Monday, June 01, 2009

The Year List

In December I downloaded a simple excel spreadsheet from Steve M. to track how many species I would see in NH in 2009.  All you had to do was put X in the column and it added it up for you.  I thought to myself "hmm at 250 you should be proud as that is more you've ever had in a single state, and at 265 should be your goal as that would be a good year".

A few people announced their attempt to go for a "Big Year" and break the NH year list record set in 2003 at 280.

One month later I arrived back in the state and was promptly 100 species behind everyone else.  Another month passed and I was within 5 species of the 4 or 5 top lists in the state.  Everyone was joking about their competition and my name was never mentioned.  Fair seeing as I've never really been much competition for birders.  However, it was at that moment I decided to at least give it a good effort this spring and see what happened.

Three months later and the results are shocking.  I've already achieved my "lazy birding goal" of 250 species.  The highest total ever recorded by the end of the month of May.  I've added 50+ life birds to my list, and worked my rear end off.  I've birded before school, after school, at school on lunch breaks.  I've birded in the north, at the coast, and in the middle of the state.  I've birded at waste water treatment plants, at McDonald's, and on the ocean.  I've been rained on, sleeted on, hailed on, and snowed on.  Sometimes in the same day.  

And I'm loving every minute of it.

At this point everyone sees me AS the competition - and it will probably be a large disappointment if I don't break 280 species (although at least one other individual is also posed to break the 280 this year).  However, whether or not I come out on top I still will have found this experience to be valuable. 

Doing a big year in a limited area forces you to learn about birds.  Where to find them, when to find them, when they arrive, when they leave, when to expect which rarities, etc.  This information is not readily available.  Sure there are lists of arrival dates but not much detail is given.  Most of my information has come from two main sources: Steve and Ben.  Without them I'd still be around 200-220 in the state.  And without Ben coaching me based on weather patterns and historic experience I'd be at 235 - 240.  Without birding every day, being a grad student, or living where I do I'd be at even less.

I have a lot going for me this year: Help, a Field Job, and Being Young... but I don't have the experience the others boast (though the "help" often helps to negate this a bit).  

I don't know if I'll set the record this year.  I don't know how long it will stand if I do.  But what I do know I want to try to do my best to bird as often and as hard as I can while learning as much as possible.

I've come a long way in a year, an even longer way in two years, but this year isn't the end of that.  This time next year I want to smile and know I've come just as far in those 12 months as I have previously in that time.  

Its not just about a list, a number, or a record.  Its about the birds, seeing them with your friends, meeting new people, teaching each other, and learning a little more about this crazy planet.  

From here on I will attempt to re-tell some of my experiences searching for birds in the past 5 months and to keep you updated on plans and results of future expeditions.  

PS - Goretex if you would like to sponsor me I'm all for it considering you're the reason I haven't died from hypothermia or pneumonia yet


Anonymous said...

You have completely crushed Eric's big year spirit, which is the most amusing part. Now I can sneak in and beat him too.


Lowie said...

I was told by you know who "I'm proud of you for crushing his dreams". I sort of feel bad. Which is why I was being so nice to him.