John Weigel

To: 'birding-aus' <>
Subject: John Weigel
From: Paul Dodd <>
Date: Fri, 20 May 2016 14:39:55 +0000
First of all I want to untangle the notion that someone that conducts a "Big
Year" is also a "Big Lister". The two are absolutely poles apart. Ruth and I
have conducted our own "Big Year" in Victoria, and whilst we do travel the
world, bird watching, we are as far from being big listers as most people
that I know.

A Big Year is all about seeing as many species as possible in a certain
geographic area within one calendar year. A Big List is about seeing as many
birds as possible in the world in a lifetime. A Big Year is about
challenging oneself and other Big Year participants (past and present) - it
is, in essence, a competition. A Big Lister, on the other hand, has the
luxury of time, and is generally not competing with anyone, past or present.

Big Listers, as a rule, use guides. Big Year participants, as a rule do not.
In fact, when Ruth and I did our Big Year in Victoria, we used a guide only
once, and that was Simon Starr who helped us see Plains Wanderer. As people
that travel all over the world, Ruth and I ALWAYS use local guides in the
countries we visit - not necessarily to identify the birds (we have done our
homework, after all) - for the sole purpose of managing the logistics, and
getting us to the right place.

People have questioned the "practicality" of Big Years. When Sean Dooley did
his Big Year, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that seeing 700 species in
Australia was impossible. Sean, of course, proved "them" wrong by seeing 704
species. When John Weigel did his Big Years, there was no doubt that Sean's
record was almost impossible to reach, JW proved everyone wrong by seeing
745 species. In his second year and second attempt, JW saw 770 species.
Surely this suggests that 800 species in Australia (and its territories) in
a calendar year is possible?

When Ruth and I conducted our Big Year, we only had one goal in mind - to
beat Tim Dolby's record, set the previous year, of 345 species seen in
Victoria. In actual fact, Ruth and I beat that number in June of 2010 (by
seeing Little Penguin at St Kilda). We ultimately went on to see 392 species
(IOC taxonomy) in Victoria, surely suggesting 400 species in this state is

Peter Shute mentions the problem of proof or verification. I suggest that
cheaters and frauds are soon found out. Ruth and I found several rare
species in Victoria in 2010, that would normally have people questioning
either our honesty or our ID skills - both were, in fact, questioned during
the year. Ultimately though, if you have integrity, it is hard to suggest or
prove that you were doing the wrong thing. For instance, we saw Spangled
Drongo in Victoria in 2010 (in actual fact, we saw this species twice in
Victoria in that year). We were challenged by one of the moderators of
Birdline Victoria (we obviously posted on that site), and our response was
simple - we actually used Birdline to indicate when and where rare species
were found and went to those locations to find the birds - the moderator
simply had not looked at the previous postings on their own site! We also
found Red-chested Button-quail in Victoria - normally an impossible species
to find in this state. I found the birds simply by looking for historical
records and going to those locations on the off-chance. One of the locations
looked like suitable habitat and we spent more than three hours quartering a
native-grassland paddock in 40 degree temperatures until we flushed a bird
and had a good-enough view to identify the species. Obviously our sighting
was met with a high degree of scepticism, but the following weekend a group
of birders attended the same site, and applying the same procedure,
identified the same species.

If asked about the number of kilometres travelled or other such questions,
to date I have declined to answer. I feel that by asking that question, the
asker is establishing a particular point-of-view. Instead, I argue that
despite the carbon footprint, a Big Year has a certain value - and the most
immediate value is that people genuinely want to hear about it - and I am
talking about non-birders here. In and of itself a Big Year, whether
state-based, country (or region)-based or worldwide is going to be of
interest. And by writing books or blogs, and by public presentations, people
are engaged in this activity we call "bird watching". My experience with a
Big Year is that in the end it certainly *does* become about the journey,
rather than the target - one becomes very fixated on the birds rather than
the number. By virtue of the fact that we needed to see certain birds, we
became far more interested in the available habitat - so we certainly
developed a deeper understanding of where to look for birds.

My experience with Big Listers is that they tend to be more private - Big
Listing is a personal activity, with personal goals, rather than being
public. This is neither right nor wrong, it is simply the way it is. Whether
Big Listers develop the same affinity for birds and habitat, or whether Big
Listers are fixated on just a number, I suggest depends on the birder. I am
absolutely certain that there are Big Listers that could care less about the
birds and are only interested in the "tick", and I am equally certain that
there are Big Listers that absolutely interested in the species and the

Ruth and I are NOT Big Listers - we are Big Year participants. I know of
nobody that is both a Big Lister and a Big Year participant. Since this
thread started with a discussion about John Weigel, I should point out that
I know John very well. John is definitely NOT a Big Lister - John is a Big
Year participant. John is also a person of the utmost personal integrity and
someone that I would not have any question should he say that he's seen a
Curlew Sandpiper in the lower 48.

Paul Dodd
Docklands, Victoria

<BR> Birding-Aus mailing list
<BR> To change settings or unsubscribe visit:

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU