At the start of the year, I had a tough choice to make. Include Hawaii or not? I contemplated doing a traditional ABA Region Big Year, without Hawaii. There is a lot of tradition in birding and old habits die hard.
Ultimately, I decided to play by the new rules. The inclusion of Hawaii into the ABA Region this year created a lot of controversy. I knew that if I included Hawaii, “purists” would subtract my Hawaii numbers in order to compare my e…fforts to the past. I have tremendous respect for all of the people who did Big Years before me, several are friends. My decision to include Hawaii was not an easy one. I respect the past but live in the present.
I’ve spent 3 weeks in Hawaii this year. I could have spent that time and resources chasing rarities in the Continental U.S. However, it is my belief that future Big Year birders will include Hawaii. New game, new rules.
I am very proud of my numbers without Hawaii. I am currently at 752 (749+3) for the old ABA Region. Two of my provisionals are first ABA records–Pied Wheatear and Thick-billed Warbler. I still have 26 days left to bird!
In my wildest dreams, I did not envision breaking Sandy Komito’s nor Neil Hayward’s record. Yet I have now broken Sandy Komito’s record even without my provisionals, technological advancements notwithstanding. I don’t personally know Sandy Komito but I consider Neil a friend now. I am humbled to think that after my next bird, I will officially break Neil’s record.
In May, I went to Attu on a guided tour with John Puschock, owner of Zugunruhe Birding Tours. Neil Hayward was the other guide. I’ve read his book “Lost Among the Birds” twice. His story resonated with me more than any other person’s account of their Big Year. It was an honor to bird with him.
There has always been a tradition on Attu for birders to write their name and ABA life list number on the walls of the Loran station. Even though the building is now abandoned, water dripping down the walls, this tradition continues. On the last day on the island, our names went up on the wall. At the time, I didn’t feel worthy of being included. I feel I’ve earned that honor now.
Birding is full of ironies. The person writing my name on the wall was Neil Hayward.