Most of us have been involved in a scavenger hunt at least once, right? You remember them — you get a list of items to find in a designated area, and the first one to find everything wins a prize. I’ve come to think of birding as a scavenger hunt where each bird is a little treasure that makes my life richer. And the best part is that you can find each bird over and over again and somehow it’s different every time.
When I go on a birding walk, I often challenge myself to find and identify as many species as possible. I’m not really competing with anyone but myself, although I have to admit to being…um…motivated by other birders. But unlike a treasure hunt, there’s no map with a big red X to show me where the birds are, and they don’t stay still long enough to be mapped like that anyway. Besides, that would be too easy. Part of the fun is figuring out where the birds will be on any given day.
And what are my “clues” for this hunt? Usually I rely on my knowledge of habitats and a dose of “being in the right place at the right time.” Most days I can easily find a couple dozen species if I put even the smallest bit of effort into it, but I see some more experienced birders reporting two or three times that amount, so I know I have a long way to go. Most days there are many birds that get past me unidentified — either they fly over too fast or they’re hiding in a thicket or whatever. It takes lots of study and field experience to be able to identify every bird you might see.
But even when I’ve seen a particular species many times, I still get excited when I find my first of each species for the year (FOY in birder lingo). I’ve set my eBird account to send me daily notifications of new reports of any birds I haven’t yet seen this year, so that gives me some more clues about where to go to look for them.
As you probably know, birders love lists…we make yard lists, county lists, state lists, and life lists. My Life List is a list of all the species I’ve ever seen in the wild (zoo and other captive birds don’t count). Coming up to my third year of watching the warbler migration, I’ve just realized that I never made a list just for warblers. Holy lazy birder, Batman! But that’s been rectified now (whew!). Here are the warblers I’ve seen and the ones I still need to find:
Still to see – 14 species (excluding those in the western US)
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Warblers already seen – 23 species
Black-throated Green Warbler
Cape May Warbler
That’s not bad for only two years of warbler watching — I’ve seen more than half of them at least once. Of course I want to have additional looks at all of them. One sighting per species is never enough.
Some of the birds on my “needs” list have already been reported down on the shores of Lake Erie, even before the Biggest Week starts: the Prairie, Orange-crowned, and Worm-eating Warblers. In total they’ve already found 16 species of warblers there this month — it’s driving me absolutely nuts to watch the reports come out each day. I’m just dying to get down to Ohio and join in the hunt!
(Clipart copyright MyCuteGraphics.com)