Saturday, June 7, 2008

Almost a Milestone

Posted by Kirk

This blurry picture is a milestone. I'll explain why in a little bit.

I've been actively watching birds now for three years. I'm a naturalist so I've always had a general interest in birds but I've only taken a greater interst in the past few years. I was more of a plant guy in the past as they don't move. A few years back my co-worker Paul mentioned that he hadn't gotten his hundred birds yet. I asked him what we was talking about and he said that he had set a goal of trying to see 100 species of birds by June 1st each year. I thought it sounded hard but he encouraged me and said that if I stopped to count I was probably half way there already. I started to count up the birds I had seen that year and sure enough I had seen a bunch. By the end of 2004 I had seen 85 birds without really even looking.

The next year, 2005, I was hooked and thought this thing counting thing was fun. I ended up with 109 birds for the year. Most people ignore common birds because they are so, well , common! Starting fresh at a count of ZERO each year means that there are hundreds of birds to get all excited about again. I have a reason to be excited to see a crow or a rock pigeon. I think as a naturalist it helps me as well as I am more in tune with the phenology of the world around me and I pay closer attention to changes in not just species but also to weather patterns. After all, a good strong wind out of the south can either bring in new migrants, help them leave or just encourage them fly right on by and not even stop.

The third year, 2006, I finished out with 126 birds thanks to a trips to Arizona, Washington State and Norway. In Washington I saw a pelagic cormorant, a tufted puffin, clarks nutcracker, an American dipper and more. Norway brought European Magpies, great crested grebes, graylag geese, grey herons, carrion crows, european robins, pied wagtails, and, of course, great tits. Yes, I'm talking about the birds.

The fourth year I ended up with count of 143 helped by one of the volunteers Jane Wicklund who frequents the nature center. She's a snow bird who heads down to Arizona each year and we met up at that famous Arizona bird hot spot Boyce Thompson Arboretum where we saw 22 new species before lunch. I got to see a vermillion flycatcher, a bell's vireo, inca dove, and a handfull of other birds I'd never seen in my life. I also led the fossil hunt out in North Dakota where I picked up a western meadowlark, swainson hawk, lark bunting and lazuli bunting.

This year is different. With the arrival of my son, there are no trips out of Minnesota planned and birding time is mostly restricted to hikes at work. I'm happy with my progress though. Halfway through the year I have 126 birds and plenty of time to find more. A few weeks back I saw a Cape May Warbler which was a lifer for me, i.e. a bird I had never seen before in my life. Now I haven't keet a life list in the past, I just started counting birds a few years back since it was a fun way to learn birds and look forward to seeing them. The Cape May Warbler made me wonder though. What would my life list number be? I had also just finished reading The Big Year in which people compete for how many birds they can see in North America in one year. Nevermind life lists, these guys year lists are more than I will probably ever see in my life. I decided to total mine up.

I copy and pasted all of my blog entries for birds into an spreadsheet and then and removed doubles. To my surprise I was only 6 lifer birds away from the milestone of 200! That's a far cry from my first year of seeing only 85 birds total. A couple of days later I saw a Wilson's warbler bringing me closer and then there was an incredible day with three lifers, Blackpoll, Blackburnian and Canada Warblers bringing me to 198.

Today while getting ready to leave work I called my wife Chelsey on the phone to let her know I was coming home and I saw a bird fly by my office window. From the behavior, flying out from a perch and returning, I could tell it was a flycatcher. I peered out the window with my binoculars and was greeted by the sight of a large flycatcher and I wasn't sure what it was. It had distinctive markings though. I looked in my trusty Sibley guide and sure enough, the flycatcher with the dark vest and light breast is the Olive-sided flycatcher. The blurry photo at the beginning of the post was taken at an odd angle through a window with a screen. Of course it is a blurry photo but not only is it bird 126 of the year but more importantly, I'd never seen one before. That's bird 199 on my life list.

One more to go!