January 27, 2015

The Birds And The Birds

A couple of years ago some co-workers of mine engaged in a Big Year challenge, which for bird-nerds like myself is the nerdiest, birdiest, bird-nerdiest thing a bird-nerd can engage in and OK, you don't care anymore. But I joined in, and for a year in which my daughter was born and my birding time fluttered out our drafty chimney, I tallied 122 species. Many days were squandered in a zombie-like state, and I probably wouldn't have been able to differentiate a black-backed woodpecker from a three-toed woodpecker even if a rep from each species was woodpecking right into my eye sockets.

I identified 133 species during the second year of keeping track, including three I'd never spotted before (brown creeper, long-eared owl and Nashville warbler). I also saw a harmless black-backed woodpecker, pecking a tree. Three dozen or so of these birds passed directly by my office window, merely requiring a crane of my neck and a subtle shift of my duff (a Harris' sparrow ambled onto my ledge and peered in one blustery spring afternoon – I opened my file and dutifully typed Harris' sparrow). I'm sure I've mentioned before that I work in a marsh – otherwise my annual list would consist of 1) pigeon, 2) house sparrow and 3) Toucan Sam.

These types of numbers wouldn't impress the hardcore, or even above-average birdwatcher. I'm no Claes-Göran Cederlund. I can't tell my thrushes apart, let alone my confusing fall warblers. And hawks? Empidonax flycatchers? Forget about it/them. But I'm keeping a log once more this year. It always starts off tremendously slow, when it's just us and the resident hard-asses and crazy-asses holding court until spring when the migrants return. I've listed 11 species this month, and that likely won't change until the snow and ice begin to ebb. A Northern hawk owl has been the lone standout so far, and that was actually pretty cool.

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