It’s a brand new year, and we’re celebrating with old traditions. Were you up late last night? Did you watch the Rose Parade this morning? Did you make resolutions? Did you decide what bird lists you’re going to keep this year?
Starting a new list, or setting a year goal, has a lot to recommend it. Birders are often passionate collectors. We’re no different from someone who collects stamps or teapots—we just collect birds, accumulating a life list. (And we don’t have to find space for our collection, or dust it.)
Getting a life bird is a big occasion. We cheer. We high-five one another. Some of us even do a little “lifer dance”! When you’re a new birder, every trip seems to result in spotting a new bird. But after we’ve been birding for a number of years, we find we miss the thrill a new bird brings—after all, we’ve already seen most of the easy to find species. What to do now?
Some birders travel to new places with new species. It’s like being a new birder all over again, except you already know how to focus your binoculars. Other birders (like me) turn to photography, always seeking a better picture of each species.
Some concentrate on getting to know their already-seen birds better. Can they identify it by ear? Can the bird’s age be determined? Which subspecies is it? Some work on identifying the really difficult groups, such as sparrows, immature gulls, or Empidonax flycatchers. And still others set new goals, such as how many species they can find in one year.
For some people, today is the first day of their Big Year. A couple of years ago, I had a friend fly all over North America, trying to see as many bird species as she could. With a final total of over 640 birds, she did well, although she didn’t come close to breaking the ABA record of 783 species that was set by John Weigel that year. (If you include Hawaii, which was added to the ABA region that year, Weigel’s total was 835!)
Not many of us can afford the last minute plane tickets needed to chase every rarity, but we can scale back and do a more local version. Colorado, where I live, now has over 500 species on its state list. How many can a person see in one year?
Then there are other year goals. You can pick a particular favorite birding hotspot, and keep track of how many species you see there. The naturalist at our local nature center kept a list for many years, and we all celebrated when the species count topped 300.
Last year some friends of mine, a retired couple who generously lead many of our field trips, decided to see how many birds they could find in each of Colorado’s 64 counties. They set an arbitrary target of 20 species per county, giving them an excellent excuse to go birding all over the state. They met their goal by early autumn, with big smiles and plenty of kudos and slaps on the back.
A lot of people simply keep year lists. My Facebook feed is full of friends posting their FOYs. That stands for First of Year. Putting that tag on a bird, even a very common bird, makes your sighting an occasion. House Finches are pretty humdrum, but your FOY House Finch is special. How about a FOY pigeon, or FOY yard bird?
Today is a day of new beginnings. What birds lists are you going to keep this year? Head outside and look around. See any birds? Today is the day to start.