Posts Tagged ‘Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager’

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 America 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 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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Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager

Tanagers and hummingbirds – those are the birds that everyone talked about when I announced that I would be going to Ecuador for my first trip to Central or South America. These birds were gorgeous and colorful as promised, but we saw many other wonderful birds, too, with some of the best in simple black and white. The Partnership for International Birding (PIB) trip to northwest Ecuador was February 22nd through 28th, 2013. Six adventurous birders, our PIB guide and experienced Ecuador birder, John Drummond, and top Ecuadorian guide, Lelis Navarrete, completed our group. The birds that we saw ranged from the awe-inspiring Andean Condor with its ten-foot wingspan to the Booted Racket-tail which immediately went on my personal list of the world’s cutest birds.

The first day we birded the Calacali area and the Tandayapa lower valley in the morning before lunch at Sachatamia Lodge in Mindo. In addition to a wonderful lunch, we enjoyed our first close-up views of tanagers at feeders.

Flame-faced Tanager.

Flame-faced Tanager. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

We also saw our first warbler of the trip, this Black-crested Warbler.

Black-crested Warbler

Black-crested Warbler. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

After lunch, it was on to San Jorge de Milpe where we would spend the night. This lodge hosted many gorgeous hummingbirds as well as three very cooperative Rufous-fronted Wood-Quail which came in to a feeding station near the outdoor dining room.

Ocellated Tapaculo

My poor but recognizable photo of Tomas, the Ocellated Tapaculo

Our second day of the trip started at 4:30 AM to allow time for the 20-minute walk from the lodge to the bus, the drive to Refugio Paz de las Aves, and then the walk down a steep, slippery path in the dark. We needed to be in place before dawn to watch Andean Cock-of-the-Rock display on the lek. Angel Paz opened his property to visitors and saved it from logging after discovering the Cock-of-the-Rock lek. While creating trails, he discovered antpittas coming to eat the earthworms that were uncovered by the work. Angel learned that birders would pay to see them, too. Amazingly, he was able to “train” antpittas to come to his call by rewarding them with earthworms. Today Angel and his brother, Rodrigo, provide birders on their refuge with close views of some of the most difficult skulking birds in Ecuador. The best known of these is the Giant Antpitta, Maria, who did not show for us (perhaps on the nest). However, we were thrilled to see an Ochre-breasted Antpitta from a few feet away as well as two Dark-backed Wood-quail. My favorite bird was Tomas, a gorgeous Ocellated Tapaculo, who also appeared when Angel called him. In between these amazingly cooperative birds, we watched a Crimson-rumped Toucanet, hummingbirds, tanagers, and other forest birds.

Crimson-rumped Toucanet

Crimson-rumped Toucanet. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell

At San Jorge de Milpe in the afternoon, we saw more amazing tropical birds including a Pale-mandibled Aracari.

Pale-mandibled Aracari

Pale-mandibled Aracari. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

After a wonderful day of birding, we headed to Sachatamia Lodge for the night.

Sachatamia Lodge

Sachatamia Lodge in Mindo. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

We birded most of our third day in Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary. Some of the stars on this day were black and white birds like this Dot-winged Antwren below.

Dot-winged Antwren

Dot-winged Antwren. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

The tower at Rio Silanche

The tower at Rio Silanche. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

Another favorite was the White-bearded Manakin. Males begin courtship by jumping between small saplings in the lek at the forest edge. Each time it jumps, the tiny 4-inch bird snaps its wings, which makes a loud popping sound. There was a flurry of activity with the little Manakins constantly jumping as we tried to get a good look. Then we heard Ron quietly say “I’ve got one over here” and he pointed to a spot near the ground on the other side of the path. A charming little Manakin quietly sat there in the vegetation and allowed all us to get great looks.

White-bearded Manakin

White-bearded Manakin. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

We saw very few animals of any kind other than birds, so the giant snail was a fun surprise. Note the tip of my shoe for a size comparison.

Giant snail at Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary.

Giant snail at Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

After another great day of birding, we headed back to Sachatamia Lodge again for dinner and the night.

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