Musings of a roaming nature nerd

500 Birds

Some people collect fine china or vintage cars. Some people collect stamps or old coins. I collect memories of all the bird species I have ever seen. This is called keeping a Life List and in theory it is a record of all the birds I have identified over the course of my life. Since I didn’t start keeping this list until I was 27, it really only represents a span of 5 years or so. But in those 5 years I have seen and recorded exactly 500 species of bird in North America.

The list I keep is in the form of a birder’s journal, which has little black and white sketches of all the North American birds, and space to record the date and location and notes of each first sighting. By keeping a life list not only can I keep track of which of the 900+ birds of North America I have seen, but I record a wonderful memory at the same time. For instance, if I open my journal to the Hummingbird family of birds my mind is flooded with memories from trips, places I’ve lived, numerous events and happenings:

Magnificent Hummingbird: April 22, 2011 along the Super Trail in Madera Canyon, AZ- huge hummingbird with striking aqua-green throat”

Calliope Hummingbird: May 15, 2007 Schwabacher’s Landing in Grand Teton National Park, WY – perched atop a conifer by the river”

Ruby-throated Hummingbird: June 26, 2010 busily feeding at Pine Grove Furnace in Michaux State Forest, PA”

Rather than just collecting a check mark on a list I have the chance to collect memories in a new way. When I think of the first time I saw a Crested Caracara I remember a hilariously wonderful and rainy road trip through south Texas. When I pull out the journal and notice when and where I saw my first Canada Warbler, I remember an awesome hike with friends in Northern New Hampshire on our first wedding anniversary.

My 500th North American species was a bird called the Yellow-throated Vireo. I saw it in a forest just north of Carlisle, PA. Sighting the bird with its goofy little yellow spectacles was wonderful, but the memories that go with that… of the absurdly loud target range somewhere nearby, of the yummy coffee I sipped with my husband, of the cool humid air and beautiful early morning sunlight shining through the trees… those memories will stay strong too.

Seeing 500 species in North America is a milestone in the birding world, but for me it is also a chance to reflect on the adventures of the past years. The birds and the memories are invaluable!

A slice of life... list


4 Responses

  1. Hi,
    My husband and I met you and your husband and parents outside the Lincoln Diner in Gettysburg a little over a year ago. We were bicycling across the country and had a little conversation about that and also about your work as a naturalist. Recently I came across a little slip of paper on which you had written your blog address and looked it up. It’s very well done and I’ve enjoyed reading a number of your entries.

    We live in the San Pedro River Valley in Arizona most of the year and you indicated that you have been in the area at times for your work. I’d like to reiterate our invitation to get in touch if you are ever in the area again. We are in Cascabel, about 25 miles north of I-10. We always enjoy meeting people of similar interests and would be able to suggest places to go and other people with local knowledge. We have access to camping areas if you need a place to stay.

    Hoping we might meet again someday,
    Pearl Mast

    September 20, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    • annie

      Hello Pearl! Yes, I remember meeting you two on your wonderful XC adventure! Sorry I haven’t responded. I receive a lot of spam that I have to weed through and I’ve also been traveling for the past 6 weeks. So glad you’re enjoying the blog and I will email you privately to touch base about AZ birding soon. Thanks so much for being in touch. – Anne

      October 22, 2012 at 1:49 pm

  2. Hi Anne! I recently purchased an old bird identification guide, and paper clipped to the back was the owners life list, I was impressed by how many species he had seen, and I was also saddened that no one in his family would have wanted to keep this book that was so treasured by the owner. Over the span of 50 years this man had traveled around the country with this book in his pack writing down the places and time that he had spotted birds, now it sits in my kitchen, and I use it to mark off the birds that come to my back yard feeder. I’ll send you pictures of the book if you would like see. Good-Luck with your collection!

    September 5, 2012 at 5:16 am

    • annie

      Hi Amy! I am just seeing your comment now (I get an awful lot of spam), so apologies for the delayed response. The ID guide sounds like such a treasure. These things really are so much more than just a guide. They become a memory book. I’d love to see what you have. I’ll email you this week if you want to send pictures. Hope you’re having a great autumn! – Anne

      October 22, 2012 at 1:53 pm