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Bird Lists

January 28, 2010
Rustic Bunting; photo by Harvey Schmidt

Birders can be lumped into four general categories:

1. casual birders who view birding as an occasional pastime;
2. committed birders, for whom it is a regular pursuit, a serious hobby;
3. passionate or serious birders, including ornithologists and activists;
4. fanatical or obsessed birders who will drop anything or travel anywhere at almost any cost in money, time or relationships to see a bird or birds.

My daughters used to call people in this fourth category “daffy birdwatchers” as they would occasionally phone me and try to lure me into accompanying them on bird treks. They are more familiarly known as “twitchers, ” named, supposedly, because of their peculiar habit of spastic behavior at the mere mention of a new bird to add to their “life lists,” records of all the birds seen in a lifetime.

The four categories are actually not stable. Depending on how busy I am, I can be anything at any given time from a casual birder to a fanatic and anything in between. This past year, I passed up opportunities to see cardinals, rare birds in our neck of the woods, and never did get around to searching out the Screech Owls and Snowy Owls that are not too difficult to find. But I did chase after a Burrowing Owl four hours from home and a Rustic Bunting 500 miles away!

A new book by Richard Pope, The Reluctant Twitcher: A Quite Truthful Account of My Big Birding Year, chronicles that author’s attempt to see at least 300 species of birds in one year in his native province of Ontario. I could say that it inspired me to consider how many birds I’ve seen over the past year in Manitoba, one province west of his. For the first time ever, I made a provincial year-list. But, in fact, I should confess that the Internet made me do it! The Internet is turning me into a potential birding fanatic.

Thanks to the Internet and a listserv called Manitobabirds, I not only know when and where a new bird shows up in the province, I know all the records for the highest number of birds seen on any day, in any month, in any year, in any season, etc.

Last year, 2009, there were 325 different species of birds seen in Manitoba. That’s by all parties. The record for one person is 303 seen in one year. A “Dead-of-Winter” List (December first to the end of February , when you’d think there’d be only a couple hardy birds willing to stick it out in such a frigid place) is now up to 106 different species. That’s a new record for the period with over a month to go.
The “Big Day” record for Manitoba is 214 birds seen in one 24-hour period on May 31, 2008. It is also the Big Day record for all of Canada.

As an intensely competitive person, I’m finding it harder to resist the urge to try to break those records. I know this is virtually impossible. The woman who set the one year record in Manitoba put over 60,000 kilometers (almost 40,000 miles) on her new car to get the record. She also knows much more about birds than I do and has the time to chase birds.
I guess I’ll just have to be content with my average of 240-250 birds in Manitoba per year. I wonder how that compares to other people in other provinces and states? What do your lists look like?

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