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eBirding the World Big Year – August Update

By Team eBird September 15, 2015

Red-and-yellow Barbets on a termite mound in Kenya

In 2015, Noah Strycker is attempting to become the first person to see 5000 species of birds—about half of the avian species on Earth—in one calendar year! Noah is now more than two-thirds through 365 straight days of birding around the globe, with an itinerary covering 34 countries and all seven continents, on one continuous, all-out, global birding trip. To date he has covered Antarctica, South and Central America, Europe, and Africa, tallying a fantastic 4267 species – more than 80% of the way to his goal, and just a handful of species away from the all-time record. Noah is using eBird to keep track of his sightings and to help strategize during his quest, as well as to connect with many other birders as he travels. You can see his daily blog accounts on Birding Without Borders. He has been kind enough to write up a summary of his travels for us each month – you can find his notes from August here!

I spent most of August in Madagascar, Kenya, and Tanzania, and arrived in Uganda at the end of the month. In August I submitted 131 eBird checklists and saw 698 species of birds, 316 of which were new for the year, bringing my cumulative 2015 total to 4111.

Noah's view of a Shoebill at Mabamba Swamp, Uganda

Noah’s view of a Shoebill at Mabamba Swamp, Uganda

This month, in East Africa, I ran up against a wall. All year, I’ve been flirting with the asymptotes of various species accumulation curves, dancing with those invisible lines, getting closer and closer, then leaving town while they’re still at arm’s length. This love-‘em-and-leave-‘em strategy works perfectly for a world big year: Ideally, you stick around just long enough to high-grade the easy stuff. When you find yourself working hard for one bird, it’s time to move on.

I finally got a little too close in Tanzania during the second half of August. Having already visited similar habitats in Kenya, there just weren’t enough easy birds left to maintain the pace I’ve set so far this year, and my per-day averages dropped. I loved East Africa a little too much, as it turned out, and ended August with the fewest number of new birds added in any month so far.

Noah's view of A Van Dam's Vanga, a super-endangered Madagascar endemic, at Ankarafantsika National Park.

Noah’s view of A Van Dam’s Vanga, a super-endangered Madagascar endemic, at Ankarafantsika National Park.

Strategy aside, it was an incredible month! I saw a lot of amazing things in August, from the unique lemurs of Madagascar to the lions, leopards, and cheetahs of the Serengeti. In Africa, big animals often distract your attention; it’s hard to tire of zebras, giraffes, elephants, and buffalo. The birding is amazing, too: It’s impossible to pick, but my top five birds of August may have been the Van Dam’s Vanga, Madagascar Fish-Eagle, Red-and-yellow Barbet, African Broadbill, and Shoebill.

A Madagascar Fish-Eagle perches at Ankarafantsika National Park.

A Madagascar Fish-Eagle perches at Ankarafantsika National Park.

Of course, I am keeping track of all of my sightings this year on eBird, and I use the eBird Mobile app on my phone in the field. This makes the list-keeping part of this project very simple. Instead of sitting down at the end of each day and thinking, “OK, what did we see?” I have the lists ready and, with a touch, they are uploaded to eBird. (I usually wait until the end of each day to upload the lists, because changes are much easier to make before you upload them and I often don’t have cell service during the day). Initially, it took a few days for me to get up to speed, but using the app in the field is now second nature, and I don’t even think about it.

The pace will pick up again in September, with some big milestones coming up soon. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying my last weeks in Africa – two and a half months on this continent is really just enough to taste what’s here. Onward!

A Silvery-cheeked Hornbill chases a Crowned Hawk-Eagle in Tanzania's Usambara Mountains.

A Silvery-cheeked Hornbill chases a Crowned Hawk-Eagle in Tanzania’s Usambara Mountains.