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Top Birds of 2003
For British Birders, it was probably Black Lark © Nigel Blake - click here for UK Stop Press Gallery
For North American birders, perhaps the Texas Golden-crowned Warbler © Peter Weber - click here for N American Stop Press Gallery
For World Listers, it's hard to beat a Spoon-billed Sandpiper © János Oláh Jr. - click here for World Gallery

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Top Year Listers of 2003

The results are in. Here are a selection of 2003's top year listers in a variety of the most competitive categories. These totals have not been vetted. So take them for what they are, which is just a bit of fun. In the World Year listing category, last year's total of 2261 set by South African Ian Sinclair was beaten this year by fellow countryman Jonathan Rossouw with 2714. Work on a field guide got in the way of Ian's progress in '03.

On a related front, the World Life listing total of approximately 8400 set by the late Phoebe Snetsinger has Spaniard Tom Gullick, US Peter Kaestner and Brit John Hornbuckle hot on its heels. If you keep a life or year list for your country, state or even your local patch, why not enter your totals in to the rankings.

2003 World Year List Title

No. 1 Jonathan Rossouw (Total 2714) - South Africa

I am 35 years of age, a South African born and bred, and I'm currently in the highly enjoyable and very privileged position of being a director and guide for a US-based ecotourism company (Eco-Expeditions) that runs wildlife-orientated tours around the world. Although they are not dedicated birding tours, concentrating rather on 'charismatic megafauna', we never neglect the birds and usually end with fairly respectable bird tallies (700+ species on our Cape to Casablanca trip in February 2003). Last year's 'work'-related trips included tours of (in chronological order) Madagascar, Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Sao Tome & Principe, Central African Republic, Ghana, Mali, Morocco, Seychelles, Peninsula Malaysia, Malaysian Borneo, Mongolia, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. So about 2000 of the species I saw last year were 'at the office', so to speak!

The balance of my year's tally came from dedicated private birding trips to Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, with 'scouting trips' for future tours to Cameroon (for my own South Africa-based birding tour company, Rockjumper Birding Tours) and Guyana (for Eco-Expeditions) adding a few hundred each.

Although my year's top birding came on the Thai trip (who could ever dispute the top spot being snatched by a pair of Gurney's Pittas, together in the same bins view, at point blank range, with prolonged views of Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo a close second), it was closely followed by the Cameroon trip in April, in which my business partner in RBT, Adam Riley, and two of our guides, David Hoddinott and Erik Forsyth, blazed the country in a little over 2 weeks, ending with a tally of over 620 species that included such Afro-tropical stonkers as Red-headed Picathartes, Quail-Plover, Golden Nightjar, Forest Francolin, Lyre-tailed Nightjar, Mt Kupe Bush-shrike etc.

My 2004 year list started with quality, rather than quantity, with trips to the Falklands, South Georgia, the Antarctic Peninsula and southern Patagonia, accelerated with a recent trip up the Great Rift Valley (SA, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia), and should pass the 1000 mark in the next couple of weeks in India. I plan to post my tally at the end of every month, and will watch my mate Ian Campbell in Ecuador with interest!

Jonathan Rossouw

No. 2 Iain Campbell (Total 2041) - Australia

So you want to see a lot of birds in a year. Join a bird tour company (Tropical Birding); you may lead a life of poverty but you will not be bored in an office staring at bird calendars when you should be doing your monthly report.

The year started in a fairly normal routine with birding around the western slope of the Ecuadorian Andes, the Tumbesian and the Amazon. The highlights were Jocotoco Antpitta and Barred Antthrush.

Things really started heating up in the middle of the year when I headed for meetings in the US and linked it with an intense day birding courtesy of the Mass Audubon mob.

I did a stint of birding in my old stamping ground of Australia with a week in Darwin, and then leading a two week tour in the east with a large group of manic Taiwanese. Finishing in Oz, I had a day off before I started a Borneo trip, where I had my lifer Giant Pitta and Bornean Bristlehead with thirty seconds of each other.

I blew it at the British Bird Watching Fair where I forgot to go birding in the five days I was there, though I scammed a morning out around Luxor when I was on a dude Nile trip with my wife, Cristina.

Things were cruising towards the mid teens for the year when I had an invite to visit Nigeria to check the viability of an birding lodge in Okomo Forest. On this two week trip Nick Athanas and I not only filmed the Red-headed Picathartes and saw most of the Cameroon Highlands endemics in style, but nailed loads of other lowland forest and wet savanna species. I finished the year with Clare Moger, a 30 year old soon to be very high lister, cleaning up on tanager flocks in the foothill forests on the Loreto Road.

All in all, not bad, but I must try harder this year.

Iain Campbell

No. 3 Vaughan Ashby (Total 1906) - UK

2003 was another great year for me, beating my previous world year record set in 2002. As I have said before, I am in a very fortunate position running my own birdtour company (Birdfinders) and 2003 was an exceptional year for me leading tours to Goa, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Florida, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Isles of Scilly and Gambia and researching future tours to the UAE and Oman, Argentina and Antarctica. Additionally, I joined one of my Finland Owls tours (as it was a good vole year!) to add a few more species of owl to my world list.

My final world year list stood at 1906 (following a manual recount) and although I failed to reach the magical 2,000 I was certainly not disappointed!

It is extremely difficult to pick out highlights of the years' destinations but, the new tour to Sri Lanka achieved all of the endemics in an extremely high total, Kenya was superb with a total of 614 species of birds and 55 species of mammals seen and my research trip to Argentina and Antarctica yielded 6 species of penguins.

The best birds in 2003, again very difficult but they had to the owls. In Finland watching both Tengmalm's and Northern Hawk-owl at close range in daylight, in Kenya watching a pair of Greyish Eagle-owls at point-blank range and in the UAE photographing Striated Scops-owl only 3 metres away. Nightjars also featured quite highly with both Egyptian Nightjar in the UAE and Standard-winged Nightjar (male with full standards!) in Gambia being unbelievably co-operative photographically. It was also amazing watching the comical feeding action of Magellanic Plovers in Argentina. For the most sobering moment of 2003 however, it had to be watching a female Sociable Lapwing with two chicks in Kazakhstan and knowing how critically endangered they are and how they may become extinct in my lifetime.

Vaughan Ashby

No. 6 Ashley Banwell (Total 1732) - UK

2003 was a great year for birding for me. My first birding trip of the year was in March when I visited Argentina before embarking on the Atlantic Oddessey. The best birds in Argentina were 30+ Hooded Grebes although both Reedhaunters in the same afternoon was pretty good. A trip to Antarctica produced a fantastic selection of seabirds and penguins. 3 stunning adult Emperor Penguins standing on a floe will be a memory that will last with me forever and to hear them calling before they tobogganed into the water was a real treat. South Georgia Pipit, the southernmost passerine was expected but Gough Bunting and Gough Moorhen was real evidence of how well I had behaved. The bird of the day on 1st April was Inaccessible Island Rail and a dream come true for me, just to be there was something else.

South America provided me with the bulk of my birds for 2003. Guiding in Peru gave me the chance to see 970 species there during the year. White winged Guan and Orange throated Tanager were good year ticks and Scarlet-banded Barbet was reward for the tough hike needed to get into its habitat. A trip to Iquitos gave me 60 lifers but a heard only Rufous Potoo was a little frustrating. 2 trips to Brazil gave me such great rarities as Cherry-throated Tanagers and Brazilian Merganser and a total of 670 species were seen in Brazil in 2003.

Other highlights for me was a local Long-tailed Duck, a local patch tick. Citrine Wagtail, Hume's Warbler and American Golden Plover gave me 3 Norfolk ticks which for me were equally important as the international birding.

Ashley Banwell

No. 8 Ian Sinclair (Total 1510) - South Africa

Birding in 2003 was restricted to the Afrotropic (Sub-Saharan Africa) and Malagasy region due to pressures of finishing an Afrotropical field guide and having it published before September. All international birding was severely curtailed but trips around southern Africa, twice to Madagascar and a slog of Cameroon gave the total of 1510.

The most exciting for me was Cameroon where I caught up with some African Bogie birds......Swallow-tailed Kite, Little-green Bee-eater (last bee-eater for Africa), White-collared Starling (last starling for Africa) and a totally unexpected Golden Nightjar. This superb nightjar was probably Bird of the Year for all of us. Madagascar was as usual simply fabulous but with a private plane at our disposal we managed over 130 spp in a day with AM in rain forests and the PM in the Spiny Forest and coast. Pitta-like, Scaly, Rufous-headed and Long-tailed Ground-rollers on the same day!!!

Ian Sinclair

No. 10 Clare Moger (Total 1401) - UK

It didn't occur to me until the end of the year that I might have a decent enough total for 2003 to just make it into the Surfbirds Top 10, so I was pleasantly surprised when I counted up and found I'd seen 1,401 species.

I started 2003 half way through a three week Costa Rica trip, with post new year highlights including a very close Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, a gorgeous Yellow-billed Cotinga, Resplendant Quetzals, Buff-fronted Quail-Dove and Zeledonia. Then it was a few months of occasional weekend birding around Western Slovakia (where I'm currently living) and just over the border in Eastern Austria, before heading for the Malay Peninsula in April, where I got great views of a female Gurney's Pitta and a fleeting glimpse of a male, plus another five species of Pitta and a very cooperative Masked Finfoot.

My next trip, in August, was to Brazil, where I got a load more lifers, with highlights including Brazilian Merganser, Cryptic Forest-Falcon, Point-tailed Palmcreeper, Brasilia Tapaculo and Gould's Toucanet. After a few more months back at work with very little time for birding, I then ended the year on a very successful trip to Northern Ecuador, arranged by Tropical Birding, where Ocellated Tapaculo, Scaled Fruiteater, Tanager Finch, Beautiful Jay and Striped Manakin topped a very long list of incredible birds and rounded off a superb year's birding.

See the complete list of 2003 World Year Listers

2003 British Year List Title

No. 8 Steve Richards (Total 309 BOU 316 UK 400)

2003 was a rather lucrative birding year for me. The Notts Blyth's Pipit in early January was an excellent start. Febuary & March came & went with me mostly concentrating on mopping up many local birds, particularly in my home county of Staffs. National highlights included 3 rarities of which were all second records for me in the UK - Pallid Harrier, Lesser Whitefront, & Two-Barred Crossbill. On a more personal note, observing Hawfinch & Lesserpecker on the same branch at Clumber Park, Notts, certainly stood out in my note book. I'm sure many birders will agree, these two species can be rather tricky to get on the year list.

April saw the rather tradionnal fare of rarities, with 2 Red-Rumped Swallows, Purple Heron, Hoopoe & Spotted Sand all being recorded fairly close to home. An excellent passage of Ring Ouzels in Staffs was also pleasing. However, these were all completely outshined by the superb Taiga Flycatcher at Flamborough.

My year list was now well underway & May didn't fail to disappoint. Incredible views of Alpine Swift, displaying Buff-Breasted Sand, along with W-T Eagles & Corncrakes on Mull/Iona were all very welcome. Once again a 'mega' highlighted the month for me - Audouin's Gull. The adrenalin-pumping race down for this bird on a bank holiday monday will not be forgotten for a while.

June - All I have to say is Black Lark.

July saw three aesthetically-pleasing birds added to my list - Great Spotted Cuckoo, Black-Headed Bunting & Lesser Sandplover. Whilst August produced three rather more 'educational' highlights - Least Sand, Wilson's Petrel& Eastern Olivaceous Warbler.

Autumn was highlighted by the Scilly Grey-Cheeked Thrush, but a number of other pleasing species were logged including Red-Eyed Vireo, Pied & Desert Wheatears, Hume's & Dusky Warblers & Rustic Bunting.

With 300 BOU species recorded for the year by the end of November, I thought local birding would subsequently predominate. However, news breaking of a Rufous Turtle Dove saw birding friend Jon Taylor & I make the long journey north. We were thrilled to connect with this bird after not going for the Orkney individual the year before. December also saw one of the best ornithological weekends for me for a long time - Baltimore Oriole on Saturday. Then, American Robin, Lesserlegs, Green-Winged Teal, American Wigeon, Surf Scoter, Glossy Ibis & Spoonbill on the Sunday. What an end to the year!!

I thoroughly enjoyed the year & met loads of friendly birders. Lets all hope for some more unexpected rarities in 2004!

No. 9 Darren Ward (Total 303 BOU 310 UK 400)

300 in 2003 - The last 2 years I had achieved 293 & 298. Full time employment does hamper a year list, but finally after over 100 visits into the field, Scilly, but no Highland stuff, I finally reached the target with a new bird; Olive-backed Pipit @ Spurn Point in November.

2 particularly frustrating days for new birds included a long, long wait for the Little Bittern @ Dungeness, virtually all day! Also waiting for the Caspian Tern to show in Northamptonshire (finally @ 13:10) the same morning a Great Spotted Cuckoo was found in the county @ Spurn, but secured both on the same day.

Quality lifers during the year included Blyth’s Pipit 1st January followed by Taiga Flycatcher, Black Lark, Western Bonelli’s Warbler (400th UK400 British Tick -Thanks LGRE), Grey-cheeked Thrush & Baltimore Oriole et al. We decided 31st Dec to travel for the long staying American Robin in Cornwall I couldn’t resist another lifer on the 1st Jan………

Year-end totals were 303 BOU & 310 UK400, with 19 new birds to boot!

Photo taken on Gugh – Scilly October 2003 by Gareth Metcalf.

Darren Ward

No. 10 Jason Blackwell (Total 302)

2003 was a cracking year for me, Lifers started with the Lesser White-fronted Goose at Slimbridge and finished with the American Robin at Godrevy. Highlights had to be the Black Lark - I was with friends on the Hebrides looking for Corncrakes when the news broke and a frantic overnight drive south resulted in us being there for dawn on the Monday, the fantastic American "Double-header" of Baltimore Oriole and American Robin on the same day in December and being on Tresco when the Grey-cheeked Thrush was found - we enjoyed it with half a dozen or so birders before the first boats arrived to disgorge all the off Island birders - we walked back past them with big Cheshire-cat grins on our faces - sheer bliss!!!

Can I do it again in 2004..well the wife's patience is starting to wear a bit thin..

Jason Blackwell

See the complete list of 2003 British Year Listers

2003 ABA Area Year List Title

No. 4 Mike Schwitters (Total 518)

My birding in 2003 was mostly targeted at filling holes in my life's list of North American birds. A driving trip from Montana to Texas and return through Arizona in April added Gunnison Sage Grouse, Blue Mockingbird, Golden-winged Warbler, Flame-colored Tanager and Hermit Warbler to the life's list. Pelagic tours out of North Carolina provided Gulf Stream lifers. A two+ week volunteer session for Audubon in the Gulf of Maine added Atlantic Puffin and Razorbill. A stop over in Michigan enroute to Maine added Kirtland's Warbler. An early fall auto tour to Arizona and southern California brought long sought views of Yellow-footed Gull, Island Scrub Jay, Red-billed Tropicbirds, other Pacific pelagic species, Elegant Tern and Spotted Dove.

When the non-life birds from these birding trips and from a month of volunteer work in Nebraska in February and March and a week of work for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture on St. George Island AK and local Montana birding were totalled, the year's list had reached 518. My life's ABA Area list reached 747. A truly big year for me.

No. 5 Brandon Percival (Total 488) No.4 Lower 48

Brandon Percival is from Pueblo West, Colorado.

I ended up with 488 species in the ABA Area, Lower 48, and United States in 2003. As usual for me, most of the birds I saw were in my home state of Colorado (346 species--71% of the species I saw). The other 142 species were seen in New Mexico (234 total species), California (205), Florida (175), Texas (161), Oklahoma (96), and Kansas (93). My favorite birding experience in 2003, was to bird Florida (in April) for the first time (especially going to the Dry Tortugas). This was my first trip to the east coast. Some of the more exciting birds for me in 2003 were:

Masked and Brown Booby, Greater Flamingo (at Flamingo, FL), Swallow-tailed and Snail Kites, Red Phalarope (3 of them in Colorado), Kelp Gull (Colorado), hundreds of Roseate Terns at the Dry Tortugas, Arctic Tern (Colorado), Brown and Black Noddy, Smooth-billed Ani, La Sagra's Flycatcher, Colima Warblers (at Big Bend, TX), Lucy's Warbler (Colorado), and Shiny Cowbird.

No. 9 Chris Charlesworth (Total 432)

2003 was a year full of exciting birding for me. I managed to get about 35 lifers on my first trip to California, including Ruddy Ground-Dove, Yellow-billed Magpies and all of the other California specialties. An April trip to Texas provided many eastern birds for my year list as well as 5 lifers (Avocet Tours). A week in NE BC also added many northern species to my list. Most of my birding time was spent around my home in the Okanagan Valley. Birding is always excellent in the Okangan, a lush valley in southern British Columbia.

Some highlights from my Okanagan birding include watching the resident Gyrfalcon chase pigeons, having wonderful looks at Boreal Owl in April, and recording the resident Great-tailed Grackle in Kelowna. All in all a great year, and I never made much of an effort to get a big list.

See the complete list of 2003 ABA Year Listers

2003 Lower 48 Year List Title

No. 7 Sean Fitzgerald, Wisconsin (Total 364) and No.10 State Year List for Wisconsin (306)

I did a Wisconsin Big Year in 2003 attempting to break the magical 300 number. I saw my 300th Wisconsin year bird, a Sabine's Gull, in late September on Lake Superior's southern shore at Wisconsin Point (probably one of the Midwest's most underbirded migrant traps).

My final year bird was a Pine Grosbeak in northern Wisconsin in mid-December (#306), a fine culmination to an awesome year. Trips to Texas and North Carolina during peak migration periods resulted in me missing some "easy" birds for the year including Marbled Godwit, and I was never able to find Gray Partridge, Sharp-tailed Grouse, or a Snowy Owl for the year either (all getable birds if enough time and effort is spent). For some of my own pictures of the year see: http://community.webshots.com/user/sfitzgerald86

Sean Fitzgerald - Age 17
Burlington, Wisconsin

Sean Fitzgerald

See the complete list of 2003 Lower 48 Year Listers

2003 State Year List Title

No. 6 Mark Gray, Texas (Total 344)

My work in the field allowed me to get out and bird, considering I was doing point counts all over the state of Texas. A lucky stop in High Island on the way home form a trip to LA yielded 21 warblers and several birds that I wouldn't have seen this year.

Highlight for the Year 2003 is without a doubt a Yellow-nosed Albatross seen on a pelagic trip out of South Padre Island. It was also the first time I have been in the Gulf of Mexico without getting sick!!!!

Mark Gray

No. 11 Joshua Uffman, Missouri (Total 303)

300 life birds for the state of Missouri is a great achievement in itself, so when I decided to try for 300 in a year I knew it would not be an easy goal to achieve. To be honest, I started the year only targeting 280 species of birds. This was a reasonable goal, one that would beat all my previous annual totals and one that would still require me to become acquainted with some new birding territory. However, having seen Snowy Owl, Golden Eagle and 5 rare species of gull by mid March, I began to think that 300 annual species in Missouri might be possible. With the help of a great Missouri birding community, I was able to reach that goal on November 28, when a good friend of mine shouted, "California Gull," species number 300 for 2003. The last bird of the year was observed on December 28, number 303, perched on the ground in western Missouri ---a beautiful Prairie Falcon and one that will not be forgotten. Joshua Uffman

See the complete list of 2003 State Year Listers

2003 British County Year List Title

No. 1 James Brown (Total 257) - Suffolk

I managed to see a total of 257 species in Suffolk during the year, just 3 species short of the Suffolk record set by Justin Zantboer in 2001. Highlights of the year were 2 Suffolk firsts- Hume's Warbler and American Golden Plover. Best find was a Great Snipe at Covehithe (remarkably on the same date as one I found at Corton in the previous year). Worst misses included Wood Warbler (despite 3 twitches for them to Landguard from Lowestoft!), Long-tailed Duck and Shorelark.

