Human powered Big Year
In 2022 I set out on a year long endeavour to set the benchmark species count for a fully human powered big year in the Province of Ontario.
What is a Big Year?
Some birders set a challenge for themselves to try to count as many species of birds as they can in a single year aka a big year. Interestingly it is all on an honour system and you don't technically have to see the bird to count it you can also count bird species you identify by ear. Typically people will set a geographical boundary for themselves to limit the scope and cost of a big year. Those are usually regional (state/province), national or global. Another type of "big" birding even is a big day which is exactly like it sounds as many species in a single day as possible.
These are all conducted using standard transportation. Record attempts will result in a huge number of kilometres travelled. The current Ontario record holder is reported to have covered 90,000km during their year. I am not judging anyone for this approach but it isn't for me.
What is a human powered big year?
A human powered big year is done using only ones own power. Hike, biking, skiing, skating, sailing whatever you desire as long as it's done under your own power.
Traditional big years haven't been that appealing to a subset of birders for a long time as there are lots of people doing alternative big years. A few years ago I first heard of people doing Big Green Years. These are big years utilizing human power, car pooling and green/mass transit.
I like a challenge. 😜 A HPBY also seemed like a good way to be more connected with the experience. Driving for hundreds of kilometres to try to find a bird, while I have done it in the past, just doesn't bring me that much joy. Being out on the bike does.
I also want to connect with you and share your stories about what birds, and more broadly nature, means to you. I am hoping to have people join me through out the whole year and share those stories/adventures.
American White Pelican
Little Blue Heron
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Crested Flycatcher
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Great Black-backed Gull
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Greater White-fronted Goose
Great Blue Heron
American Black Duck
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Great Horned Owl
American Tree Sparrow
I wish I could tell you that I have every minute of everyday planned out but that would be a big fat lie. There is only one place that "has" to happen and that is Point Pelee National Park in early May. Everything else on the map is likely to happen but a question mark as to when.
The biggest unknown at the moment though is Rainy River. Close to the border of Manitoba it is a good spot to see western species and a few shorebirds that would be difficult to get in the south. This is an extreme ride consisting of 8 to 10 days of cycling 160km (100 miles) a day. I have been training for this but I still haven't committed to it yet.
I am hoping to find people to host me along/at some of the more distant locations (let me know if you can host). This is ideal as I am trying minimize the weight I carry on the bike.
I have been physically training for this adventure for over a year. Mostly out of fear of riding to Rainy River. For 2021 I did 355hrs and 9,234.4 km on the bike. This included a 200km ride in a single day, a series of seven 100km rides over ten days and riding in the winter. These were all simulations of some of the distances/challenges I figured I could face this year twitching birds.
While the physical training has been super important I have also started birding training. Specifically, I am training my bird call recognition using Larkwire. The goal is to be ready for places like Point Pelee where birding by ear can be a huge advantage to finding rare species.
A big year is a personal challenge or an informal competition among birders who attempt to identify as many species of birds as possible by sight or sound, within a single calendar year and within a specific geographic area. - Wikipedia
Using transportation that is strictly human powered. No e-bikes, electric cars or mass transit allowed
Chasing after a rare bird sighting. Typically involves dropping everything and rushing to the sighting location.
To the best of my abilities I follow the OFO Code of Ethics while birding.