Archive for the ‘retrospective’ Category

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The Birding Year in Review

December 31, 2005

It’s the last day of 2005. What a great birding year I had – I learned a ton and spent more time than ever in the field actually birding. Imagine that! So what all happened?

By far, the most important aspect to my birding year was that I just had more time to do it. With the luxury of tiempo libre, I began to take birding more seriously than I ever had any previous year. Sure, I’d kept a life list and read bird books, but I never went out with anyone, attended functions with other birders, or even organized my efforts to look for new birds in any way. For various reasons I had done birding more as a personal therapy than as any contribution to the field at large. But with all the new-found time I had this year, I devoted much more to birds, and did it more socially and more academically even. I’ll explain what that means toward the end of this post.

This was a big year for listing. With the help of trips to Peru and Costa Rica, my Life List grew by 213 birds, by far my best Life year ever. It easily beat out my 2002 total (which included my first trip to Costa Rica) of 163. But what really made this year stand out was the number of new birds I saw right here in Colorado. 40 of my new lifers were seen in CO.

Back in April, I was inspired by Cole Wild to start a separate Colorado life list, my first state list. (This link is from my other blog, which I started long before FeatherWeather, and is now reserved for non-bird topics.) Already, it’s clear that the impetus for this kind of listing is from my increased social activity with other birders, through Audubon, etc. – I think that as long as it’s done in the spirit of increasing knowledge and fostering interest in conservation, it’s fine to compare lists and engage in the ‘sport’ of birding. For me this was a revolution in my approach. Oh, and the totals for 2005? 225 Colorado birds. Not quite the 350-400 achieved by Nick and Cole, but a good start, better than I expected early on.

I’ve even started other lists, which you can see here. One important development with my basic life list was to take the time to make a taxonomic version of it as well. In years past I was reluctant (and well, too lazy) to learn the orders and families of birds, but finally this year I came to understand the insight that can be gained from learning bird classification, in all its idiosyncrasies and controversies. After a couple months of family-name immersion, I felt like I’d really learned something substantial about birds – their origins. What a great way to feel closer to them.

Another inspiration I got from Cole was to buy a new SLR camera in early September, a Canon Digital Rebel XT. I’ve already posted several shots from it here on FW, and am very happy with the results so far. It makes for a nice complement to digiscoping, which can be quite difficult and hard to do alongside regular birding (at least with my current digiscoping setup). Bird photography as a whole really took off for me this year, and I’ve renewed my interest in expanding my ‘portfolio’. My goal isn’t so much to take publication-quality shots (although I try to take as many quality art-ful shots as I can), but just to document what I see and have a nice collection for the sake of remembrance. What’s really great is that I can now find enjoyment in going out birding even if I don’t see anything new or interesting, as long as I come away with a few new pictures. It makes every trip feel rewarding and worthwhile, and that’s always a Good Thing.

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Rara Avis, Oct 2005Peru in May was a great experience too. Even though that wasn’t specifically a birding trip, I picked up another 120 life birds there, 134 total. I did however make a birding-specific trip to Costa Rica in late September, my first such trip ever. I went for a week to Rara Avis, a private forest reserve on the Caribbean slope. For the trip I saw about 48 new life birds, 104 total, and increased my Costa Rica life list (another new listed started this year!) to 228, which yes, is still larger than my Colorado list.

More importantly though, that Costa Rica trip was a great chance for me to feel better about my abilities in birding tropical rainforests. The first couple times I’d ever done it proved frustrating to me, for it was very different from how I’d imagined. This time I went in with better preparation and expectations, and I found it much more rewarding and enjoyable. And by the way, anyone interested in the topic of Neotropical birds is encouraged to read Hilty’s Birds of Tropical America, which I discovered during my trip. It was so great to read something that validates all my experiences in tropical birding – his descriptions and experiences are just spot-on and quite informative.

Trips to Florida were fruitful. I visited my Dad 3 times this year, in February, October, and December. I was able to make excursions to the Everglades and the Keys, and saw a number of new birds on these trips. 20 of my lifers this year were seen in Florida.

I participated in my first-ever CBC, for Loveland, CO, on Jan 2. It was organized by my neighbor across the street Nick Komar, a well-known name in Colorado birding circles. (I have to mention that we had no idea in buying this house who our neighbors were – that one would be a big-time birder as well as a great guy was a fortunate occurence.) Through this experience I got an introduction to great birding locations in Larimer County and southern Fort Collins, with all its lakes and prairie. I also learned what it meant to do a ‘census’ of birds, which was something I’d never done before.

Mississippi Kite, Cottonwood Canyon CO, June 2005In late June I went on a crazy 36-hour trip to northeast and southeast CO with Nick, his son Nick Jr., and Cole, looking for a variety of migrants and other rarities. I got quite sleep-deprived, but I saw a lot of cool birds, including 9 lifers. One of them was this Mississippi Kite, digiscoped at left. That trip served as the inspiration for another shorter one I did in mid-September on my own to Prewitt Reservoir, to look for the Curlew Sandpiper (which I did see). That trip was another first – it was the first time I’d gone on a trip on my own to look for a recently reported rare bird.

Now, to the academic approach. In June I did a 4-day course with the Rocky Mountain Nature Association, on Rocky Mountain birds, led by Dr. Richard Beidleman. In November I took a 2-day class offered by the RMRP on raptors, taught by Program Director Judy Scherpelz. That was also excellent, and will be a class worth repeating in the future. Having these occasional seminars which take a somewhat more formal tack toward bird-learning was a nice addendum to all the self-learning that I usually do.

Speaking of self-learning, I’ve recently been reading Gill’s Ornithology, a common intro-level ornithology textbook that I checked out from the CSU library. Reading a textbook on birds – now that’s something I wouldn’t have done just a year ago. It epitomizes the way my interest in birds seems to be heightening (or in Cindy’s opinion, careening out of control). To me though, it’s all good.

And wouldn’t you know, just as I wrap up this post, I can hear a Townsend’s Solitaire outside our family room, my first (yard) one of this winter season. What a wonderful and welcome bird. I already am very excited about 2006, about the birds I’ll see, and the things I’ll learn about them. Isn’t that what this is all about?

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