Musings of a roaming nature nerd

Archive for September, 2012

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