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Posts Tagged ‘Anna’s Hummingbird’

On August 5, 2018, I went birding at Lake Waccamaw State Park.  The birds were more scarce than I’d expected, but I finally found Blue Jays and a few other common birds near the Visitor Center.  Why is this even worthy of mention?  Because the park is in Columbus County, the last of North Carolina’s 100 counties in which I have observed birds.  Yep, I’ve now seen birds in every county in my home state.  If you are not a birder, you may still think that this is not worthy of mention and you should stop reading now.

No, these particular birds were not my life Forsyth County Brown-headed Nuthatches, but you weren't going to keep reading without some cute photos, were you?

No, these particular birds were not my life Forsyth County Brown-headed Nuthatches, but you weren’t going to keep reading without some cute photos, were you?

County birding is my favorite of games birders play, but it took a while before I got serious.  In December 2009, eBird introduced county birding to “inspire people to go birding in places that don’t typically get much coverage.”  I am a huge fan of eBird, so I wanted to help with this effort.  I started birding the counties adjacent to Forsyth that didn’t have many checklists.  Sometimes I went alone, but frequently I enlisted friends Carol or Brent to go with me.  We had great fun on our outings and it wasn’t long until Carol and I found a county record Horned Grebe for Stokes County.  It was the first time that anyone had reported the species in that county.

In the County Birding "game," an American Robin counts just as much as a rare bird.

In the County Birding “game,” an American Robin counts just as much as a rare bird.

At some point I became aware that county birding was more than an eBird effort; it was almost a competitive sport.  I discovered that birders in Texas, Florida, California, and a few other states were obsessed with focused on county birding.  And then I met Derek, right here in Forsyth County, who had seen birds in all of North Carolina’s counties.  I started joining him occasionally for a day of birding as he upped his county ticks.  County ticks are simply the sum of one’s life lists for each county in an area (usually a state).  So, if I had seen 200 birds in Forsyth County and 100 birds in Guilford County, I would have 300 county ticks for NC.  It didn’t take many days of birding with Derek until I decided that I, too, wanted to see birds in all of North Carolina’s counties.

Cynthia and I spent a day with this Golden-winged Warbler in Watauga County

Cynthia and I spent a day with this Golden-winged Warbler in Watauga County

I also birded with other friends whenever I had a chance.  One of my favorite county birds was the gorgeous Golden-winged Warbler in the photo above.  My good friend, Cynthia, wrote a guest post on this blog, Golden-winged Wonders, about our experiences with “Andy.”

I am especially grateful for my friend, David, and my son-in-law, Jeff.  David is not a birder, but he understood my craziness and helped me in the western part of the state.  It can be hard to find birds in those small mountainous counties and I was happy to have the company and the help.  Jeff is only a casual birder, but he spent several days with me in the northeast corner of the state searching for birds.

A pretty Hermit Thrush that Jeff and I found in Chowan County.

A pretty Hermit Thrush that Jeff and I found in Chowan County.

I wish that I’d kept notes on every outing, every new milestone, but I did not.  Instead, I have only delightful random memories, like a stream of consciousness.  Please indulge me as I share a few of those memories.

Derek is an excellent birder with the energy that comes from being young.  And, he was willing to go birding with me – a woman with bad eyesight and old enough to be his grandmother.  The love of birds and birding that transcends all other differences is one of the things that I love about the birding community.  But, I digress.

A lovely Cedar Waxwing found on the Bakersville Creek Walk in Mitchell County

A lovely Cedar Waxwing found on the Bakersville Creek Walk in Mitchell County

A typical day of birding with Derek started with meeting around 7:00 AM and driving two to three hours to get to the counties we needed.  Derek is a great planner and he continued to watch bird alerts while I drove.  We birded until dark and then Derek drove on the way home.  Sometimes it was 11:00 PM when I pulled into my driveway.  But, we always had fun and we always got new county birds.

In January 2017, Derek introduced me to the idea of combining county birding and state birding, seeking birds not just new to a particular county, but new for the state.  A rare (for North Carolina) Anna’s Hummingbird had turned up on the coast, inspiring us to make a two-day trip to see this beauty.  We added several new birds for Dare County, including a surprise Brown Thrasher while waiting in line at the Nags Head KFC drive-thru.

The Anna's Hummingbird that Derek and I drove to the NC coast to see

The Anna’s Hummingbird that Derek and I drove to the NC coast to see

Later that year in May, we couldn’t miss an opportunity to see this cooperative Mourning Warbler in Avery County, another state bird for both Derek and me.  This led to stops in Wilkes County, an Alder Flycatcher at a blink-and-you-would-have-missed-it bog on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Burke, and then multiple stops at under-birded hotspots in Mitchell, Yancey, and McDowell counties.  Our favorite location that we discovered that day was the lovely Bakersville Creek Walk in Mitchell County, which I made into an eBird hotspot.

