Thursday, December 20, 2012

another 30 robins? really? Does anybody still care?

fabulous American Robin photo (attribution)

Beware: this robin is larger than it appears.
Numerically speaking, that is.

It's big, it's 113 years old, it's awesome,
and now it's free (used to be all of $5 to participate).

Here's "us," one of the groups in the Yosemite Christmas Bird Count on Sunday.
Can ya guess which one is moi?

As the Audubon Society's page says,
"the longest running Citizen Science survey in the world,
Christmas Bird Count provides critical data on population trends."

It's all day.

I participated in a CBC in San Diego
where I met the guy at my park at about 4:30 a.m.
so we could find the great horned owl he knew was about,
which we did (this dude was prepared).
Then we napped in our cars until dawn.
And resumed birding.

Anyhow, one begins such adventures all psyched.
I didn't sleep well the night before 'cause I was nervous.
Then I figured I'd think of Christmas carols
to lull myself to sleep.

Good plan.

First one I thought of was "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
7 swans a swimming
6 geese a laying
5 golden rings
glorious pheasant photo attribution

4 calling birds
3 french hens
2 turtle doves
and a partridge in a pear tree.

Eventually, though, I slept.

So, got there next morning,
was still nervous ('cause not v. skilled birder)
but our group leader calmed my fears.
She was 100% positive,
super mellow and supportive, so that was great.

Cue fun machine.

Yet, she warned us of birding fatigue.
If you go all day, it's about 7-8 hrs of birding (or more).
You'll run out of steam.
Instead of seeing some birds and thinking "YAY!"
you're bored and want to go home.

IMPOSSIBLE! thought I.
I am Queen of Bio-Enthusiasm.

She was right.
7 hours later, I was thinking:
Do I REALLY have to write down ANOTHER 20 ROBINS?!?
Does ANYBODY CARE at this point?

'Cause your caveman brain knows this is not useful info.
For a caveman.

It IS, however, useful to the CBC compilers.
And to us, later. And prosperity.

So, the American Robin was THAT bird this year.

White-crowned sparrow photo by Wolfgang Wander

Years ago I did CBC w/Bear in the San Joaquin Valley.
That year, white crowned sparrows were "that bird."

I still remember the field I was standing in,
when I asked Bear (quietly, so no one else heard),
"Do I really have to keep counting these white-crowns?"
Bear stared at me.


So, I counted and added another 110 to the list.
And I am a COMPULSIVE counter.
I LOVE to count.
But 7 hours is a long time.

However, this CBC data set is
OLD and HUGE and awesome.
So, it's worth it.

And who knew? I did much better than I expected,
AND I got a really good look at one of these:
red-breasted sap sucker (photo attribution)

Gorgeous bird.
And I actually saw a ruby-crowned kinglet
up CLOSE, that had its ruby crown on full display.
I've only seen THAT about 3 times.

killer cute ruby-crowned kinglet (photo by Dan Pancamo)

Saw lots of other good birds,
cute birds,
cool birds.
Lots of birds.

But, what I like best about it,
is 2 things:
1. I'm not the world's worst birder.
A little studying, and I improve.

2. I've reawakened to birds.
Ever since Sunday,
I keep grabbing my binos
to identify things in my yard.

And pulling Sibley's off the shelf,
and looking stuff up.

And listening to the Birdchick podcast.

It's all good.
Even for a caveman.



