Birding Big Year 2016

January 1, 2017

300: Birding Big Year Lessons

Filed under: Uncategorized — wfkeck @ 6:09 pm

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Last year (no…wait), the year before that (December 2015) I set a goal to see 300 species of birds in 2016. That was 50 more than my goal in 2014, and 75 more than 2012. I knew that if I were to reach it, I would need to travel extensively, and indeed I did.  I didn’t keep a close count of mileage, but conservatively, I estimate over 10,000.  Birding took me to 14 states this year, and to over 50 parks and wildlife refuges. I had the privilege of birding with over 75 “serious” birders, and dozens of birdwatchers (you know who you are).  I’ve enjoyed talking birds with friends that wouldn’t know a red bird from a Northern Cardinal as well as birders that would debate a Hammond’s from a Dusky until the cowbirds came home.

It’s been a good year.  I added 13 lifers to an already respectable list, ending the year at 472 (literally getting life bird Crissal Thrasher with only hours to spare). There were many epic memories and quiet moments of reflection, praising the Master Birder who guided me on this journey. Some of the most inspirational places include Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Aransas NWR, Black Mesa (Oklahoma Panhandle), and Canyonlands National Park. Some of the most enjoyable birding locales included Henderson Bird Viewing Area – outside Las Vegas, High Island, Texas – home of the “fall out” and Portal, AZ – best pancakes and coffee in the middle of nowhere.

For me, birding is about absorbing the environment, paying full attention to the detail of habitat, color, movement, realizing that our fate is the same as birds, and recognizing the creator of us both. Who is to say that I know Him better than a Raven? Accumulating species is not the “be-all-to-end-all” of this pursuit. What is birding really…without birders?  I’ve met some good friends along the way, while traveling with old ones. Birds can’t share memories, like the time Russell and I discussed deep theology and cryonics while chasing Couch’s Kingbird in Santa Anna NWR, or sharing wacky political views with Bob and John at minus seven degrees during the Christmas Bird Count. And then there were the nights camping in the desert, nursing a beer, talking for hours, solving the world’s problems with Harry – business as usual for us.

My third Birding Big Year has ended, and I will take this year off…well, from setting goals and 5,000-mile junkets anyway. Birders never quit birding – it’s a way of life. I have learned a few lessons along the way, that I must remind myself now for 2018.

  • Wallace, you have 336 hours of accrued vacation – use more of it!
  • Tell your wife thank you a bit more often for tolerating your insanity
  • Go birding more with birders
  • drive less, bird more
  • don’t ever say, “I’ll get that one down the road later” – there is no tomorrow

About that goal of 300.  O boy, here comes the excuses.  You see, I would have hit 300 yesterday if I could have made one of those Canada Geese a Cackling Goose, one of those Eared Grebes a Horned, and… well, you get the idea.  I had a few 90%-sure sightings over the last 12 months, that left me packing up my gear at 295.  I used to be a Type A+ perfectionist; but lately I have surrendered to the wisdom of Solomon. “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge but time and chance happen to them all.”  I had a great time, and if I get the chance, I’m going for 325 in 2018! Thank you dear friends for cheering me on along the way.

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