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Posts Tagged ‘Smooth-billed Ani’

Birders don’t call these games, but consider the following activities.

Life List

The most basic birding game is simply keeping a list of all the birds that you have ever seen anywhere.  Not much beats the thrill of seeing a bird for the very first time, so this game is played by nearly all birders everywhere.  I clearly remember foolishly wondering, shortly after starting my life list, what I would do after I had seen all the birds possible in nearby locations. And, then I learned about all the other birding games.

Cabot's Tragopan on my 2012 China trip. One of my favorite birds ever! Photo by Tony Mills.

Cabot’s Tragopan on my 2012 China trip. One of my favorite birds ever! Photo by Tony Mills.

State List

Many birders keep a list of all the birds that they have seen in a particular state, usually the state in which they live.  This activity usually involves actively “chasing” rare birds that appear anywhere in the state in order to increase one’s state list.

County List

This activity is similar to State List, but for just one county, usually the location of one’s residence.  Even more so than with State List, birders will cancel other plans, call in sick to work, or do whatever is necessary to see any new bird that shows up in their county.

Bad photo, but great bird - the first Whimbrel ever observed in Forsyth County.

Bad photo, but great bird – the first Whimbrel ever observed in Forsyth County.

ABA List

Some birders put the most importance on their ABA list, birds observed in the ABA (American Birding Association) Area, most simply defined as North American north of Mexico.  For some, their ABA list has a higher priority than their life list.  Birders who are obsessed interested in their ABA List may fly across the country to see birds already seen elsewhere just to get them on this list.

Other geographic areas

Any geographic area that you can name can be the target for a birding list – Ecuador, China, Asia, the Western Hemisphere, the Lower 48 (US states) – the possibilities are nearly endless.

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager in Ecuador.

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager in Ecuador.

Big Year (ABA Area)

Until recently “Big Year” meant ABA Big Year. This is the game that was made into a book and a movie, “The Big Year.”  It told the story of three men obsessed with “winning” the most birds in 1998.  People have mortgaged their homes to pursue this activity. It also requires tremendous effort and the stamina to endure heat, cold, loss of sleep, and other discomforts. In spite of these challenges, the majority of us who do not have the time, money, and endurance to play this game have fantasized about it.

If I were doing a Big Year in 2017, this Smooth-billed Ani seen in Florida would be a good start.

If I were doing a Big Year in 2017, this Smooth-billed Ani seen in Florida would be a good start.

Big World Year

This is now the ultimate game – how many birds can you see in one calendar year with the entire planet as the playing field. In 2008, British couple Alan Davies and Ruth Miller traveled around the world attempting to see 4,000 species. They completed the year with 4,341 species and wrote a book about their adventure, The Biggest Twitch. In 2015, Noah Strycker set out to see half the world’s species, approximately 5,000 birds. He also met his goal and set the new world record with 6,042 bird species. Noah’s record was immediately challenged by Dutch birder Arjan Dwarshuis in 2016. He finished the year with 6,833 bird species.

The closest I'll ever get to a world big year was in 2014 when I went to both China and Belize, where I saw this Great Kiskadee.

The closest I’ll ever get to a world big year was in 2014 when I went to both China and Belize, where I saw this Great Kiskadee.

Big State Year and various location/year combinations

Where I live, Forsyth County (NC) Year List is a popular game, although I don’t know anyone who will admit to playing it. However, about a dozen birders go birding nearly every day. They make it a point to see species that require special effort like American Woodcock, a bird that is usually seen only in particular places at dusk.  If anyone else finds a “good” bird (i.e. uncommon for our area), they will go look for it. I keep trying to break my addiction to this game, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful. And, I’m not sure that I really want to quit. We have the friendliest birding community that I know of anywhere. We don’t compete with each other and everyone is quick to share the news when they find a good bird.

The adult male Anna's Hummingbird in Buxton - a nice addition to my 2017 NC list.

The adult male Anna’s Hummingbird in Buxton – a nice addition to my 2017 NC list.

Want to read more about Big Year birding? There is even a Wikipedia article called Big Year.  The American Birding Association (ABA) outlines the official listing rules at Listing Central and displays the numbers that ABA members have reported.  All of these birding games are made easier by using eBird, which automatically maintains many of these lists for you as well as providing alerts for “needs” and rare birds.

County Birding

This is a little different than the basic County List because it focuses on finding birds in ALL the counties in a state. One common version is 100 birds in every county. In Maryland, which has only 23 counties, they play 200 birds in every county.

50 Birds in 50 States

I have friends who are working on these lists – to see 50 species in each of the 50 US states.  What a great way to see the country!

I don't have 50 birds in Iowa yet, but this young Harris's Sparrow got my list off to a good start.

I don’t have 50 birds in Iowa yet, but this young Harris’s Sparrow got my list off to a good start.

Bird-A-Day

Bird-A-Day is a twist in which one records a different species observed every day for as many days as possible throughout the year.  In 2016, I made it through half the year recording my last new bird on July 1.  I swore that I would not do it again, but here I am deep into it in late February 2017 and plotting how I can beat last year’s attempt.

Photographed Birds

Any of the above games, but only birds that you photograph count.

Great Crested Flycatcher. One of my favorite photos.

Great Crested Flycatcher. One of my favorite photos.

Birders are creative and I’m astounded by the new things that I am learning every day. Day List? Yes, some people even keep lists for each calendar day of birds seen in any location, in any year, but on that specific day.  This list of lists could go on and on, but I’ll quit now and leave it up to you to find more or even invent your own birding game.  I’ve got to go look for a Woodcock now.