Our lovely Mourning Warbler on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Avery County

Our lovely Mourning Warbler on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Avery County

In addition to finding notable birds, I enjoyed the quirkiness and little surprises of county birding.  Derek and I called it the “wavy road.”  It was as much in the middle of nowhere as any place in NC.  I think we were on a mission to find a Clay-colored Sparrow.  The road was completely level on the middle line, but the edges rose and fell like waves.  Driving the road felt like a ride at an amusement park.  We marveled at the oddity of the road and were happy that it didn’t last too long.  And, yes, we got our bird.

On a day of birding with Hop in Cleveland County, he pished up this Golden-crowned Kinglet.

On a day of birding with Hop in Cleveland County, he pished up this Golden-crowned Kinglet.

Plenty of mistakes were made in my search for new birds, mostly when I was birding alone.  I currently have only one bird for Halifax County even though I spent the night there.  I got confused about the county line and did not even realize where I was!  A more serious mistake occurred when I was birding alone in the Croatan National Forest and became totally lost.  Fortunately, I was able to use the eBird track on my phone to navigate back to my car.  Once on a trip with Derek to the Sandhills area in the middle of summer, I failed to take water on our walk.  When we were almost back to the car, I began to feel sick – very hot and nauseous – so I just lay down on the sand and sent Derek back to the ranger station.  I knew the ranger would come for me in his truck, which he did, and I learned a very valuable lesson.

This young Brown-headed Cowbird appeared to be hot, too, on that sweltering day in Cumberland County.

This young Brown-headed Cowbird appeared to be hot, too, on that sweltering day in Cumberland County.

But, the heat might have been responsible for the wonderful lizards we also found on that hot July day.  Derek and I considered all wildlife sightings a big bonus of county birding.

Eastern Fence Lizard at Carvers Creek State Park, a lifer lizard for me!

Eastern Fence Lizard at Carvers Creek State Park, a lifer lizard for me!

I made even more mistakes finding birds, again usually when I went out on my own.  Many these errors were my poor decisions about which birding hotspots to visit.  A State Recreation Area on a large lake was “Closed for the Season” when I got there in the middle of winter.  Some hotspots no longer had access and some were just about impossible to find.  One location with many great eBird reports appeared to be a road that no one would walk except hunters or crazy young male birders.  I’m pretty brave, but I was not going to park my car on the side of the road and walk alone into the wilderness in a remote, isolated part of the state.

A Great Spangled Fritillary that Derek and I found near Boone in June 2016. We frequently encountered beautiful butterflies while searching for birds.

A Great Spangled Fritillary that Derek and I found near Boone in June 2016. We frequently encountered beautiful butterflies while searching for birds.

As I have written this, more memories keep flooding back.  Looking for Swallow-tailed Kites with Nathan and Sarah.  The Person County Northern Lapwing with David S.  The Brown Booby with Jay.  The Allen’s Hummingbird with Phil and Carol C.  Transylvania County.  Forsyth Audubon and Piedmont Bird Club trips.  I can’t name them all, but I treasure every one of my birding adventures and I am grateful to have shared so many with friends.

My most recently photographed county tick is this Tricolored Heron, right here in Forsyth County, only the second of this species to be observed in our county.  But, I now have an even newer county bird, a Royal Tern that David Disher found at Salem Lake during Hurricane Florence.

My Forsyth County Tricolored Heron

My Forsyth County Tricolored Heron

My eBird map for NC is below.  As you can see, I don’t have many birds in most counties, so I’ll be able to continue the county birding game for quite a while as I add new birds.  I hope to keep birding in North Carolina for a very long time.

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Birders don’t call these games, but consider the following activities.

Life List

The most basic birding game is simply keeping a list of all the birds that you have ever seen anywhere.  Not much beats the thrill of seeing a bird for the very first time, so this game is played by nearly all birders everywhere.  I clearly remember foolishly wondering, shortly after starting my life list, what I would do after I had seen all the birds possible in nearby locations. And, then I learned about all the other birding games.

Cabot's Tragopan on my 2012 China trip. One of my favorite birds ever! Photo by Tony Mills.

Cabot’s Tragopan on my 2012 China trip. One of my favorite birds ever! Photo by Tony Mills.

State List

Many birders keep a list of all the birds that they have seen in a particular state, usually the state in which they live.  This activity usually involves actively “chasing” rare birds that appear anywhere in the state in order to increase one’s state list.

