So having a Big Year is still a Big Deal, even if it's not the ABA-approved version. Declaring yourself to have had one is, in a way, an admission that you've hit the peak and that it's essentially all downhill from here. There will still be new birds, and glorious surprises, and reprises of old friends you haven't seen for years. But they'll be scattered over time, not concentrated in a single year. You've had your winning streak and it's time to cash-in. So, then, you've won, and the the next question is - How Big?
The answer, in my case, is 580 species, including a staggering 164 lifers, according to the Birdlife Taxonomic list. This will probably seem rather paltry in comparison to some of the lists you see around. One of the bloggers on 10,000 Birds had a list of over 1100 species in 2013. That's more than my life list. But that's the point. Everything's relative. My year list this year represents more than half the species I've seen in my 42 years on the planet. That's not small news, at least for me. So what explains it?
In three words, "Africa" and "voluntary unemployment". The first is obvious enough. I started the year living in Kenya, which, from a lifestyle and birding point of view, was incredible. I had Amethyst Sunbirds (Nectarinia amethystina) in my garden. I had Nairobi National Park on my doorstep, which apart from providing the odd sensation of seeing wild Lions (Panthera leo) only a few kilometres from my home, is also an extraordinary birding location. I've racked up 110 species there in a single day, and the legendary Brian Finch, who compiled the bird check-list for the park, has managed up to 200.
|Amethyst Sunbird (Nectarinia amethystina) - one of three regular species of sunbird in our Nairobi garden. They were all stunning.|
(Pterocles lichtensteinii) flying in to water themselves on the edge of the Uaso Nyiro River after dusk, while Elephant (Loxodonta africana) trumpeted in the distance.
|My bed next to the Uaso Nyiro river on the walk from Laikipia to Samburu. Bliss.|
I'm attempting to add my year list for 2014 (and this year) to the side bar, and when I've worked out how to do that I'll add my life list for good measure. So I'm not going to go through this incredible twelve months blow-by-blow. But I would like to highlight some of the really outstanding birds of the year for me.
Amongst the top five have to be two species I saw with the help of local birding guide Jonathan Baya in the strange Arabuko-Sokoke forest near Watamu on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya. I plan to write more about the extraordinary three days' birding he laid on for me, but for now let me mention the strange Sokoke Scops-owl (Otus ireneae) that he managed to track down for me with the help of a friend, and the even stranger Sokoke Pipit (Anthus sokokensis) - a bird masquerading as a mouse in its behaviour and about as easy to see. Neither of these birds is really stunning to look at, but they're both staggeringly rare on a global scale, so it's a real privilege to see them. And they're also - particularly the Pipit - pretty odd to boot.
|Jonathan Baya demonstrating both the tight habitat of - and the required stance when tracking - the Sokoke Scops-owl (Otus ireneae). There was a pair about 5 metres from our position.|
|Is it a bird? Is it a mouse? It's a Sokoke Pipit (Anthus sokokensis)|
|Golden-breasted Starling (Cosmopsarus regius) - not shy, and why would it be?|
|Northern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicus) with an Acacia twig doing a good impression of the barbed wire I saw it on|
|Balearic Shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus) - not a stunner, but a big surprise and my bird of the year 2014.|