Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Counting the Birds

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How many kinds of birds can you name? Think about it for a moment.

What are the common birds near where you live? How much do you know about them? Where do they live, eat and sleep. Do they spend the entire year in your area, or do they migrate?

If you were to sit down and make a list of all the kinds of birds you saw today, how many would you count? If you were to really, really pay attention, how many birds might you identify?

What would the number be if you counted every single species of bird you saw in your home country in one calendar year? If you devoted every spare moment to chasing after birds?

In 2008, some bird enthusiasts in Alameda and also in Contra Costa County decided to answer that question. They banded together for what Serious Birders call a Big Year*. They made it their goal to see as many species of birds as possible.

Last night, I attended the celebration of that those two bird-spotting events.

I'm not much of a score-keeper. When I worked with Sheila, I played along with her deer-counting game. We each kept an index card in our car, and we tallied the number of deer we counted. I suspect I counted the same herd of fourteen over and over and over again. Sheila, being Sheila, made her game all the funnier, by tracking three categories: Live, Dead and Stuffed. I never figured out how to count the taxidermized deer. (Does a coat rack made out of four deer feet count a a whole deer, or part of a deer?)

While some people take great pleasure in racking up totals of things counted (birds, letterboxes), I prefer to enjoy the experience of seeing a bird (or finding a letterbox). I'm not particularly competitive, nor am I a "collector." I don't need another notch in my bedpost. (Plus, I suck at identifying small swift songbirds.**)

I do love watching what motivates other people, and I certainly enjoyed following the excitement of the people in my area who were having their Big Years***. Let's hear it for personal obsession, especially the kind that gets people out-of-doors, and interacting with the natural world!






* Two great books on this subject: The Big Year, and Kingbird Highway. (Read the Big Year first, and then follow up with Kingbird Highway.)



** I also fail when trying to identifying shorebird. And I'm terrible at gulls. I'm a pretty poor bird-identifier, all-around!



*** I will admit to having been a Big Year bottom-feeder. If the Serious Birders reported an interesting bird on the discussion forum, Robb and I kept an eye out for that bird. That's how we learned about many of the birds we saw in the past year.

6 comments:

knitica said...

As you know, it's hard for me to keep an accurate wildlife count as I'm pretty sure everything is a dog. Deer? Dog. Cow? Dog. Brown with more than 2 legs? Dog.

Minette said...

I really enjoyed "The Big Year" and just requested "Kingbird Highway" from the library. Thanks for the recommendation. Another birding book that I really enjoyed was "The Grail Bird." Check it out if you have time, but don't start it late at night or you'll be up all hours finishing it. Exciting!

Anonymous said...

I have gotten a birdfeeder with holes big enough to handle the sunflower seeds I have been growing. I gotta put it up soon, and as I have several overflowing plastic bags full of older seed unviable for planting (that the mice have gotten into as well- grrr...) the seeds are going to end up feeding all my cold birdie neighbors quite soon, like tomorrow.

Enjoy your warm weather, Annalisa

Anonymous said...

We have been fortunate to live in a number of states across the country, with their different bird populations. It is always exciting to add new species to one's life list, no matter how short the list! How many species or individual birds one sees seems less of a thrill to me.

On our first trip through the Panama Canal, I was totally absorbed in watching giant kingfishers burrow into the hillsides along the canal instead of watching the amazing engineering achievement through which we were sailing.
Grinch - who is a great fan of birdwatching, but isn't quite obsessed yet.

MO UR4Me said...

Today I practiced for the Great Backyard Bird Count (weekend of Feb. 14). I counted 58 individual birds from 13 species within about an hour.

Anonymous said...

While reading "Counting the Birds" Dad and I are glued to the television watching the TV coverage
on the airplane that landed, with over l50 passenger and crew, on the Hudson River at about 3:30 p.m.
The cause was a flock of geese that flew into the plane. Thankfully everyone is okay. Every day we feed birds, squirrels and rabbits - it is alot of fun as we watch them over breakfast.

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