County List

This activity is similar to State List, but for just one county, usually the location of one’s residence.  Even more so than with State List, birders will cancel other plans, call in sick to work, or do whatever is necessary to see any new bird that shows up in their county.

Bad photo, but great bird - the first Whimbrel ever observed in Forsyth County.

Bad photo, but great bird – the first Whimbrel ever observed in Forsyth County.

ABA List

Some birders put the most importance on their ABA list, birds observed in the ABA (American Birding Association) Area, most simply defined as North American north of Mexico.  For some, their ABA list has a higher priority than their life list.  Birders who are obsessed interested in their ABA List may fly across the country to see birds already seen elsewhere just to get them on this list.

Other geographic areas

Any geographic area that you can name can be the target for a birding list – Ecuador, China, Asia, the Western Hemisphere, the Lower 48 (US states) – the possibilities are nearly endless.

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager in Ecuador.

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager in Ecuador.

Big Year (ABA Area)

Until recently “Big Year” meant ABA Big Year. This is the game that was made into a book and a movie, “The Big Year.”  It told the story of three men obsessed with “winning” the most birds in 1998.  People have mortgaged their homes to pursue this activity. It also requires tremendous effort and the stamina to endure heat, cold, loss of sleep, and other discomforts. In spite of these challenges, the majority of us who do not have the time, money, and endurance to play this game have fantasized about it.

If I were doing a Big Year in 2017, this Smooth-billed Ani seen in Florida would be a good start.

If I were doing a Big Year in 2017, this Smooth-billed Ani seen in Florida would be a good start.

Big World Year

This is now the ultimate game – how many birds can you see in one calendar year with the entire planet as the playing field. In 2008, British couple Alan Davies and Ruth Miller traveled around the world attempting to see 4,000 species. They completed the year with 4,341 species and wrote a book about their adventure, The Biggest Twitch. In 2015, Noah Strycker set out to see half the world’s species, approximately 5,000 birds. He also met his goal and set the new world record with 6,042 bird species. Noah’s record was immediately challenged by Dutch birder Arjan Dwarshuis in 2016. He finished the year with 6,833 bird species.

The closest I'll ever get to a world big year was in 2014 when I went to both China and Belize, where I saw this Great Kiskadee.

The closest I’ll ever get to a world big year was in 2014 when I went to both China and Belize, where I saw this Great Kiskadee.

Big State Year and various location/year combinations

Where I live, Forsyth County (NC) Year List is a popular game, although I don’t know anyone who will admit to playing it. However, about a dozen birders go birding nearly every day. They make it a point to see species that require special effort like American Woodcock, a bird that is usually seen only in particular places at dusk.  If anyone else finds a “good” bird (i.e. uncommon for our area), they will go look for it. I keep trying to break my addiction to this game, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful. And, I’m not sure that I really want to quit. We have the friendliest birding community that I know of anywhere. We don’t compete with each other and everyone is quick to share the news when they find a good bird.

The adult male Anna's Hummingbird in Buxton - a nice addition to my 2017 NC list.

The adult male Anna’s Hummingbird in Buxton – a nice addition to my 2017 NC list.

Want to read more about Big Year birding? There is even a Wikipedia article called Big Year.  The American Birding Association (ABA) outlines the official listing rules at Listing Central and displays the numbers that ABA members have reported.  All of these birding games are made easier by using eBird, which automatically maintains many of these lists for you as well as providing alerts for “needs” and rare birds.

County Birding

This is a little different than the basic County List because it focuses on finding birds in ALL the counties in a state. One common version is 100 birds in every county. In Maryland, which has only 23 counties, they play 200 birds in every county.

50 Birds in 50 States

I have friends who are working on these lists – to see 50 species in each of the 50 US states.  What a great way to see the country!

I don't have 50 birds in Iowa yet, but this young Harris's Sparrow got my list off to a good start.

I don’t have 50 birds in Iowa yet, but this young Harris’s Sparrow got my list off to a good start.

Bird-A-Day

Bird-A-Day is a twist in which one records a different species observed every day for as many days as possible throughout the year.  In 2016, I made it through half the year recording my last new bird on July 1.  I swore that I would not do it again, but here I am deep into it in late February 2017 and plotting how I can beat last year’s attempt.

Photographed Birds

Any of the above games, but only birds that you photograph count.

Great Crested Flycatcher. One of my favorite photos.

Great Crested Flycatcher. One of my favorite photos.

Birders are creative and I’m astounded by the new things that I am learning every day. Day List? Yes, some people even keep lists for each calendar day of birds seen in any location, in any year, but on that specific day.  This list of lists could go on and on, but I’ll quit now and leave it up to you to find more or even invent your own birding game.  I’ve got to go look for a Woodcock now.

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