Saturday, December 30, 2006

Colorado Birding Year

Having left Colorado a few days back for the last time in 2006, it’s time for another year in review. The birding is over, so let’s see how things went....

2006 was a fun and productive year in birding for me. My state list burgeoned from 229 on January 1 to 318 as of Dec 27. 91 new state birds this year included regular seasonal visitors like the Northern Shrike, Great Egret and the Rosy-Finches, and a fair number of unusual vagrants like the White Ibis, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Hudsonian Godwit. I chased quite a few rarities, with mixed results, and I also visited some new areas of the state which allowed me to pick up other varieties which are typical in their respective habitats but not often seen in or around Fort Collins. Towards the end of the year I managed to pick up a couple really nice species, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and the Varied Thrush, both of which turned out to be much easier than I expected.

As in 2005 I kept a year list, to see how much I could improve on my regular bird-finding. I had 229 birds in ‘05, and sought to find 300+ in ‘06. I got close, but unfortunately came up short with just 294. I’m still pretty happy with that - 294 is a lot of birds. Off the top of my head I can think of at least 15 species that I looked long and hard for but failed to get, for various reasons. Some of that is of course blind luck, or lack thereof. Despite my best efforts I simply won’t always find what I’m looking for, and that’s not a reflection of anything in particular. Another reason I missed 300 was that I never did do the spring SE Colorado trip I thought I might earlier in the year. Sure, I visited Chico Basin Ranch a couple times, once in February (for the Long-billed Thrasher) and again in May for a Nature Conservancy-led field trip. I also was down in Pueblo in February for a Winter Raptor Survey, and in CaƱon City in late September in search of the elusive Common Black Hawk (which I apparently missed only by one day). But these were very short trips, and I never did make a visit out to points further east like Lamar or John Martin Reservoir or better yet Cottonwood Canyon way down in Baca County, like I did in 2005. If I’m going to get 300+ birds in Colorado for a year, a couple days in that part of the state sure helps a lot.

I resisted for over a year since I arrived, but I finally gave in this year and started up some Colorado county lists in earnest. I had been afraid of the administrative overhead in maintaining so many additional bird lists, but the advantages in doing so have turned out to outweigh the challenges. For one, keeping county lists adds a new dimension to in-state travels, giving purpose and relevance to seeing birds in a new place that you might see quite often in more familiar and regularly-visited stomping grounds. Even Rock Pigeons are interesting if you see one while crossing into a county that you’ve never been to before - time to fire up a new list! At year’s end I have 15 county lists, ranging in length from 20 in Montrose County (which we only drove through during a SW Colorado trip back in early August), to 239 in Larimer. Weld and Boulder counties also see a lot of action, and I have 182 and 137 in them respectively, but all other counties have fewer than 100 species tallied so far.

As fun as county lists have proven to be, at this point I still don’t bird for the purpose of increasing their lengths though. In Colorado my real interests are increasing my life list and my year lists - county lists are incidental accomplishments. In time this may change, and I will possibly travel across the state just to pump up county lists. But for now I’m probably obsessed enough as it is.

So what do I hope to do next year, listwise? I’m not sure - I’ve not thought that much about it yet. I still want to see 300 species in a year, but part of me wants to wait to do a full-on Big Year and shoot for 350+. Another part of me wants to focus more on bird-finding and less on bird-chasing this coming year - that would be more in line with my belief in the real purpose of listing, which is to increase understanding of birds, their populations and distributions, and the furtherance of their conservation. That kind of focus would probably reduce my total species counts for the year, but it would increase the number of rarities for which I was the original finder, and it may well be a better use of my skills anyway, helping to cover ground that other birders aren’t focusing on.

Lastly, I started a yard list too this year. The “yard” includes any bird seen from my property, whether flying overhead or in a tree across the street. Some people have great locations and can tally 70, 80, or even a 100 species over time in their similarly-defined yards. I’m currently at 34, which I think is pretty good, but until I can create a much more bird-friendly yard and attract more songbirds, it’ll be tough to boost that number by much. My best yard birds so far are the Eurasian Collared-Dove, Hermit Thrush, and Bohemian Waxwing.

Soon I'll post some more detailed overall year-end highlights, and finally some of my nicer trip photos.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Varied Thrush rush

I drove out to Crow Valley campground today, having heard about a Varied Thrush that has been seen there the past couple days. Things are pretty quiet at the campground - the gate is shut, and I was the only human there. In spite of that (or perhaps because of it?) I was able to find the bird hanging out with some thrush pals (robins and solitaires) near the picnic area in just a few minutes. Here are a few views of it.

Varied Thrush is pretty rare in Colorado, and this was my first one here. It's one of favorite birds though - very handsome, like a Robin that got tired of its plain look and decided to sport a necktie or a vest.

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