Question: If you wanted to see as many North American bird species as possible, and you could visit just one county in the United States to do it, where would you go? Would you choose a county that shares a border with Mexico? These counties contain well-known North American bird “hotspots,” places that birders go to see birds they can’t see anywhere else, like the Lower Rio Grande Valley (Texas’s Brewster County), Big Bend National Park (Texas’s Cameron County), and the incredible Chiricahua Mountains (Arizona’s Cochise County). Maybe somewhere in South Florida, like Miami-Dade County, would be a good option – in addition to several resident specialties, many temperate-breeding birds winter there, and there are many introduced exotic species to be seen as well. On the other hand, perhaps a famous “migrant trap” like Cape May County, New Jersey would give you the best chance of amassing a big species list.
These are all worthy choices; there is great birding to be had in each of these counties (and many others). But there can only be one “America’s Birdiest County.” America’s Birdiest County (ABC) is a competition that’s been run annually since 2003. During the competition, teams of birders count every bird they can find in a single weekend, chosen by the county’s ABC organizers (typically in April or May, when locally-breeding birds have already arrived but non-resident migrants are still passing through). The county with the biggest species list wins! So, I’ll repeat the question posed at the beginning of this post: Where would you go? Where is America’s Birdiest County?
The answer may surprise you. For four years running, Los Angeles County has won the ABC competition, with more than 250 species observed each year. Most people think of Los Angeles as a sprawling sea of concrete, and to some extent that’s true. But there’s more to LA County than the City of Los Angeles. Angelenos often say things like “where else can you go surfing in the morning and skiing in the afternoon?” In other words, where else can you go birding at a coastal lagoon in the morning and a 10,000′ summit in the afternoon? LA County is exceptionally varied, and its birdlife reflects its ecological diversity.
The official 2010 ABC results won’t be announced until June, but LA County will undoubtedly be a strong contender. A whopping 271 species were seen by more than sixty birders scouring the county for 3 days in late April. This is the second-highest total in the history of ABC (the highest was 272, the LA County tally in 2007). The 2010 list included some impressive rarities, like Yellow-billed Loon, Sabine’s Gull, and Hooded Warbler.
To my Los Angeles readers: did you know that you live in one of the most bird-rich places in North America? Get outside this weekend and see some birds! And to the rest of my readers: you should go birding this weekend too. See if you can beat us