20 January 2023

Bird update January 2023

Posted by Callan Bentley

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Well, we are two-thirds of the way through January now, and I thought I might give an update about my birding. Usually I only do this once annually, but I’ve been diving deeper into the practice this year, and so I thought I would share a few thoughts. Maybe I’ll do this monthly in 2023?

I’ve been birding every day so far this year, sometimes submitting as many as four eBird ‘checklists’ per day. eBird informs me I’m on a “streak” (continuous days in a row of submitting checklists) that has bested all my previous “streaks.” In short, I’ve been putting in my time. Because I’ve been spending a lot of my free time engaged with the subject, I feel as if I’m getting better at it. Students, take note: the first thing you have to do to approach mastery of a subject is commit the time to thinking about it, engaging with it. I’m doing that for birds this year.

I’ve been pursuing the species reported in daily rare bird alerts in my county, and occasionally adjacent counties too. This has allowed me to “get” uncommon species for my list – like Eurasian wigeon and Loggerhead shrike. Sometimes it’s a bust, as with my ill-fated attempt to see Red crossbills in Shenandoah National Park on New Year’s Day. But it’s a good stimulus for getting out and paying attention.

Another related pursuit is going to check out places I haven’t checked out yet. I’ve lived in Charlottesville for 3 years now, and there are plenty of roads I see on a daily or weekly basis, but haven’t yet driven down to check out. On Google Maps, there are plenty of little green splotches indicative of public lands that I haven’t yet made the time to visit. I’m deliberately changing that, methodically visiting them, sometimes with my son in tow, sometimes solo. Some are hidden gems, some are shockingly dirty trash pits. But even the trash pits can yield birds!

I have also been more deliberate in bringing my camera with me when I bird. This can be a bit cumbersome, managing both it and my binoculars simultaneously, but I’ve decided that I want to have at least one decent photo of each species of bird I see in my county this year. Of course, photos are the most useful “proof” of seeing a rare species, and it’s hard to take a photo if you see the bird while the camera is sitting on a shelf at home. Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

The result of this investment of time and attention is that I’ve been racking up the species, and have risen through the “ranks” of birders on eBird’s “Top 100” list for my county. Buoyed by this early-in-the-year success, I’ve decided my goal is to stay in the top 10 for the county this year. I’ve been able so far to push my ranking as high as #2 (with 62 species), but ultimately I’ll be very happy if I can just keep up there in the upper 10% — running with the big dogs, as they say.

That’s it for now; I’ve articulated these goals in my mind; by setting down these thoughts here, I also publicly commit myself to them!