I get that a lot. Especially this time of year. Especially when I tell friends and family I’ll be outside much of the day, in whatever weather winter brings, often in areas where cell service is spotty, if it’s available at all. Especially when I tell them I’m counting birds and that I’ll be doing that from about 4 am until it gets too dark to see any more. It’s time for the sacred birding ritual of the annual Christmas Bird Counts.
Let me step back a moment. I am a bird-watcher. I love seeing birds, finding them, feeding them, watching their behavior, photographing them when I can. I keep a pair of binoculars next to the front and back windows of my house. I keep a compact pair in my car. Fair warning – a bird watcher is never not bird-watching. I once confused every driver around me on an Ohio two lane highway by opening my window in 30 degree weather and pointing frantically to a bald eagle flying across a farm field. I should have the bumper sticker “Will brake for eagles”. And short-eared owls (at shipping facility in eastern Kentucky). And zone-tailed hawks (at a rest-stop in south Texas). The art of bird ID at significant speed is something we pride ourselves on. That and staying in the lane.
Knowing what you’re seeing is important to a bird-watcher. At one time I had my favorite field guide sitting on the breakfast table and I read it every morning. Now I have an entire bookcase (What?! It’s a small one!) of field guides (and some are regional guides!), and several mobile apps for my phone (because – mobile! right?) When a new field guide comes out it’s a cause for both celebration and comparison. Being a book lover, too, gathering new material is double cause for me to celebrate. Most of the guides offer something unique. I know which guides I like to use for sparrows versus seabirds, and which ones I want in the field versus at home for reference. I have a battered copy of the Golden Guide to the Birds of North America that was my first field guide and the one that contains my life list. It stays home now because I cherish the record and the memories.
For the folks who just thought “A what list?” A life list is the record of all the species you’ve ever seen. It’s fun to get a new species and put the record in your list. My new species for the year was a Townsend’s Solitaire, a lovely thrush of the Northwest. Thrushes are woodland birds related to our familiar Robin. This particular bird was a young one, and it was trying to pick bugs off my camera lens hood while I sat in the blind laughing because this very shy bird was way too close to photograph.
So on Sunday, I will be out well before dawn, hauling all my gear and a tin of freshly-baked cookies. We’ll run the ridges for owls and then spend the day watching and listening for every bird we can find in some of my favorite places to find them. There is a network of hundreds of groups like ours who do this every year in one of the longest-running citizen science projects ever. The information is sent to coordinators at the National Audubon Society who compile it for all. I love the idea that something I do for fun can contribute to knowing more about bird populations nationwide.
What is it that makes you smile and gets you up before dawn in the freezing cold to run around all day? Go find some of that! You’ll be tired, but you’ll be happy. (And there might be cookies!)
Stay tuned for more on the Here’s a Quarter blog next week! As always, your thoughts and comments are always welcome – they are moderated (I know – adulting again), so they may take a little while to appear, but I read them all and appreciate that you were here. Thank you!