Monday, March 22, 2010

Pondering My Life List

Monday, March 22, 2010
25 comments
Masked duck was one of my most recent life list additions.

I need some input from you, the readers of this blog. I just updated my life list and found that I now have 674 species on it, after recently adding masked duck in Florida and several pelagic species off the coast of California. While I've never been much of a lister—I sometimes go years without updating my life list—I DO enjoy the thrill and challenge of adding a new bird to it.
Adding a new species to your life list can be a task of Bunyanlike proportions.

This number, 674, puts me within reasonable striking distance of 700, which is a pretty decent milestone for which to shoot. I have some big holes on my list, too: Bohemian waxwing, gyrfalcon, greater prairie chicken, spruce grouse, short-tailed hawk, yellow-billed magpie, Bicknell's thrush, Smith's longspur, ivory gull, California condor, plus a bunch of pelagics, Hawaii's endemics, some birds in central Alaska, and a mix of semi-regular vagrants. Oh, and ivory-billed woodpecker, Bachman's warbler, Eskimo curlew, passenger pigeon, great auk, Labrador duck, and Carolina parakeet.

My question is this: Should I try to get to 700? Or should I merely wait for life to bring me these life birds? I have made attempts at several of the "hole" birds listed above, but I've rarely chased a vagrant merely to add it to my list. Most of my recent life birds have come as a result of being in the right place at the right time coincidentally in the course of my travels to birding festivals and such.
Celebrating life birds is awesome. In this case, we were celebrating a Swainson's warbler in West Virginia.

So what do you think? I must confess I am on the fence about it. Time and money are limiting factors, obviously. If I DO decide to try to get to 700, I'm going to need some help in finding out where these birds are.

Several years ago I finally added a nemesis bird to my life list when I saw a Connecticut warbler in Minnesota. I'd missed that bird at least a dozen times before. I think my next most annoying miss may be the Bohemian waxwing. So maybe that's where I should start, if this quest is to happen.

Your thoughts, my birding peeps?

25 comments:

On March 22, 2010 at 9:16 AM Snail said...

I think it would certainly make interesting reading!

On March 22, 2010 at 9:39 AM Richard said...

Chase as time and money allows. We all need to have attainable goals in our lives.

On March 22, 2010 at 11:16 AM OpposableChums said...

Why change what has worked so well, so naturally, and so pleasantly?

On March 22, 2010 at 11:55 AM corey said...

Go for it!

And if you can get to New York in June I can get you to a Bicknell's Thrush, provided you don't mind a pre-dawn hike up a mountain...

On March 22, 2010 at 12:28 PM Tarotmoon Press said...

I suggest you start in California - it is not hard to find a yellow-billed magpie on a quick afternoon's drive into the hills behind Santa Barbara. Also, California Condors can be seen in central California within a couple hours of LA. Have you gotten all the species and subspecies in the Catalina Islands yet (e.g., Island Scrub-Jay)? If not, a weekend camping trip offshore of Santa Barbara would also fill those in, and it's got fascinating geology and plant life to boot.

On March 22, 2010 at 3:23 PM JoeC said...

My wife and I don't chase birds, but more and more we make our birding trips to places we could possibly see new birds. This, for us, combines the excitement of looking for new birds with the more relaxed attitude of just exploring new places. I am interested that Gyrfalcon is on your list. We spent a recent weekend in Joseph, Oregon, one of our favorite places in the world, looking for this bird. It had been in the area all winter, and had been seen the weekend before we were there. No Gyr for us yet, but a great time.

On March 22, 2010 at 4:02 PM cyberthrush said...

ehhhh, BOWA or IBWO, what difference do a few letters make....

On March 22, 2010 at 8:10 PM Dave Lewis said...

Wait for the gifts life brings you.

On March 22, 2010 at 9:20 PM Idaho Birder said...

A huge part of the enjoyment of birding comes from the struggle of seeing a new bird and the feeling of accomplishment when you see it. I say go for the goal of 700! Think of all the cool places you will go and all the familiar birds you will see along the way. Think of the birders out there that would love to meet you and help you achieve the goal. What a great way to encourage birding and bird conservation. Get pledges for conservation for each bird if that's what it takes to feel good about it. Listing is not a birding moral issue...and for those that think it is, peace be upon you. Have FUN doing it!

On March 22, 2010 at 9:23 PM lois said...

700 is just a number. you don't seem to be the kinda guy that needs to impress anyone. somehow i can't see you strutting around saying "700". spend the time and money seeing the birds you always wanted to see.
lois from san diego

On March 22, 2010 at 10:24 PM Wren said...

You've plenty of time to get to 700 ticks. Why work to get there a little sooner, when you can relax and enjoy a leisurely stroll to the smae destination?

On March 22, 2010 at 10:48 PM rmharvey said...

Goals like 700 are only meaningful if you intend to change your behavior when you reach them. If you expect to want to see that 701st bird just as much as the 699th then 700 is nothing special.

BUT... You need to see an Ivory Gull. I'm no larophile but there are two gulls that I can say are simply too beautiful to miss, and you already saw Heerman's, so you need to see the only one that is better.

