Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How Do Birders Handle High Lists?

Almost as soon after we returned from Arizona, my birding friend and I began plotting our next trip.  He had hit the 600 ABA mark on the trip (the Miller Canyon Spotted Owl), and he confessed to me early in our planning that there weren't a whole lot of places left for him to find a bunch of ABA lifers.  Almost no regular birds remain for him in the eastern U.S., and he's left with planning expensive trips to remote Alaska or guiltily wishing for a major hurricane.  He's 32.

Though I'm still 40 birds and 3 years behind him, I, too, am starting to feel the pressure.  The only regularly-occurring birds in my area are Connecticut Warbler, Long-eared Owl and Little Gull.  Where the world of ABA birds was not long ago something that felt larger than my reach and comprehension, it is now starting to feel like something precious.

I am and always have been an unapologetic lister.  The birding fire was sparked in me not by science (as so many other young birders) but by the promise of adventure and discovery I found inside a used Peterson Field Guide I browsed off a bookstore shelf.  For me, the study of birds and the acquisition of scientific knowledge has always been to serve my drive: to see as many different birds as I could. 

Some birders are ashamed of their listing, but as the engine that has driven my learning, my travel, my experience, my conservation and - really - my life, I am thankful for it.  Now, though, and too soon, I am facing the slowdown of listing.  There are fewer and fewer new birds left, and those are harder (and more expensive) to find. 

Of course, I am not - by the longest of longshots - saying that I have learned all I can learn from birding.  I have a lot to learn from the common birds around me and a long way to go before I would consider myself an "expert" birder.  Likewise, I still love birding even when I don't have lifers to find.  It's just that life birds are the things that keep me dreaming at night.

So, I'm looking for advice.  Obviously I am not the first lister faced with a dwindling pool of new birds.  How do birders cope with it?  Keep perfecting their birding?  Save up and spend on international trips?  Get into photography?

Does it work?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Aztec v. Inca Dove

There is a very interesting post from David Ringer on 10k Birds right now about the proposal from the famous Dr. Van Remsen to the American Ornithologists' Union's North American Classification Committee to change the common name of the Inca Dove to the Aztec Dove.  The bird's current name, Dr. Remsen argues, is the result of a mistake by the French ornithologist Rene Primevere Lesson, who mixed up the Aztec (who lived in Mexico where the dove is found) and the Incas (who live in South America, where the dove ain't found).

The resulting name of Inca Dove, then, according to Dr. Remsen, is "dumb," "meaningless," "misleading," "ignorant," and "only confirms to Latin Americans how ignorant most Americans are of anything beyond our borders."

I agree with Dr. Remsen to the extent that the name is dumb and meaningless, but I disagree in that I don't think bird names need to be smart and meaningful.  Second, even if we agree that the name should be changed from Inca Dove, I don't think Aztec Dove is the best one to choose.  I want to address just that second point now.

The internet says that the current range of the Inca Dove is approximately this:

According to the very same internet, the maximum range of the Aztec Empire was this:

So, while the Aztecs ranged over a relatively small area in what is now southern Mexico, the Inca Dove ranges over a much larger area, including all of Mexico, parts of the southern U.S., Guatemala and El Salvador.

Though it is certainly more accurate to call the bird an Aztec Dove than an Inca Dove, calling it an Aztec Dove seems no more accurate than naming it for any of the ancestral people who lived in Inca Dove range, such as the Zacateco, the Tepecanos, the Guachichiles, the Charrizo, the Concho or the Chiricahua.  The reasons given for choosing "Aztec" -- range overlap; it's what Dr. Lesson probably meant; Inca Doves may have been present in Aztec gardens; and, the complex patterns on the dove's back are reminiscent of Aztec art -- seem half-baked, especially when correcting the mistake apparently means proving to Latin Americans that Americans aren't ignorant of everything beyond our borders.

I don't know what a better name for the Inca Dove is, but if we are going to change the name of the Inca Dove to something more accurate and more culturally sensitive, I'd like to make sure we're actually being accurate and culturally sensitive. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Southeast Arizona 2012

I typically don't post trip reports, but Arizona was just too good not to.  My buddy Jake and I got over 170 species during the week, including many many lifers (he broke ABA 600 and I broke 550).  Instead of boring you with text, I'll just share some of the pictures I took. 

Northern Beardless-tyrannulet - Sycamore Canyon, AZ
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet

Common Poorwill - Ruby, AZ
Common Poorwill

Five-striped Sparrow - California Gulch, AZ
Five-striped Sparrow

Violet-crowned Hummingbird - Paton's feeders, Patagonia, AZ
Violet-crowned Hummingbird


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