Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fox Sparrow Rescue

    Our recent snow storm, much like the ice storm that hit several regions of the US in February 2015, though not as hazardous, brought two Fox Sparrows to our yard. These birds were still hanging around on Tuesday, January 26, long after the snow had evaporated. 

One of the Fox Sparrows that were sojourning here.

    My mom and I were in the kitchen that day when we both heard a thump. I rushed to the window, and there, sprawled on our deck was a stunned Fox Sparrow. I ran outside and at first didn't see the bird. Then I noticed him hiding in the sprinkle of leaf litter beside the brick wall of our house. I approached him slowly but turned my head when I heard the other songbirds sounding the alarm that a predator was nearby. A Cooper's Hawk lunged out of our Hackberry tree and glided across the field. I realized that this sparrow must have hit the window while fleeing from the hawk. Temporarily unable to fly, he then dragged himself over to the leaves in one last effort to escape the hawk's keen eye.
    I bent down and picked up the bird, which, because he was still in shock, hardly put up a fight. I carefully brought him to our garage and told Mom to get a box. However, I decided that it would be better to release him near one of the shrubs in our backyard, that way he could recover and still be safe from the hawk.
    The Fox Sparrow had the death grip on my left index finger, and while I held him, I was amazed at how small and fragile this bird really was! I stood beside a hedgerow waiting for the sparrow to fly off, but he didn't seem to have any desire to do so. I walked to a different set of bushes and kneeled on the ground, nudging the sparrow to go. He sat on the ground, and again, did not move, so I went to get him some seed. When I returned, the Fox Sparrow hopped a few steps and flew to our neighbor's Cedar tree.
    The following day, I was relieved to see two Fox Sparrows happily feeding in our backyard, and I knew that one of those was certainly the bird I had rescued.   

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Year List Can Wait: 5 Reasons to Postpone Your New Year's Birding

Female Black Scoter - Cape May, NJ 2014

    The thought of waiting a few days (or weeks) before birding at the start of the year may be horrifying and unthinkable to you. As a lister myself, I am very familiar with the adrenaline rush that comes on New Year's Eve when you think of rounding up your current year list and starting a new one. You feel like you have to get out have to be at the have to see everything NOW.  
    Conversely, there are some people who simply cannot go birding, maybe because of busy schedules or other personal reasons. I frequently find myself in both situations. To those who might be discouraged because they just can't seem to find the time, freedom, or money to get outside: none of these are reasons to be ashamed.
    I've learned that it's sometimes smarter and more advantageous if you put birding on hold, even if it's just for a short while. And that's what this post is about...

1. Some things are more important than birding.
    How often we forget this! It's something we need to remind ourselves of constantly. When I think of this point, I think of family. Strong relationships with your parents, your spouse, your children, must be prioritized. When I hear news of birders doing Big Years, birding daily, or traveling often, I wonder to myself, "What are their lives like outside of birding? Do they have families? If so, how strong are their relationships with their families?" I am reminded of the 2011 film The Big Year, based on the book by Mark Obmascik which tells the story of an intense Big Year that took place in 1998. I have never read the book, but in the movie, Kenny Bostik places himself and his obsession before his family, and thus, his marriage falls apart. Like Kenny, if we prioritize birding, we risk ruining something much more precious. This is just one example of many things that are more important than birding. After all, life isn't about birding.
2. It's just a number.
    I am a very competitive person. I love competing against myself, and I love competing against other people. That obviously means that I'm very fond of the eBird Top 100 feature...only when I'm in the top 10.'s just a number. It will not benefit me; the birding experience might, but not the number. Even so, the number will not last; others will eventually forget it. And as far as year listing goes, obviously what you start with does not matter compared to what you finish with. However, again, I must remember that my year list does not define me. Just because I saw 800 species in one year does not make me a good or bad birder.

3. There are 365 days in a year.
    There are 365 days in a year. There are four seasons here in the United States, and each season lasts about 90 days. The great thing is, you can get most of the same species in December as you can in January and February. Likewise, you can get most of the same species in the summer (June, July, August) and fall (September, October, December) as you can in the spring (March, April, May). So, you can wait. You don't have to rush and get all the wintering species right away in January. February and December provide other opportunities.

4. You can see the most recent reports in order to have the most successful outing.
    True, you can do this at other times of the year, but almost every birder gets out on New Year's Day, so thousands of areas are covered. Thus, wherever you plan to go will likely be up-to-date. You can know which spots to check for certain species and when to arrive. This will help you have the most effective start to the new year.

5. You can wait...and then blow past people.
    Gotta love it, listers! Do minimal birding during the first month of the year. Just when everyone thinks they've found their comfortable spots in the rankings, take a nice trip to a place where you know you can get everything at once. Rack up those species; then, sit back and imagine the shocked faces that see your name at the top of the list. "Where did she come from?!" That's the big advantage of waiting a while before birding the New Year.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Goodbye 2015, Hello 2016

    A year seems like a long period of time, but now, looking back, I can't believe how fast 2015 has flown by! 2015 was filled with lots of interesting and amazing birding experiences, like finding an Iceland Gull at our local landfill, co-leading two winter pelagics in February, and successfully chasing several rarities here in Tennessee. Last weekend we did a couple of CBCs in the northwestern part of the state, and we made many memories doing those.  
    My totals for 2015 were:

    TN Year List - 245 species (compared to 249 during 2014)
    ABA Year List - 281 species (compared to 293 during 2014)
    Life List - 341 species (compared to 317 at the start of the year)

    Wow! What an amazing year...I can't wait to see where 2016 takes me!