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News flash – I just saw my 600th ABA bird! Please pardon this interruption to my series of Alaska posts, but this is just too exciting to not share now. Birders, feel free to skip ahead while I attempt to explain to my non-birding friends just what an “ABA bird” is. ABA is the American Birding Association, a wonderful organization that serves birders with publications aimed at improving birding skills, promotion of conservation, summer camps for teens, and lots of other fun and important birding stuff. It is also the official keeper of LISTS. Avid birders love lists and ABA members can report theirs for comparison to other birders. The “ABA area” is basically all of North America north of Mexico. So, a birder’s ABA list is the list of all the birds that he or she has observed in the ABA area.

Green Heron - The ABA

Green Heron – The ABA “Bird of the Year” for 2015

Back in the 1960s, it was quite an accomplishment to join the “600 Club.” But, the Internet, email, listservs, eBird, Facebook, and cell phones have totally changed birding from a few decades ago. Now, news of a rare bird travels fast and within hours dozens of birders may see a rarity. This rapid communication has enabled many to see 700 species in the ABA area and some have even observed over 800 ABA birds, but that achievement requires a lot of time, money, energy, and ambition. To put these numbers in perspective, there are only 671 regularly occurring birds in North America and many of those are found only in small numbers in particular locations. Another 308 species are rare and many of those have been observed in North America only a few times.

Whooping Cranes. Photo: International Crane Foundation.

Whooping Cranes. Photo: International Crane Foundation.

I was getting close to 600 ABA birds when I left for Alaska in June. I needed 42 more and there were 42 birds on last year’s trip list that I had not seen. I had a chance! But, birds change from year to year and I got only 40 ABA birds in Alaska. I needed two more birds. And, then I learned that the non-migratory Whooping Cranes that I had seen in Florida last year were now countable. I needed only one more bird! Of course, I was excited about the possibilities, but this wasn’t going to be easy. I would figure out a plan for #600 later.

On August 11, I left for Gainesville, Florida, for a family visit. I planned to just drive down, visit family, and drive back home. I didn’t even take my scope or hiking shoes. Since I got back from Alaska a few weeks earlier, I had not paid much attention to what was happening outside my home county. But, after I got to Florida, I discovered that Smooth-billed Anis were being reported at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge every day. There was mention of a nest, so I expected the birds to continue to be there for a while. I had seen Anis in Ecuador, but not in the ABA area. This could be my #600! I altered my plans so that I could drive to South Florida and see the Anis after visiting with my family.

Smooth-billed Ani

Smooth-billed Ani

I didn’t know if a scope was required or not, but I wanted to be sure that I’d have the best views possible. Fortunately, Angel & Mariel Abreu of Nature Is Awesome Birding & Wildlife Tours were available for the day. They would also try to help me get Black-whiskered Vireo for #601 and we could spend the remainder of the day looking for South Florida specialty butterflies.

On August 16, we arrived at Loxahatchee at 9:00 AM and found two Smooth-billed Anis right away. They could not have been more cooperative and we had fun watching the birds preen and fly around a little, but never out of sight. We could see detail in every feather with the scope and we got good photos.

Mariel and I celebrating my 600th ABA bird

Mariel and I celebrating my 600th ABA bird

We also saw the first two of six new butterflies for me that day, Phaon Crescent and Ruddy Daggerwing.

Ruddy Daggerwing

Ruddy Daggerwing

Phaon Crescent

Phaon Crescent

Finally, we tore ourselves away from the Anis and drove down to Key Largo to look for the Black-whiskered Vireos that Angel and Mariel had scouted the previous day. They both saw three birds after just a few minutes, but it took over two hours for me to get a satisfying look. Angel and Mariel never once complained while we stood there in the August heat. Finally, I got a good enough look at one of the birds and we moved on to look for more butterflies.

Florida Purplewing

Florida Purplewing

We went to an area of the Key Largo Hammocks State Botanical Site that requires a backcountry pass, which the Abreus had obtained the previous day when scouting for the vireo. We saw a few birds and a Florida Purplewing, a rare butterfly that is officially listed as a “Species of Special Concern” due to its declining population and disappearance from most of its historic range. I’m sure that the beautiful Purplewing was the highlight of the day for Angel and Mariel.

Florida Purplewing

Florida Purplewing

Our last stop was at a pine rockland preservation in Homestead. At first glance, it looked like any other Florida pine forest with saw palmetto understory. But, as soon as we stepped off the path and carefully walked through the rocks, I could see how different this was. Pine rockland exists only in southern Florida and parts of the Bahamas. It is typically a savanna-like forest on limestone outcroppings with a canopy of Florida Slash Pine and a diverse understory of shrubs and herbaceous plants. Pine rocklands are home to a significant number of rare plants and animals found in no other habitat, including several Federally Endangered plants. Its delicate beauty becomes apparent once you really look at the life it hosts. Sadly, pine rockland is an endangered ecosystem with only a few fragments remaining in South Florida and some of those are slated for development.

Baracoa Skipper

Baracoa Skipper

Ceranus Blue

Ceranus Blue

Butterflies we found there were Baracoa Skipper and Ceranus Blue.

Curve-lined Cydosia Moth

Our last sighting of the day, just before dark at that same location, was the Curve-lined Cydosia Moth in the photo to the left, which is found from southern Florida south to Argentina. This beautiful moth is not very common and it was new to all of us.

I could not have asked for a more cooperative or interesting bird for ABA #600.  Thanks to Angel and Mariel for another fun day. As always, I left South Florida looking forward to returning again soon.

My next post will be another on Alaska.  Follow along with me on more birding adventures.

Angel Mariel and me

Angel, Mariel, and me

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