Because of the recent government shut down, I wasn’t allowed to write a new birding column this week. It’s due to a law that is so obscure I’m the only one who knows it exists. As a result, I’m dusting off a column I wrote several years ago. Although, I don’t think most folks will notice that it’s rerun because, as usual, I don’t even remember writing it.
Dear Bird Folks,
My New Year’s resolution is to start a bird list. Any advice?
– Ned, Mashpee, MA
It’s easy, Ned,
The best way to create a bird list is get yourself a pad of paper and when you see a bird, write down its name. Then, when you see a different bird, grab that same pad of paper and repeat step one. That’s all. See? I told you it was easy. What else do you want to talk about? We’d better think of something or this is going to be a very short column. Maybe I’ll ask you a question. What did you get for Christmas? Anything good? I’ll bet you can’t top what I got. My wife gave me (and I’m not kidding) a laundry bag. A laundry bag? What’s the point of that? Isn’t that what the floor is for? My wife is probably still mad at me from last year when I gave her a frying pan. How was I supposed to know she already had one? She was much happier this Christmas when I gave her a new paint scraper. It’s a beauty.
Even though your question didn’t require a very long answer, Ned, I like your idea of including birds in your New Year’s resolution. Why not? Bird resolutions are a lot less stressful to keep than the ones we make for ourselves. Besides, no one ever does any of those things – such as lose weight, exercise more or put their dirty clothes into a laundry bag. With that in mind, here are a few goals that backyard bird watchers might want to accomplish in 2019.
The first one is simple. Identify one new bird eating from your feeder this year. That’s all; just find one new feeder bird. I’m suggesting this because I’ve noticed that many people simply have no idea what species of birds are eating their expensive birdseed. Every day I ask customers if they are getting a lot of birds. They usually say, “Tons.” When I ask them to name a few of these birds their faces become blank, looking like escapees from a wax museum. After a few moments of deep thought, they finally say, “I get the regular birds.” Swell. Judging from the hood of my car, being “regular” is not a problem for birds. I’d bet most people would be surprised by the number of different birds that come to their feeders each day…if they only paid a little attention.
Go for a bird walk, in a new location. The Cape has hundreds of beaches and nature trails to explore. Get out your map or GPS and find a new place to walk and explore. The key words here are “walk” and “explore.” It doesn’t count if you drive to a beautiful spot, sit in the car with the engine running and read the paper. Just yesterday I took a wrong turn and ended up at the old, rundown Air Force base in N. Truro (now owned by the National Park Service). I got out and walked around. In addition to seeing a lot of creepy old buildings, I came upon a huge flock of beautiful Snow Buntings. It was all very serendipitous (and a little scary).
Cape Cod is undoubtedly a great place to see birds, but there are other places in the world to see birds, too. This year you should plan a day of birding while you are on vacation, or away on business or visiting relatives. Instead of spending every day frying on some tropical beach or playing yet another stinky round of golf, take a walk to see the local birds. Cardinals and chickadees are fine, but perhaps now would be a good time to see a few of the world’s 10,000 other species of birds. Just remember to pack your bird books and binoculars. Oh, sure, they may add a bit of weight to your suitcase, but they are way lighter than golf clubs and a lot less stressful than golf.
Here’s my favorite thing to do each year. Grab your bird book, flip through its pages and pick out a bird you have never seen before in your life, but have always wanted to. This will be your “goal bird” for the year. It could be something as exotic as a Snowy Owl, or a Greater Roadrunner or perhaps something more mundane, such as a Fox Sparrow or an actual Purple Finch. Last year my goal was to find a Lapland Longspur. (It’s a real bird, look it up.) I spent several long days walking the Cape’s beaches and sand dunes, looking for one of these tiny tundra-breeding birds and never saw a single one, ever. However, my search took me to many of the areas most beautiful locations. That’s why the Lapland Longspur is back on my list of birds to see in 2019. As they say, the journey is half the fun, or in this case, the only fun.
Your idea about starting a bird list is a good one, Ned. Many hardcore birders are obsessed with obtaining a large life list, but that seems too corporate to me. They have complicated computer programs and intricate notebooks. Birding should be fun and not filled with paperwork. But sometimes keeping a simple list of new birds is just the motivation we need to go outside and do more birding. In fact, going outside more often is just what I tell my wife. There’s nothing like a day of sunshine, fresh air and paint scraping. Can’t beat it.