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.