I have identified 7 key areas that must be visited in order to maximize my species total. These are:
1) The Northeast in January - The focus of this month will be gulls, ducks, and alcids. Target birds include red-necked grebe, great cormorant, long-tailed duck, mute swan, american black duck, common eider, king eider, harlequin duck, barrow’s goldeneye, rough-legged hawk, purple sandpiper, glaucous gull, iceland gull, lesser black-backed gull, greater black-backed gull, black-headed gull, little gull, black guillemot, razorbill, thick-billed murre, dovekie, short-eared owl, snowy owl, northern shrike, snow bunting, lapland longspur, rusty blackbird, white-winged crossbill, common redpoll.
I am starting here for 2 reasons. First I have a great support network in the northeast, and second I think it would be VERY hard to muster the strength to make it to the northeast at the end of the year (i.e. December). This month will be miserable from a weather standpoint, so doing it while I am physically fresh is my plan. January is also a better time to visit this area than December.
2) Florida in March - Since most of the Florida birds are resident, it really doesn't matter when I visit. I will most certainly miss gray kingbird, black-whiskered vireo, and antillean nighthawk and mangrove cuckoo could be really hard out of breeding season. However, I really need to be be in Arizona in June so I must sacrifice these birds at this time of year.
3) Texas Coast April - Non-negotiable. This is where I must get all eastern neotropical migrants since I will not be in the east at all after this. This will also be a good chance to rest my legs as I will stay put around Freeport/Galveston/High Island for up to 2 weeks. I will also spend a fair amount of time shorebirding during this stretch.
4) Arizona in June - Loads of Arizona specific birds here at this time of year. Yes, July or August might be better for rarities, but the heat would most certainly be a bigger challenge during these times. Arizona must be hit during this time since so may of its specialty birds are breeders that head south during the winter months.
5) Mountains in July/August - This is the least well defined segment of the trip at the moment. There are a number of breeding species that might be best found here, but if I got lucky they might be found elsewhere as well. I will need to get at least some gamebirds during this leg as well as species like three-toed woodpecker, black-billed magpie, american dipper, and black swift.
This segment of the trip will be most sensitive to fitness level and fatigue. Most of the riding elsewhere will be on relatively flat terrain where I am confident that I can make decent distances day after day. There is just no way I can prepare for what the mountains might require and what the exact route will be required. The most important thing is that I end in Northern California in Early September.
6) California in September/October - Like Florida, many of California's speciality birds are resident so I can get them at any time (yellow-billed magpie, tricolored blackbird, wrentit etc). My best shot at seabirds, either from shore or by kayak, will be the central coast in late september. This is also a great time for migrating land birds and shorebirds so I should find a ton of new species. At least some of the winter birds will have settled in by early October, so I might be able to turn up a few additional species this way. I will certainly miss some specific wintering species, ancient murrelet for example.
7) Lower Rio Grande Valley In Winter - Again, many of the LRGV birds are present year round, and winter is the best time to find some mexican birds such as clay-colored robin and brown jay. Again this leg of the trip will be heavily dependent on fatigue. Towns are spaced far part in West Texas and it will require a LOT of riding to get to the best birding areas in the south. If I had any remaining energy after the LRGV, I could shoot north into Oklahoma to pick up birds I may have missed up until now (Smith's longspur).
I will clearly have LOTS of time in between these 7 key areas, and I full expect to find many of the birds I will need en route. It is imperative, however, that I maximize time in these keys areas for birding (and resting!), so I will probably focus very hard on riding versus birding during these transitions.
As far as rarities are concerned, if they show up within 50 miles of me, they are possibilities. Otherwise, my focus will be on getting the expected and key species. If they show up and stay put, like barnacle goose and pink-footed goose tend to do in the northeast, then I can alter my route to see them. Backtracking to find rarities or missed key species will not be an option.