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?


John B. said...

One option is to start listing non-avian flying organisms (butterflies, moths, dragonflies, etc.).

Anonymous said...

Easy solution. Keep a World list - rather than spend hundreds of dollars to see one rare ABA bird in Mexico - spend that same money and take a nice birding trip to Mexico. There are more than enough birds in the world to keep you on your toes.

Amy said...

Have you thought about county listing?

Nate said...

State lists. County Lists. Total Ticks. eBirding. Mix in the odd international trip (the neotropics would keep you busy for a lifetime) and you should be fine.

David said...

I'll second the last comment: I've been putting more effort into state lists, county lists, yard lists, etc. I don't have the time or money for a really good Big Year, but one of these days I will.

For me, an unapologetic lister as well, I've found that getting to know the birds in a certain area intimately is rewarding too. Trying to build up a state or county list will give you a whole new understanding of what's common and what's not, and starting the list over each year gives me a good appreciation of the incredible time pressures some of these birds are facing, and the ever changing seasonality of bird distribution.

And sometimes, I just need to stop and soak in the radiance of a Blackburnian Warbler, or enjoy the last hummingbird of the year, because it'll be a while before I see one again.

NickL said...

Great comments, all, thanks. I agree that stopping and smelling the roses (or Rose-breasted Grosbeaks) is a great idea.

Pat ODonnell said...

Mirroring the advice of others, delve into your local birds and challenge yourself with backyard, county, and state lists. While keeping busy with those, browse through field guides to far off places and plan trips to boost your world list. The possibilities are nearly endless!

Never underestimate the power of books. Looking at field guides got me into birding too and eventually brought me to birdy Costa Rica, my present country of residence.

Uncle Jas said...

Nick, good question. For me, also and unapologetic lister, it has been a combination of things:
1. state and county listing

2. state and county big days. I don't do them very often, but they never get old. I like how they require real knowledge of bird habitats and timing of movements.

3. studying and trying to get better, and appreciating chances to really study uncommon birds in the field. I'll never get tired of poring over a flock of shorebirds on a mudflat.

4. planning trips back to places like Arizona, Texas, California, and Florida to fill in some holes in the list, and savor some of my favorite birds and spots in those places. I love having a couple of nemesis birds in places I've birded a lot, as motivation for the next trip's itinerary.

5. dreaming about Alaska...

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