|Black-capped Chickadee: #1 on my life list, first seen March 2, 1975|
|Bufflehead: #8 on my life list, first seen March 17, 1975|
One day that spring, May 11, I added 10 lifers, including my first four warblers. The heady excitement of finding and figuring out all these new birds on my own was as intense as falling in love.
|Magnolia Warbler: #33 on my life list, and one of the warblers I saw on May 11, 1975.|
I often encounter people who started their life lists at birding festivals or on organized field trips. A life list can mushroom that way—a morning walk with an expert in good midwestern habitat during migration can easily yield 50, 70, or more species, while at the end of my entire first spring of daily birding, my life list had reached only 40. But my slow initial progress paid off in the long run—the skills I was developing in finding and identifying birds, including learning their vocalizations, were solid.
I jumped on the fast track that June, when I took a field ornithology class at the Kellogg Biological Station, near Kalamazoo, Michigan, more than doubling my life list in 3 weeks, bringing it to 90. The class was held 2 days a week, and I spent much of the remaining 5 days each week out searching for birds on my own. All that focus, day after day, helped me ace the field exams.
|Scarlet Tanager: #60 on my life list, first seen June 23, 1975|
I added 30 more lifers in 1975, ending the year with 120 species on my life list. The next year I brought it to 225. I reached the 300 mark in 1978, and broke 400 in 1980.
|Barred Owl: #268 on my lifelist, seen May 7, 1978 in Wisconsin|
|Plain Chachalacas: #297 on my life list, first seen December 28, 1979|
|Brown-capped Rosy Finch: #357 on my life list, first seen in Colorado on July 2, 1979.|
|California Quail, #394 on my life list, first seen in Washington August 18, 1979|
|Costa's Hummingbird: #429, first seen in Arizona on April 5, 1982|
Things settled down when we had our first baby in 1981. I was just as passionate about birds, but my love was ripening into something integrated with family life. I was limited to watching them closer to home and on family vacations, so building my life list slowed down considerably. I didn’t break 500 until 1991, and didn’t get to 600 until 1999. In 2001, when my youngest was in high school, I took my first trips to Costa Rica and Trinidad, which helped me break 1000.
|Florida Scrub-Jay, #600 on my life list, first seen March 28, 1999|
On March 21, I’m getting a puppy named Pip, and have decided to start a whole new list of birds seen with her at my side. We’ll be starting out when I pick her up at her breeder’s home in a Chicago suburb, so our first birds together will include many of the ones I first saw 40 years ago. I don’t expect her to master the differences between Empidonax flycatchers, or even the differences between a chickadee and a Blue Jay, and I expect that a small dog will be more inclined to moseying rather than high-powered bird chasing, just as I seem to be right now. But both heading to wonderful birding spots and sticking closer to home, my jolly little birding companion will give me a lovely way to start anew, just in time to mark the beginning of my fifth decade birding.
|Pip, my future birding sidekick|