Half-time; Big Year 2000, final version

Harry Fuller <harry_fuller@...>

Peter: Here is article for "Gull" on the first half of the San Francisco Big
Year 2000. If you need to shorten cut some of the chronology in lower part of

Half-Time: Big Year 2000

Well, the crazed San Francisco birders are at it again...a city-wide Big
Year contest. There are seven contestants this time around, including three
veterans of the 1998 showdown. Some people never learn. My excuse: I finished
last in '98 and had to do better this time. But Hopkins won, and Murphy, he got
sucked in because it was his big idea to start the Millenium with a Big Year..
He wrote:
"The purpose of this competition is to generate some competitive interest
in birding in the city but to also improve on the understanding of species,
distribution and occurences within the city."
A modest proposal, that.
Official participants are Stephen Davies, Rich Ferrick, Harry Fuller, Alan
Hopkins, Kevin McKereghan, Dan Murphy and Jay Withgott. Jay described himself
as "new in town, having just moved up from Tucson AZ, and just gotten onto
SFBirds [the email list]." Today Jay is just another wind-burned face squinting
into the fog off the Cliff House, or trudging up Mount Davidson for another
vagrant. That is one of the best stories of this Big Year: non-combatant, Paul
has staked out Mt. Davidson as his regular nieghborhood birding spot. As a
result all the competitors have been forced to chase species he's been reporting
there: Merlin, Band-tailed Pigeons all winter long, all three western Swift
species on May 19th, House Wren, Spotted Towhee, Lazuli Bunting, then in late
spring Hammond's, Dusky and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker,
American Redstart. McKereghan finds a singing male Rose-breasted Grosbeak
there. Add Brian Fitch's Townsend Solitaire on Davidson April 10 and you have a
hot spot. It is the same spot the '98 BY found it's only Solitaire. Mt.
Davidson is an island of trees and grassland in a sea of roofs and pavement.
Well, it is not a tight contest as it was in 1998. Kevin McKereghan early
established that he had the time, energy and skill to get nearly every gettable
bird in town. He was ahead at the end of January with 148. He still leads with
204 through the first half. Second is Rick Ferrick with 192. After a slower
start, Ferrick rallied with a prodigious 30 new species in April. Kevin is
running several species ahead of Alan Hopkins' record-setting pace for 1998.
Alan ended with
243. The overall Big Year total in '98 was 280 species. So far the BY2K total
is 223, five ahead of the '98 cumulative pace.
Here are some of the highlights so far, with thanks to Mark Eaton, a
retired vet of the '98 Big Year, acting as this year's scribe.
Jan. 2 Reigning BY champ, Alan Hopkins, does mini-Big Day, set record for
the new millenium with 103 species for himself and Calvin Lu (another '98
retiree). They bag Loggerhead Shrike and Harrier at Candlestick, difficult city
birds most years.
Jan. 3, Saraceni issues his first of many daily reports on the birds of
Davidson: includes House Wren and Lincoln Sparrow, must-get birds for all BY
counters. Brian Fitch reports exotic KIngbird at south end of Lake Merced.
McKereghan gets year's first Marbled Murrelet off the Cliff House.
Jan. 5, Ferrick re-finds exotic Kingbird at Merced, setting off the first
lengthy email debate over a bird's ID. Cassin's? Couch's? It turns out to be a
Tropical Kingbird who hangs around for weeks, finally being ticked by every BY
birder and dozens of others.
Murphy bags a Marbled Murrelet off the Cliff House. Everybody has the
Eurasian Wigeon wintering at Stow Lake.
A debate rages over supposed Glaucous Gull at south end of Merced. Biggest
email debate of the year so far. It is finally presumed that there were a
series of legit Glaucous Gull sightings of one or possibly two individuals in
the dense flock of Western, California, Mew and Glaucous-winged that are
normally on Merced during stormy times.
During January Merced also yields Swamp Sparrow, Nuttall's Woodpecker,
Cinnamon Teal, Tennessee Warbler--all difficult S.F. birds.
This is also the first full year for the newly recreated Crissy Lagoon.
Regular reports on birds there come from Josiah Clark: Red-necked Grebe, Merlin,
Peregrine, large flock of Greater Scaup (numbering of 340 at one point), Snowy
Egret. In spring the list included Western Kingbird, a regular city transient
