A surfeit of roast duck and all the associated trucklements together with the realisation that 2009 has been a satisfying birding year but not an outstanding one turned my thoughts to 2010 and the question `what to do`.  With the inevitably extensive time that I shall be spending in there next year I have decided that I shall attempt a Big Year devoted to the birds of the arboretum … that is to say I shall endeavour to see as many of the 180+ species on the arboretum checklist as I possibly can during 2010.  Should be fun – at the very least I need to try to beat my lifetime arboretum list which stands at 106 species – that could be hard as some of these birds are not exactly regularl inhabitants.  I have added a list of these at the bottom of today’s post >>


Now a mini-book review …. I spent Christmas Day (when not eating and drinking) reading How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher by Simon Barnes (Short Books, London (2009)). Simon Barnes is the chief sports editor of The Times (London, not NY) and an experienced birder who has made of his career the best of all worlds – he travels the planet at his employer’s expense watching world-class sports events and then gets to bird the locality after work, on expenses. He subtitles his book To the greater glory of life and this certainly is the message he attempts to put over – that life is amazing and that birds are the most amazing of all. Aimed at both tyro birders and the more committed, it is full of worthy thoughts and some great put-downs for the overly-self conscious.

A Bad Birdwatcher is anyone who knows something about birds … some bad birdwatchers know a lot about birds but the message is that contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be an anoraked twitcher with top-of-the-range binoculars to have a good time admiring birds. Simon Barnes gives his readers the confidence and motivation to get pleasure from one of the simplest, cheapest hobbies in the world: watching birds…without letting birdwatching get in the way. He isn’t against listing, far from it, and he is an avid fan of the real experts but he tries to point out that not knowing about birds is not a bar to getting out and watching them … and thereby starting to know about them.

Some of the very best field observers, he notes, never (or not often) chase rarities. They are “local patch” birders who take satisfaction from concentrating on a single place where they observe the comings and goings of the common as well as rare birds day by day, season by season, year by year.  Bad Birdwatchers do this informally, very good birdwatchers do it in minute detail and keep extensive records … it is the bread-and-butter daily observations (is anybody reading this thinking yet of the MBO perhaps?) that truly enthralls. It is the best of soap operas. In other words he says – shock, horror – some of the very best birders are more interested in common birds than rare ones and this is nothing to be ashamed of. There are more common birds out there than rarities and by watching them in detail you will learn more about birds and the way birds behave than you ever will in chasing that once-in-a-lifetime rarity.

Provocative, fascinating, full of great anecdotes and useful information. Simon Barnes is a skilled writer who has something to say to everyone who enjoys birds – highly recommended. I found himself utterly in agreement with almost everything this book speaks to and probably bored J to death by the endless quotations I read to her..


Personal Arboretum Life-list (106 of a possible 180-ish)

HERONS, EGRETS AND BITTERNS
Great Blue Heron
DUCKS, GEESE AND SWANS
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Gadwall
Mallard
NEW WORLD VULTURES
Turkey Vulture
HAWKS, EAGLES AND KITES
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Northern Goshawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
FALCONS AND CARACARAS
Merlin
SANDPIPERS
Solitary Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
GULLS
Ring-billed Gull
PIGEONS AND DOVES
Rock Dove
Mourning Dove
CUCKOOS
Black-billed Cuckoo
OWLS
Barred Owl
HUMMINGBIRDS
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
WOODPECKERS
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
TYRANT FLYCATCHERS
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
SWALLOWS
Tree Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
WAGTAILS AND PIPITS
American Pipit
KINGLETS
Golden-crowned Kinglet
WAXWINGS
Bohemian Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing
WRENS
Winter Wren
House Wren
MOCKINGBIRDS AND THRASHERS
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
THRUSHES
Eastern Bluebird
Veery
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
CHICKADEES AND TITS
Black-capped Chickadee
NUTHATCHES
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
CREEPERS
Brown Creeper
SHRIKES
Northern Shrike
CROWS AND JAYS
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
STARLINGS
European Starling
VIREOS AND ALLIES
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
WOOD WARBLERS
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Pine Warbler
Palm Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Ovenbird
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Canada Warbler
TANAGERS AND ALLIES
Scarlet Tanager
SPARROWS, TOWHEES, JUNCOS
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
SALTATORS, CARDINALS AND ALLIES
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
BLACKBIRDS, ORIOLES, GRACKLES, ETC.
Bobolink
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
FINCHES, SISKINS, CROSSBILLS
Pine Grosbeak
Purple Finch
House Finch
White-winged Crossbill
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
OLD WORLD SPARROWS
House Sparrow
-------- STATISTICS --------
Species seen - 106