I managed a few Suffolk ticks including Red-rumped Swallow. My local patch of Lowestoft had an excellent year with 2 Sabines Gulls, Radde's Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Red-crested Pochard, 2 Richards Pipits, 4 Pallas's and 14 Yellow-browed Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatcher, 2 real Siberian Chiffchaffs, Cory's Shearwater and many Leach's Petrels. As for the record, there's always next year.

James Brown

No. 2 Gary White (Total 254) - Norfolk

The year started off with a great 1st January seeing 103 species in one day of which a great highlight which was the Warham Greens Pallid Harrier. The rest of the winter I did see American Wigeon, Rough-legged Buzzard and Ferruginous Duck. But the best part of the winter is watching the Cranes roost at Hickling with Marsh Harriers, Hen Harriers and Merlin.

Spring came and brought out the Sardinian Warbler at Holme. Many other migrants turned up with a few lifers that were the Bonaparte’s Gull at Hickling and the Marsh Warbler and Citrine Wagtail at Kelling and a later arrival of the Lesser Grey Shrike at Acle.

But the best birds are always the ones that you find yourself and with Bee-eater at Salthouse, Purple Heron at Waxham and a Red-footed Falcon it wasn’t a bad find year. Other highlights were the Tawny Pipit at Winterton and the White-rumped Sandpiper at Cley.

My lowlight of the year was at the May Day Bank Holiday weekend when staying at my Girlfriend's in Bacton, my dad was looking at a Red Kite in Gimingham. So I left Bacton and as I drove past Paston church not to my knowledge the Alpine Swift had flown over at that exact same minute. I did see the Red Kite so I went back to Bacton and it happened again at that same minute driving past Paston Church not to my knowledge a Black Kite flew over. I did end up seeing the Alpine Swift at Minsmere but not the Black Kite that was two unlucky dipped birds for Norfolk.

Summer came and went, Hot! Then it was autumn three more lifers Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler at Trimingham, Booted Warbler at West Runton and the very hard to see Little Bunting at Walsey Hills.

Other good migrants were Desert and Pied Wheatear, Olive-backed Pipit, Rose-coloured Starling, three Red-breasted Flycatchers, Pectoral Sandpiper, Dotterel and American Golden Plover.

Although I had a good year it could have been better as I didn’t see the Great White Egret, Short-toed Lark, Ortolan Bunting, Little Auk, Cory’s Shearwater and Mandarin Duck.

I would like to thank my boss at Aston Berry Accounts for allowing me to leave early and have extended lunches which allowed me to get the total which I achieved. Hopefully this year will be better.

Gary White

Equal. 10 James Wright (Total 217) - Suffolk

2003 contained many highlights for me, with the meteoric rise of local Lowestoft rock band The Darkness and a new album of industrial power from Marilyn Manson (whose not as local!), and of course there was my Suffolk yearlist as well!

2003 was the second year I have tried county listing. I am myself relatively new to mainstream 'cut and thrust' birding and as I don't drive or own a pager (yet), I did not in list with a 'must twitch everything ' mentality instead only going out with my dad almost every Sunday plus a few other weekdays when possible. I only twitched things when I could and ended up missing a few things that turned up such as most of the Landguard birds like the Ortolan Bunting and Marsh Warbler. The highlights I saw had to be the Sabine's Gull in Lowestoft Harbour and the excellent autumn seeing both of Suffolk's first 2 Hume's Warblers, finding the Greenish Warbler on my local patch at Gunton, a showy Radde's Warbler, more Yellow-browed and Pallas's Warblers than I can remember as well as other personal favourites being the majestic Alpine Swift and the handsome Woodchat Shrike both at Minsmere. I ended up with 217 BOU species, which beat my 2002 total of 211.

The only person I really compete with is myself, trying to better my previous year's tally. I would like to thank my local birding friends in Lowestoft especially James Brown who kept me updated with latest news and gave me lifts here and there.

See the complete list of 2003 British County and Local Patch Year Listers