So close.....99 miles
A very heavy crop of a distant Lawrence's goldfinch
OK, here's my first thought on Big Years. If you are thinking about doing one, either in the near or distant future, go buy a DSLR and really learn how to use it BEFORE your year starts. I understand that much of birding, Big Year and other, is "on your honor" when it comes to reporting sightings, but with the technology that exists today, there is no excuse for not doing every single thing you can to document your sightings. This technology did not exist 30 years ago, so we cannot hold people in that era to the same standards. That someone (Kenn Kaufman, e.g.) did not document every bird he saw on his Big Year should not detract from it one bit. Today, it is a different story. I fully understand that no one can be expected to document every species he or she sees; It just isn't possible. I was able to get the fly-away Sharp-tailed grouse onto the sensor, but I was not able to nail a very similar fly-away Greater prairie-chicken. However, and maybe it's just me, but if someone was to go out and do a full-fledged, traditonally-moded Big Year and only photograph a fraction of the important species, I would have to wonder what's going on. Like it or not, the technology exists, in the right hands, to document a very high percentage of birds. Learning how to photo document should just be part of a person's preparation for a Big Year. This is why I have gone to such great lengths to photograph everything I can - I want to leave as little doubt as possible. I can hear the old guard crashing down on me on this.......
Why does this matter? I am going to catch a ton of heat from purists on this one, but let's be honest. While 99.99% of birders are perfectly honest, there are always going to folks who, for whatever reason, feel the need to knowingly misreport sightings. I know of at least one episode of a state record that "fell" under such circumstances. As Big Years grow in popularity, there is incentive to be the top dog. Many of the most most successful Big Year birders have reaped tremendous windfalls from their exploits. I am in no way suggesting that anyone (myself included) who undertakes a Big Year is doing it with dishonorable intentions. However, as the potential rewards for running up high numbers grow larger, we must be cognizant that the incentive for dishonesty increases correspondingly (see NCAA football). Like I said above, while not foolproof, making concerted efforts to document sightings should help to counterbalance these tendencies. You have to remember, I was a scientist in my former life; We are trained to be skeptics!
Next up: we need to make Big Years about more than just running up high species counts. Why? Because if we don't we're only going to have a few very select people spending lots of money to fly and drive everywhere as they seek to run up these totals. I do not think that this has been a problem up until now, but, as birding grows in popularity, I think we might a lot of formulaic Big Years moving forward. It has the potential to get old really fast. "I saw X# of species using planes/trains/cars/boats in this state/country/continent/world". It's the exact same model being deployed over and over, and generally one's finances dictate at which scale he or she deploys it. I just think that moving forward, we need to hold people to a higher standard of creativity when it comes to Big Year permutations. I mean really, do you want to take a run at 750 in the next few years only to come up with 748? For me I would much rather create an entire new way of doing it (i.e. continent wide on a bike) than chase someone else's number. That's the best thing about my year; I'm not chasing a number, I'm just chasing birds. In full disclaimer, I am now chasing my own personal number of 600, but that only realistically came into the picture when I did so well with off-lek grouse this summer.
You know what I'm really waiting for?
Bicycle Big Year in the UK (minus Northern Ireland since it would require gas to get there). Someone over there needs to do this - it's all yours for the taking!!! Don't wait too long or I might do it!
Walking Big Year.
Pogo stick Big Year.
Public transportation Big Year.
Team Big Year (at whatever geographic scale) where 3/4 people must see/hear every bird (like in the World Series)
Big Year fueled ONLY by bacon (and vitamin supplements, to prevent scurvy and such)
All of these would make for incredible stories, and the species total ultimately isn't going to mean a thing for any of them - that's why they'd be cool. I had a tremendous time following Neil's Big Year last year, but I can say with certainty that I would rather follow the progress of any of the above than a year that seeks to take down his 750. Plus, it's only going to get easier to take a run at Neil's number in the future as more species are split and more exotics are deemed countable. I also had a really good time following Dave Pavlik's photographic Big Year from 2013. He only counted birds of which he obtained a diagnostic photo! Stuff like this is great. There's a lot of creativity in the bird community. Now let's see it.....