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