As you know, I keep a list of every bird species I’ve seen in my life, my Lifelist (duh). I’ve not made a great effort to compete with other birders for annual records, but I don’t rule out a little competition in the future. In fact, I might have some birding mojo working for me already in 2013, as I got a new life bird on each of the first two days of the year without really even trying hard! Hmm, might this be my year to keep up with the power birders?
On January 1, someone posted a note on our southeast Michigan birding list about a big flock of Snow Buntings and Horned Larks in a certain area. Snow Buntings would be a new bird for me. Eric had gone to the gym and I was getting ready to go out for a walk anyway, so I decided to go looking for the flock. I didn’t really have much hope that I’d find them, as the note said they were keeping far back from the road on private property. I slowly drove along the 1-mile stretch of road, scanning both sides for any movement. All I saw on my first pass was a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos, which seem to be everywhere at this time of year.
I turned around and started to go back for a second pass, and suddenly I spotted birds flying in a field about 100 yards away, behind a house. And it was a big flock too. Through my binoculars I could see lots of white, so I felt sure I’d found them. I snapped a few photos with my 400mm lens and that clinched it — yep, Snow Buntings and Horned Larks! It was hard to count them because they kept flying low to the ground and landing in a small depression of tall grasses, but using my photos I estimated at least 100 birds in the mixed flock. What a thrill to get a life bird on New Year’s Day! Totally unexpected and a great bird. (This particular photo shows mostly Snow Buntings, but the overall flock was about half Horned Larks.)
And then when a Fox Sparrow showed up in our yard yesterday I was even more encouraged about the possibilities for this year. He’s a life bird for me too. He was here for the last two hours of daylight yesterday and is still here today, foraging on the ground with the Mourning Doves and Juncos. Dexter the cat is at his usual post at the window below the feeders, occasionally lunging at a squirrel who enjoys taunting him face to face. Bad squirrel. I have fantasies of letting Dexie go outside to take his revenge on that squirrel….
I’ve got things to do and places to go today, but I’m finding it hard to pull myself away from the fascinating natural world at my windows. I see our resident male cardinal defending his thicket from the invading juncos. I watch the little American Tree Sparrows flitting around back in the woods, coming back and forth to the tray feeder, trying to beat the aggressive Blue Jays to the best morsels. The adorable little Red-breasted Nuthatch spends as much time as he dares on the suet cakes, only a foot from the window. And several times I’ve grabbed the binocs to see if that was really a Carolina Wren I just saw. Nope, it’s always a Tree Sparrow again. But you never know who might show up today. After all, it is Day 3!
And before I go, here are my eBird rankings for the two Michigan counties I report from — not bad for a relative rookie, huh? I’m number 25 in my home county of Oakland (91 species), and number 24 in the next-door county, Macomb (97 species). I’ve got a long way to go, but that’s the fun of it all, isn’t it?
And congrats to my friend Kevin for tying with Paul P. at the top of the Macomb list this year!