Birds have always fascinated me and I’ve been a “lister” for longer than I’ve considered myself a birder. I’m still on a pretty low rung of what appears to be a lifetime learning process, but this year has been a watershed year of sorts. The hobby has been ramped up a bit. Maybe the gears are slipping a bit–up that is.
I can’t put my finger on a decisive explanation. Maybe I’ve reached the place where you get where you’ve done something for a couple years and it starts to click and the various habits start to set in. Maybe it’s been new connections I’ve made. Maybe there was just a nice influx of really cool migratory species to lure me in this year.
On December 31, 2016, I found my first Red-Breasted Nuthatch over at Sadler’s Pond, the last bird species of the year. It brought my life-list (a bird-nerd term which means “bird species I’ve seen in my life”) to 115. That December brought a lot of cool new species such as a Northern Shrike, Northern Harriers, and Snow Buntings. And then, suddenly, 2017 came, a fresh new year.
Now, almost a full year later, I’m reflecting on 2017 (a full year of fairly heavy-duty birding). In 2017 I’ve birded in two countries and seven states/province, tallying 209 species, 193 in Essex County, Ontario and 103 in the United States. I’ve been able to add 112 “lifers” (bird species I’ve seen for the first time) to my life-list. I suspect that unless I start traveling pretty far south or west, I won’t have another 100+ lifer year!
There have been a lot of great moments. For instance: The time we were doing a family walk (with my wife and three young kids) and my brilliant wife pointed to what proved to be the first Wood Stork to be seen in Ontario in over fifteen years. (She’s a keeper, eh? I mean my wife, not the Wood Stork!) It’s not every day you can add a new species to the Point Pelee list!!! There were also the Short-eared Owls. The Snowy Owls. The Golden Eagles. The Snowy Egret. And the River Canard Yellow Crowned Night Heron. The Hudsonian Godwit, Glossy Ibis, and other amazing varieties of shorebirds at the lagoons. The Olive-Sided Flycatchers. The Eurasian Wigeon. The Little Gull. My first Pileated Woodpeckers. The Red-headed Woodpeckers. The Dickcissel. The Red-Throated Loon that was really up-close. The mini-warbler fallouts in less popular hotspots. There was my first Christmas Bird Count at Point Pelee where a Bohemian Waxwing appeared. I’m probably forgetting some other great moments. Many of these experiences were shared with many great family and friends at my side!
Here are some birds I regret not going to see: the Magnificent Frigatebird, Cattle Egret, Lapland Longspur, and Black-necked Stilt. Hopefully some of these can be added to my list in 2018.
I’m so thankful that, despite being pretty busy, I’ve been able to get out so much and see so much. It’s been a challenging process to get decent photographs, get used to my binocs, and learn to ID species I haven’t come across. I’m very thankful for my wife and children who so patiently and lovingly endure this hobby of mine. (For the record, my son constantly speaks of wanting to go to see ducks and my daughters are very vigilant sidekicks at hawk-spotting). I’m also thankful for the many amazing local birders who have been so helpful, so supportive, and so patient with a newbie like me.
Quite a birdy year it has been! I envision myself continuing to bird in 2018. In some ways, 2017 was a year of great expansion and 2018 will probably involve more consolidation. I don’t anticipate getting as many new species, but I will be attempting to get better at IDs and get to know some of the previously seen birds a little better. I also hope to improve my ability to recognize bird sounds. The prospect of a new year with 4 fresh seasons is rather exciting!
No matter what level of knowledge or interest in birds you have, I hope 2018 is a safe and happy New Year. Good birding and I hope to see you out in the field!