Anyone who read the book “The Big Year” has dreamed of doing a big year in North America. From Asian rarities on Attu, to the dumps of Brownsville, Texas who wouldn’t want to see 700+ different species of birds in a calendar year?
Sadly most of us don’t have the resources to a) not work and b) pay for all those plane tickets to various parts of North America. So many people do big years in their own states. However I think they are a waste of time.
Yes you get to see different parts of your state you normally never would have seen. Yes you get to see some really good birds you normally never would have seen and usually one or two once-in-a-lifetime birds. But whats the cost? Sure it costs money for gas and food, but I think the bigger cost is that you are neglecting your local spots.
Most big year birders have no trouble finding regular breeders, winter visitors and migrants, but very few of them actually find a rare bird. By mid-Summer most big year people are racking up the miles chasing one rare bird after another. They spend so much time chasing other peoples birds, that there is no time to find their own, locally. If I had my choice I would much rather find a bird locally and make everyone else try and find my bird, rather than me going off (usually in vain, I’m bad luck) to find their bird. I have and will continue to do both, but if given the option of staying local or driving a hundred miles? I’ll stay local.
Not that Big Years are all bad. Doing a big year in a region or even a single county can be very productive and the birds you find mean generally more than if you joined a mob to look at a bird at say Jamaica Bay. By doing local big years, you tend to go slower and cover more area and when you do find something interesting, its generally more significant. The birds mean more in your backyard than they do in far off places.
Now if your backyard happens to be Jamaica Bay, well your lucky. But if not be content with the birds in your backyard, remember this is a hobby not a contest. You get nothing for seeing 300 species in a year. Can it be satisfying? Sure. But so can a lot of other things.
Before doing a big year, think about all the hours you will drive to chase a single bird. Then think about spending those same hours actually birding someplace local. Which would you prefer?