|Superb Owl Sunday Northern Hawk Owl|
But it was also an exhausting one. I put over 700 miles on my car, making it expensive and energy-intensive as well—much more than if I were covering the same area on my own, not feeling like I had to go back repeatedly to spots where we missed a single “target bird.”
|Boreal Chickadee: One of the target birds we got skunked on|
|My first Illinois Eurasian Tree Sparrow--bonus bird when I was in Quincy, Illinois.|
You win some, and you lose some.
When it comes down to it, I’m a moseyer. Like any other birder, I love having as long a list of species as possible for a given jaunt, and measure my skills by the birds I pick out by sight and sound. When I started birding, before I'd brought my life list to over 600 for the Lower 48, I was pretty intent on that milestone, but even when I was most acquisitive, except on specific "Big Days," I've never enjoyed birding just to have a long list of species.
When I was amassing my own life list and Russ and I took trips to new places, I loved exploring on my own. We covered all the best spots in Florida, southeastern Arizona, the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, Florida, and California following instructions in birding books and checking out spots that looked interesting or just happened to be near where Russ had to be for something else, as well as the spots pinpointed in the birding books. The pleasures came from getting a feel for different habitats and how to find different birds in new places entirely on my own.
Even when I did my Big Year, when part of the whole point was to amass a big list, I did most of the birding by myself—somehow birds feel more earned and “mine” that way. I did have some special target birds for which I spent an inordinate amount of time searching, like the Colima Warbler for which I hiked twelve miles, alone in the rain, in Big Bend National Park, and the Hermit Warbler for which I went to San Lorenzo Park in Santa Cruz, California, three times before I finally got the bird--though each time I went there, I had plenty of other wonderful experiences, as well.
|Crappy photo of a Hermit Warbler--a target bird I specifically searched for three times before I finally saw.|
|Anna's Hummingbird: One of the bonus birds I saw one of the times I was missing that Hermit Warbler.|
|Bicknell's Thrush seen on the Mt. Washington Auto Road tour.|
|Swainson's Warbler found by Mia Revels in Oklahoma.|
|Golden-cheeked Warbler in Balcones Canyonlands.|
|Eurasian Tree Sparrow in my friend Susan's backyard.|
But I'm really too much of an introvert to enjoy large group birding too often. And there is no way on earth I'd be good at actually leading an organized tour. I forget about food and am perfectly content to sleep in my car when I'm having fun birding. You can't hear a Flammulated Owl calling all night long from even the finest motel, while I got to do just that when sleeping in my car in Water Canyon in New Mexico. Normal people expect meals and a bed to sleep in and have other needs I just don't want to deal with. And I'm completely out of my element at explaining what expenses and responsibilities other people should take care of themselves when birding with me, so I'm easily taken advantage of as well.
I read a lot of posts by birding guides on Facebook, and am always impressed by how they can go out, day after day, week after week, showing each individual of each group a huge number of birds. They earn their pay with their skills, ability to juggle logistics, and unflagging focus and ability to keep moving on to the next bird while ensuring their participants all have a satisfying experience. It was fun for me to get out for one weekend for the first time in years to show someone around the north woods. But the experience reminded me that at heart, I really am an introverted moseyer.
Recently I discovered that a few bird guides and photographers up here have been publicly ridiculing me, claiming that all my knowledge comes from reading about birds rather than going out and actually experiencing them. That's hurtful, of course, as well as patently false, but I don't even know how to begin to answer that kind of silliness. Fortunately, most of the birders up here, like everywhere else, don't need to cut down anyone else to carve their own place in the birding world. As Robert Frost might have put it, birders work together, I tell you from the heart, whether we bird together or apart.
I can’t wait to get my new puppy. I’ll take Pip everywhere birding with me. I may have named her for a character in Great Expectations, but the great thing about puppies is they don’t have any expectations. For her, our tracking down every pigeon and nuthatch will be an adventure, and when we don’t see the birds I want, she’ll be perfectly content with what we do find. That, for me, is what the funnest birding is all about.