So fill out a list with Ivory Gull and the others you NEED to see. Not just would like to see, but feel compelled to see. Those are the ones you make a special effort for, not for the numbers but for the birds. Revisit the list of birds that didn't make the cut regularly, perhaps reading up on them in Dunne and seeing if their status changed - changed down in your gut where it counts. I'm guessing you will keep adding to the list at least as fast as you remove birds you have seen and you will forget about numbers - mostly. Meanwhile you still go on grabbing anything that life serves you in the normal course of things anyway. My guess is you will end up wondering why you ever thought of stopping at 700 or any other number.

On March 23, 2010 at 10:15 AM Rondeau Ric said...

As our mutual acquaintance, the Nature Nut says, your death list will be longer than your life list.So just relax

On the other hand why not take a season off and write a book about chasing lifers. You should meet a lot of interesting people. I will take 4 copies please.

Remember Birders are People Too.

On March 23, 2010 at 7:14 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

Weren't those greater prairie -chickens we saw in Kearney, NE with our Maryland friends? Don't you mean lesser prairie-chicken? if so, I have connections.

I think you should do a sort of Zen quest. Like, let it happen.

On March 23, 2010 at 7:16 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

Oh, and you might want to re-read Olivia Gentile's biography of Phoebe Snetsinger before launching any quests...just sayin'.

On March 24, 2010 at 1:42 AM John Rakestraw said...

There are a few species you should see sooner rather than later, as their future is looking rather grim (i.e. Lesser Prairie-Chicken, or any other prairie grouse for that matter). But for the common stuff, I recommend letting them come to you. Plan trips to new areas, where you will see new birds, but don't burn a lot of fossil fuel to chase individual species. My two cents'.

On March 24, 2010 at 6:31 PM Dick said...

Go for it, Bill. It will make some great stories for your blog, or BWD. I can see you traveling to the summit of Mt. Mansfield, in Vermont, or Nova Scotia for Bicknell's Thrush, you can get Gyrfalcon out here in South Dakota. There are plenty of us who would love to participate. Maybe you can raffle off spots in your birding party, and donate to the charity of your choice. And you will enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.

On March 24, 2010 at 8:31 PM Bill Mueller said...

Bill,

Come to Wisconsin (hey, man - it's not far away), and you can find a bunch of those in winter. I travel far less than you do, and I've seen BOWAs multiple times, and we have a Gyr just about every winter. Spruce Grouse are "regular" (although difficult), and they breed in a few of our northern counties. Etc., etc.

Bill Mueller
Conservation Chair, WI Society for Ornithology

On March 25, 2010 at 1:27 PM Radd Icenoggle said...

I think that listing can a great incentive for continued birding and learning as long as it doesn't enter into the darker regions of competition as we have seen amongst some of the "big listers". Keeping a list allows one remember the old sightings and plan for new pursuits in unvisited territories.

On March 25, 2010 at 4:46 PM Cape May Wren said...

JZ wrote I think you should do a sort of Zen quest. Like, let it happen.

*lol* But be sure not to pass up the lifer that is only ten miles away from your house...

Wren (who is so not a lister she didn't even bother to go gawk at the Ivory Gull. If I had known you needed one...!)

On March 28, 2010 at 11:38 AM Art said...

Bill,
I'm a "chaser", so you know what I would recommend! :-)

HOWEVER, do whatever you're heart tells you and make sure you're having fun in the process.

Otherwise, why bother?

Art Schiavo
Hershey, PA

On March 30, 2010 at 12:57 AM Melanie said...

You can see Condors here in California. (I have, and they are fantastic!) But you're not supposed to list them, because they are not yet reestablished as "wild" birds. They still need extensive monitoring and food handouts from their human guardians. Someday, hopefully, they will be established and "countable"...

On April 3, 2010 at 1:14 PM Jeff Bouton said...

Hey Bill, when I first started my current gig with Leica, I knew I had seen a bunch-o-birds over the years but had no idea exactly how big of a bunch. As I began tripping the country visiting the various bird festivals & seeing more & more localized specialties, I decided to go back and do a thorough count. When I realized I was over 680+, I became a man obsessed and spent every waking free moment at shows chasing that one or two missing birds.

When I finally reached the goal I'd challenged myself to reach it felt good - not because I'd reached the mark though. It was more that I was fimnally able to relax and simply enjoy birding in the field once again. That last year was some of the least enjoyable birding I'd ever done. Always "the eye on the prize" rather than simply enjoying what was right in front of me.

So if you decide to do it, I'd recommend to try and keep it balanced. I'll even offer to help you on your quest so together we can insure the fun aspect of birding remains intact!

Hmmm... in a quick count I see my list has grown to 734, that's only 16 away from 750. No time to type, gotta go tick a bird!!! ;p

On May 27, 2010 at 5:56 PM Ben Warner said...

Life birds or just the usuals are all part of birding to me, I love to travel and see new things. I make a special point of chasing down lifers that show up in Ohio though, I mean, its only a couple of hours anywhere. Also, you MUST go and see the next Ivory Gull that shows up. I cried when I saw it fly over and in front of me, so beautiful. I'm sure with all the festivals you attend you could arrange it so that you can add some of those sp. no problem. Get up to the UP or Wisconsin in winter my friend!

On March 11, 2012 at 5:28 PM Anonymous said...

Go for it! Try to reach 700. It will be hard work but I bet you'll have alot of fun doing it.


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