50+ this time…got to beat last year’s record. Good luck!

    • Thanks Patrick! Happy new year to you and Mel too!

      Good luck with your quest in the morning. I wish I lived in a place where I could get 50 birds on January 1st…Ottawa just isn’t it! 🙂 Speaking of which, do you and Mel have plans to visit us in Ottawa again this year?

      • Mission successful! I ended the daylight hours with 51 species total – a new January 1 all-time record for me. I hope you have similar luck with your New Year birding.

        Mel and I will be dropping by Ottawa sometime in 2015…when or for how long, can’t say yet. I’ll keep you posted.

        • Congrats on your new record! It should start getting light here in about half an hour, so I’m getting ready to go out myself. I don’t know if I will break any records today, as I can hear the wind gusting a bit, but I will try!

  2. Pingback: Birding in the New Year! | The Pathless Wood

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