  1. Dear BB, Thanks for being so inspired by wildlife that it spills over into the written word. Whilst we have annual bird counts here in the UK too, the longevity of the Audubon Society's CBC is impressive. There's real worth to be mined from a dataset of such long standing. Less seriously, I now have a mental image of you which is a quirky mixture of Big Bird and The Count from Sesame Street. Happy Solstice, G

    1. =) Same to you re: inspiration and writing. Yup, these long term data sets are SWEET and rare things. I wonder how long your bird counts have been going? I know the UK typically has a much higher rate of birding, butterfly action, and gardening than the US. Has yours been going on much longer than ours (and you are being polite and not mentioning it)?? =)

      Wow, that is an amazingly apt combo, Big Bird + Count Count. I must share this w/my friends--they'll probably agree w/you. =)

    2. As far as I know, the US wins hands down. The British Trust for Ornithology ran a Common Bird Census from 1962 until 2000, plus a Breeding Bird Survey from 1994 until the present. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds began a one day annual count, the Big Garden Birdwatch in 1979 and next January will be its 34th year. So all the kudos goes to your CBC. Big respect!

  2. This is awesome. Of course, It reminds me (however inappropriately) of my medieval history enthusiasm about castles in Scotland. First one I saw (crumbling tower house along the road) I asked "WOW - what castle is that?" and the phlegmatic native next to me shrugged and said "It's a castle."

    So they don't move around as much(!) and it takes more than eight hours to see a bunch, but within three months I was approaching castle fatigue as well - how many half-buried stone forts can you see in someone's backyard before you start to shrug?

    1. Eddie Izzard talked about this, that Americans freak out when they see castles (I know I would), but locals see one and sigh, "Another bloody castle to drive around." =) Hee.

  3. Yea, robins. Yesterday, I saw a flock of about 50 birds heading my way as I was closing the front gate. I waited until they flew directly overhead and flashed me with their orange breasts to confirm they were AMROs. The madrone berries are ripe so the robins are flocking to our mountains here on the California coast to feast for a few weeks. I don't see much of them up here the rest of the year even though they are common year-round at the nearby lower elevations. How do I know about these patterns - from fanatical bird watchers/recorders including the Christmas Bird Count! Also from my own field notes. Birds are so much fun to observe. So far, my main participation in the CBC has been to deliver hot midday fluids (coffee and soup) to the diehard teams in remote locations and join them for short 2-hour spurts, or to tell my staff they should do it. Big Bird (hahahaha!): I like the new layout of your blogsite.

    1. Delivering hot drinks to cold birders is a saintly act. Nicely done. =) I love the image of you looking up to have a giant flock of robins fly overhead. =)

  4. not a birder, but I have a twitcher niece who joins an annual bird count. Today we saw a heron.

    1. Woah, and you know the "twitcher" term?!? Smarty pants! I JUST learned "twitch" and "dipped" this year. Herons are so stately. =)

  5. ohmigosh you saw a sapsucker! I love sapsuckers! (Especially b/c of the name!) Once I saw a yellow-bellied sapsucker hanging around the overgrowth at the Nat'l Zoo--that was a high point...

    So well done you for having spent a marathon birding session for the good of conservation! And how great that in spite of robin fatigue it's reinvigorated your interest in birding! (Had a Sibley's moment yesterday when I spotted what was either a Cooper's or sharp-shinned hawk skim past our window and had to show all of the guests what those birds looked like--whether they wanted to know or not.)

    Thanks for the hilarious and inspiring story, Queen of Bio-Enthusiasm! (You should have a button made, if you don't already. :) )

    1. Ah, SEE?!? THAT's why I always want to call them red-bellied sap suckers, 'cause yellow-bellied sapsucker is in my head and I WANT to SAY IT! But no. It's red, and red-breasted, not bellied. *sigh* Lucky you. =)

      I 100% relate re: sharing X bio factoid w/guests, w/o EVER asking if they WANT to know. =) GOOD for YOU!

  6. wow! cool! LOTS of birds on the christmas count!!

    at first i thought u must be the one LOOKING through binoculars in one direction and pointing in the other. but then i figured u must be the one keeping count!!

    Happy New Year...a year filled with LOTS of new places & critters to get pic's of!! =)

  7. you are the tall one in the back with the gloves on your cold digits....

  8. I'm sure the robins would have something to say about another 30 of them :)

    1. YES. Excellent point. And THAT is why one should continue to record until the group leader says "We're DONE." It's for the birds. =)


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