Bird brained stories!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Unceremonius attaining of a Life List goal

I had been but two birds away from meeting a goal of 200 North American birds. I'd asked a co-worker with rural farm contacts to ask them about possible Barn Owls. Barn Owl would be a great number 200 for this landmark, I thought. Endangered in the state, not to mention just a very cool bird. Awaiting her reports, I couldn't just sit around and do nothing, however. So I headed down the bike trail, wearing my binoculars with my nifty new Eagle Optics harness to keep them at the ready.

I haven't done much biking yet this spring, but as in every year before this, I went the distance, sore muscles be damned! I saw many of the expected birds along the way. It was fun to stop under the interstate bridge, where hundreds of Cliff Swallows have nests, watching all the comings and goings from their little mud hut village. Lots of American Redstarts, one particularly cooperative at eye level and close range, guarding his territory. Common Yellowthroats were equally abundant. I couldn't discern if the Eagles were nesting or not.

Then I stopped near some fallow fields to see what might be out there. Not easily spotted except in flight was a Solitary Sandpiper. It confirmed my id with its funny whistle call. Another bird could be heard singing waaaay out in the field. It took quite some time for me to locate it, perched atop a weedy stalk, singing away. Some kind of sparrow, I'd figured. Try as I might, I could not make out any field marks at that distance. The best I could hope to do was match its call with my sources for bird songs. Off I went.

I reached the trailhead and decided to continue on the next branch of the system. I'd always been curious to see where the City Trail branch went. For the most part, I was in industrial parkland, but there was an area of shrubby growth that was quite thick just south of the LaCrosse River. Listening here, I spotted quick flashes of an Empid. An Empid that sang! This Empid was an Alder Flycatcher. Cool. Number 199 on The List!

I returned home several hours later, some parts of my body burned, others tanned. I sat down with all the sparrow calls, reviewing every one to see what that bird in the field had been. Not a single one matched. Nothing could even come close to being some sort of variant. So that bird went unreported for lack of any ID.

A couple days later, one of the local birders posted on the wisbird list that he'd seen Dickcissels in a field near the Menards store. Preparing for my venture over there to capture bird Number 200, I reviewed the different versions of this bird's song. That's when it hit me.

The bird waaaay out in the field on Sunday? No wonder I couldn't match its song to any of the sparrows. It was a Dickcissel! I must here report that in a household with two teenage sons and one overgrown teenager passing as an adult--my husband--this is not the best bird to share in conversation regarding birding achievements. So be it. I grew up with brothers and boy cousins, I can take it!

Number 200 had been reached, and I didn't even know it at the time. I wonder how many of us who proclaim that listing isn't important, but do it anyway, have reached such landmarks without being aware of it at the time.

As a birder who tries to avoid chasing, especially if chasing involves unnecessary use of fossil fuels, I'm happy to report that 163 of these birds were seen right in my home county of LaCrosse. Most of the rest were seen within neighboring counties, or while on the road for other reasons, such as visits to family. I suspect that trying to attain a new landmark will be much harder. I have a standing offer from a birder friend on the Texas coast to give her 20 minutes to change the sheets and we're off. Might be time to take her up on that offer!


  • Congratulations on the milestone! And let me echo your Texas friend's invitation. If you ever feel the need to meet some desert birds, you've got a place to stay.

    By Blogger Amy, at 1:00 PM  

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