that can be hard to find.
Mid-Jnauary a Loggerhead Shrike set up a hunting territory at east end of
Buffalo Paddock in Golden Gate Park. At the end of the month there was a report
of a Northern Goshawk in San Francisco, but the bird could not be re-found.
Also, several birders found the Baltimore Oriole wintering in the Arboretum.
Withgott spots a Harlequin Duck off the Cliff House. Good find.
February was lively though only 15 new species were added by the whole
On Feb 10 Saraceni sees 400 Band-tailed Pigeons pass over Davidson. The
next day, Fitch wrote: "I'll see your 400 and raise you 1075." That's how many
BTs he counts in two hours atop Twin Peaks on February 11.
Mid-month Dan Murphy reports Yellow-billed Magpies seen by his wife in Daly
City, four miles south. Prescient.
On Feb. 14, Hopkins and McKereghan spot Peterodroma off Cliff House,
species undetermined. None of the petrels are less than rare for San Francisco
shoreline. Same day Kevin has two Northern Fulmars, another difficult onshore
bird. Davies has two Marbled Murrelets overhead at night.
Feb. 18 Hugh Cotter, not in the contest, reports a Murrelet swarm off Cliff
House. In addition to Marbled, one possible Anicent and a Cassin's Auklet.
Feb. 21, Murphy and Fuller get small flock of early Vaux's Swifts over
south end of Merced
Feb. 23, Davies gets an Oldsquaw off Land's End. In early March an
Oldsquaw joins the Scaup off Crissy Field for several days. Everybody scores.
Feb. 29, Barn Owl spotted at Merced near Golf Club House
McKereghan ends February at 157, way ahead.
March 6, Andrew Rush creates a rush with report of Black-and-white Warbler
in willows at east end of Mountain Lake. Bird is hard to find but is seen
repeatedly over the next two weeks.
March 11, Fuller finds American Pipits at Funston.
Mid-March a few sightings of Yellow-billed Magpies occur around Sutro
Heights. Murphy warns Fuller, who lives in that area, "You don't get to see any
of the great birds that show up on your doorstep park. Sorry, that's just how
it is..." At least Murphy missed 'em, too. Davies sees the Magpies on March 20
at the Veterans Hospital. First sightings in S.F. since 1991-2.
March 26, Alan Hopkins' Bird Blitz finds Wrentit in McLaren Park. The
Blitz totals 121 species in S.F.
April proves to be the busy month that was expected. Many north-bound
migrants: Western Kingbird, smaller flycatchers, Gnatcatcher, vireos, western
and vagrant warblers, a Ross's Goose spends several days in Golden Gate Park.
McKereghan, Withgott, Ferrick and Saraceni do a Big Day, getting S. F.
record of 134 species. Overall another sixteen species added to the Big Year
The first week of May brings unusual storms, catching many northbound birds
beneath heavy fogs and hard rains. Big spring fallouts noticed along western
edge of San Francisco. Dense flocks of Orange-crowned and Wilson's Warblers,
knots of Tanagers, Warbling Vireos, Grosbeaks, flycatchers of varous kinds. A
Dusky Flycatcher lands on Davidson. Chat show up in Glen Canyon and Golden Gate
Park. A Red-eyed Vireo is found near Middle Lake. One non-contesant hears the
bird box report, zips out to North Lake and adds eight city lifers in ninety
minutes thanks to the fallout. Sacraceni gets his swift trifecta on Davidson,
Willow and Hammond's Flyctachers show up, a Northern Parula sings for several
days west of West Wash, White Pelicans check out Crissy Field, Magnolia Warbler
is found by Davies near Vet's Hospital, two Hooded Warblers found in city.
Seventeen more species added to the list, most the new ones since January.
McKereghan is now at 200!
June brings an Ash-throated Flycatcher through town and only three new
species. ZZZZZ.
July brought several post-breeding migrants. Elegant Terns are back in
numbers, Sanderlings arrive wearing brown. Murphy had his first Tattler of the
season on Seal Rocks. Wish me luck in September, I'm 19 species behind
McKereghan, but at least I'm way ahead of where I was in '98. We are all
looking forward to a big and busy fall: send those raptors, Waterthrush,
Pectoral Sandpipers, Common Terns, vagrant warblers and wayward migrants this
way, please.
And some jinxes need to be broken. Murphy has no Say's Phoebe in eighteen
months of Big Year birding: Fuller is O for 2 on Townsend's Solitaire.
To follow the action, here's Eaton's webpage for the San Francisco BY2K.

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