Friday, December 25, 2009

Xmas day 2009

Just one more week until my big year kicks off. It seems a bit unreal that it is almost here since I first began visualizing my grand travel adventure back in 2006. And I have been working frequently on the trip details since this past summer.

A couple of additions to my blog layout include a family photo, and an entry to track how the species count is going. There are 3 categories: bird species seen this week; total species seen year to date; and new life birds YTD. For non-birdwatchers, the term "life bird" refers to a new species that you have added to your bird life list. People who bird often generally keep a life list with respect to some specific geographic area like say North America above Mexico. And hard core listers will have several sub-lists such as their year list or even month list for say the county they live in, or for even their backyard.

Since I have what I call the "collector gene", over the years I have marked down in my preferred field guide of the time (Birds of North America mostly until Sibley came out with his superb guide in 2000) any new bird that I saw. But unlike most life listers, I do not keep a count of the total life birds I have seen (most hard core birders know their number).

So you might ask why is he tracking birds seen during his big year, and for that matter why is he bothering to do a big year which is all about seeing as many different bird species as possible? Throughout the year, this blog will flesh out the answer to that question, but for now I will simply say that counting the birds seen will provide focus and direction for my larger travel agenda, thus my blog title of Slowbirding: the big year meets the big night.

So then you might ask is there some target number of different bird species during 2010 that I am trying to see? The answer to that question is that since my geographic area for my big year is just the lower 48 states (as opposed to all of North America above the Mexican border), a respectable effort would be a minimum of 600 different species seen. A very good result would be 650 species. A truly outstanding but highly unlikely total would be 700 species seen, and would require some especially good luck with encountering many rarities during the year. As one reference point, the American Birding Association (ABA) field card only lists 715 regularly occurring species. The ABA lists a total of 957 different species seen and confirmed in the ABA area (North America north of Mexico).

As another reference point, in 1998 three birders (Sandy Komito, Al Levantin and Greg Miller) all broke 700 species seen in North America above Mexico, and Sandy set the record with 745 species. The key to their respective totals was the time spent birding in Alaska, and particularly on Attu Island which is at the western end of the Aleutian Islands chain. The potential of finding a high number of rare/accidental birds in Alaska is one reason many big years cover all of the ABA area. And why hard core life listers have Alaska in general as a prime birding destination.

Well that's all for today--it is Xmas after all. I'll be back on New Year's Day.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

first posting

Hi, my name is Chris and this is my first posting for what I anticipate will be a year long blog about my upcoming travel adventure. This blog is titled "Slow Birding: the big year meets the big night" because it seeks to encapsulate several elements of my travels in 2010, in particular birdwatching and eating.

Slow birding is a take off of slow food--the anti fast food/quality food movement that began in Italy and has spread around the world. The big year references when a birder seeks to see as many different bird species in a given geographic area in a calendar year. The most common geographic areas chosen by American birders are a county, a state or all of North America above the Mexican border. In my case I am only birding the lower 48 states in 2010 as part of my goal to thoroughly enjoy my birding time; to maintain some level of sanity around the goal of seeing as many different species as possible in a calendar year; and to make it easier for friends and family to join me in my adventure.

The big night references the food movie of the same name, and underscores another one of my main reasons for embarking on this travel adventure--eating and sharing with friends and family some really great food. I will be revisiting some of my favorite restaurants, and trying a few new ones. I will be seeking out authentic, local pizza places. I plan to visit several of the hamburger joints that George Motz wrote about in his book Hamburger America. I also will be searching for local/regional foods wherever possible.

When the birding slows down a bit in the latter part of the year, I will be doing some hiking and backpacking as well. I plan to visit some of my favorite places to hike, particularly out in the western part of our beautiful country, which is where I began birdwatching in my early 20's as part of being a hiker and backpacker. I did both pretty often during my 20's and early 30's, but then work and family began to capture most of my time, so the birding and hiking pretty much faded away for several years. In the past decade I have been able to return to both after I retired. And now in my 60th year I will begin my Slow Birding adventure on January 1. Stay tuned!