Thursday, January 05, 2006

About this site

There are more than 10,000 species of birds in the world. You can see more than 800 of them right here in the United States. One of the better books I read last year was The Big Year. It's the story of three birders who all attempt to see as many of those 800 or so species as they can in the course of a year. As the writer Mark Obmascik explained it to the NewsHour:
[T]he Big Year is a contest with no referees and few rules. The idea is, who can see the most species of birds in North America in one year. So you can see them however you want. You can fly to see them, ride a bike to see them. In one case, they even took a helicopter to see them in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada.
Due to climate change and habitat destruction, The Big Year chronicled in Obmascik's book is likely to stand for the ages. Every year, there are fewer and fewer species to identify.

Now, I'm not going to try a big year--I haven't the time, money, knowledge, or even inclination. But it did get me thinking. What species have I seen that I might not see again? Do I even know? Migration patterns are changing rapidly and radically due to global warming. We're on a major flyway here in our little apartment. Our feeder--situated directly between two parks and on a flight path through the city--is a stopover for all kinds of birds on their way up the coast. What am I seeing that's unusual for my area?

I've been a casual birder since the late 1990s. My parents were both birders, and my grandmother is a birdus obsessivenious. Even at 92, when she can't remember where I live or what I do, she can still tell me which birds she's seen out her window today. I set feeders out myself, and love watching the hawks and crows that circle outside our apartment, or even the falcons that land on our roof. But I hesitate to call myself a birder.

I formally identified my first bird--that is too say I recorded it in the field guide my father gave me--at the bird sanctuary in Alameda, with my friend Heath on August 6, 1998. It was a Long-billed Curlew. Over the years I've added others to my guide. A Black-Shouldered Kite here; a Belted kingfisher there. Yet I've never been systematic about it. And if you were to glance at the back pages of my field guide and examine my species checklist, it would appear that I've never seen a Blue Jay or a Blackbird or even a common Cardinal.

Oh, but I have.

Nor am I very good with identification. Especially when it comes to raptors, which we have here in the Bay Area like most places have sparrows. Is that a Coopers or a Sharpshinned Hawk? Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, or what?

So this year, one of my two New Year's resolutions(A) is to identify and catalogue 100 species of birds. I don't care if I've seen it before or not. It can be a crow or a crake; it's all the same to me. I just want to try to nail down 100 of them and definitively check them off on my list before the year's over.

This year, I'll identify 100 birds.

I expect the first 30 or so should be pretty easy, and that after that it's going to get exponentially more difficult. Living by the water makes it easier, but at some point, I assume I'm going to have to begin to leave the city with the express purpose of seeing more birds. I'm going to start off with the easy ones that I see daily at our feeders, all of which I've observed today. Here goes nothing.

1. Anna's Hummingbird
2. House Finch
3. Mourning Dove
4. American Crow
5. Scrub Jay
6. Oregon Junco (sub-species of Black-Eyed Junco)
7. Black-capped Chickadee
8. American Robin
9. Rock Dove (Commonly known as a pigeon in urban areas)

(A) The other being to train for, compete in and complete a triathlon.


At 1:34 PM, mantid said...

Just as I was looking at this list, I looked out the window and saw an enormous bright blue bird... spent a couple minutes watching it and then looking it up, and realized it was a scrub jay, which is also on your list. Our backyard in Long Beach also has some of your others: the reddish house finches, Ana's as well as ruby-throated hummingbirds, doves, and some kind of sparrows. This is a great project, keep it up

At 3:47 PM, Justin Mason said...

on that subject; be sure to take a look at Look Around You's "Birds of Britain" for some classic 1970's BBC nature presentation style...

At 7:05 AM, John Callender said...

Black-capped chickadee? Are you sure about that? I'd be surprised if you saw one of those in the same location you saw an Anna's Hummingbird.

At 5:13 PM, mat said...

John -- no I was mistaken. I subsequently spotted one in Eufaula, though, and have not removed it from my list.


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