June 3, 2017 by Rokman61
Note: This is not a ‘new’ blog – it is an excerpted section from a previous post in which I described the ‘Crowing Award’ and some events that lead up to it. For the full story see post entitled “The Listing Game: birding on the fringe” (March 2016).
Big Year birding in the Vancouver area.
‘Big Year birding’ refers to an activity in which a birder attempts to list as many species of birds as they can, within a specified area, in one calendar year. A Big Year may cover any area, such as the whole World, North America (as in the movie, ‘The Big Year’), a country, a province, or whatever. However, a Big Year in a big area requires considerable time, planning, energy, and lots of $$$, which means that only a very few get to play the game. Such pursuits are generally undertaken by hard-core enthusiasts of questionable sanity, and represents the extreme end of the birding experience. But a Big Year that is restricted to a single checklist area is effectively open to a much larger number of potential participants, so is more inclusive and relevant to the ‘average’ bird lister.
Several years ago a few of us were musing about how many bird species one could find in the official Vancouver Checklist area in a single calendar year – a ‘VanList Big Year’. One long-time birder mentioned that “about 250” was a typical score, but that figure seemed optimistic. My own personal best was 246 in 2004, and and I knew of another birder who made a valiant attempt and missed the 250 mark by a single tick. It seemed that the magic number for a Vancouver Yearlist should be set at 250, and that would still require an enormous amount of time, effort, dedication, . . . and luck.
Why do a Big Year? Mostly it’s a matter of personal satisfaction. Many just like to see how they are doing, and others bask in the competition: there is (was) no tangible reward. By contrast, if one happens to be an ardent participant in amateur pursuits such as golf or tennis, and one happens to have a modicum of success at their game, one gets bestowed with gleaming trophies – typically for a tournament of only one or a few days of competition. But the dedicated birder gets nothing more than bragging rights for an entire year of effort! Surely an egregious injustice that warranted correction. To this end, my birding friend, Ilya, casually opined one day that maybe there should be some sort of trophy for recognizing those who made the ‘250 Club’. I sensed a responsibility that I felt I could not ignore.
Subsequent brain-storming resulted in an appropriate theme and name for the trophy: the eBird MetroVan YearList 250 Crowing Award. A somewhat cumbersome handle, so perhaps a bit of explanation is of relevance here.
* eBird is a widely used web-based database that keeps track of bird sighting records; anyone can submit their records to this site, and then extract any desired list from the data. It is therefore a convenient vehicle for keeping score, so it seemed an obvious choice to tie the Award to it.
* eBird recognizes ‘regions’ in the database, and their official name for our local region is ‘Metro Vancouver‘. It is essentially the same area as covered by the older ‘Vancouver Checklist Area’, compiled by Nature Vancouver, with one salient exception (pun intended): Point Roberts in Washington is included in the Vancouver checklist, but excluded in the MetroVan version.
* Yearlist 250 of course reflects the objective discussed above, namely 250 species in one calendar year.
* Use of the Crow as a mascot should not require explanation.
An informal set of rules were also drawn up:
eBird MetroVan Yearlist 250 Award
* Anyone who manages to tick 250 or more species in the Vancouver area in one calendar year is entitled to have their name on this trophy.
* Beginning 2016, all species for the year must be entered into eBird. (Several scores for 2014-15 have been grandfathered in because the criteria for this Award had not been disclosed until 2016).
* All species must be detected within the official eBird checklist area ‘Metro Vancouver’. The (+x’) notation following some numbers denotes extra birds from Point Roberts, and reflects the older ‘Nature Vancouver Checklist’ (Pt Roberts was part of this checklist area but is excluded from the eBird checklist).
* The birder with the highest score is proclaimed ‘Custodian of the Crow’ for the year, and may choose to pass possession around to others who have qualified.
* The first birder to get their name on the trophy ten times is to be awarded permanent possession.
When it came time to construct the trophy, an iconic artifact to grace the summit was called for. I had in mind a statue or steel silhouette of a crow, but despite an intense internet search could not find anything suitable. I was resigned to using a simple printed silhouette in a glass-front frame:
But then my wife, Norma came to the rescue, by locating a resin-cast crow, exactly what we had been looking for. Quite a funky and handsome individual at that!
Here our mascot perches atop the completed trophy:
The wood is from a slab of locally-grown Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum), which had been milled with a chainsaw by myself and Tom Brown some time back in the 1980’s.
Closer view of the engraved plates (nicely done by Dogwood). The number after each birder’s name is their total for the year, and the (+x) denotes extra species from Point Roberts.
Because The Crow was expected to migrate around from winner-to-winner on occasion, a protective ‘roosting’ case was deemed to be useful.
The ‘Rules’ for the Award are mounted on the inside of the cover of the roost box.
The Crow was formally introduced at an informal ceremony on March 19, 2016. Details of the event are presented in my earlier blog “The Listing Game: birding on the fringe” (March 2016).
Bottom line: When birding interests slow, it’s time to “Go for the Crow”!