Ah, New Year’s day – truly a new beginning for the avid birdwatcher. On this day we ‘close the books’ on last year’s list and look at a blank slate on which to begin checking off ‘new’ birds we’ve just seen. In a way, it reminds me of how every autumn begins with the hardwoods bursting into a flaming orgy of color and how it always feels as if I am seeing it for the first time.
Obviously, the birds I am beginning to record anew in my small ABA Trip List booklet are most likely the exact same birds that were at our bird feeders on Dec. 31, but the calendar has turned a page and a new number indicates we are in a new decade, as well as a new year and so I start writing ‘home’ next to the names of Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker and Mourning Dove.
I only recorded 112 species last year – which is in the lower range of numbers seen on most years, but because we only ventured as far as Wisconsin last year, we had fewer opportunities to add species found in the south or west. 2019 had an even lower number but I blame that my laziness (compared to my husband) in going to my checklist at the end of each day to make sure I don’t forget to record a bird I’ve seen.
Mike and I have different approaches to making or keeping our lists: He counts all the birds he hears. I record the location (state/home/or National Park) where I saw the bird. He prefers to keep a record for every state. Either way, at the end of the year, when we look through and tabulate the results, we are reminded of trips we have taken and places we have seen, by the notations next to the names of the birds. For me, it is not just about how many I can record, but to remember the circumstance as well. The ‘big’ years, when the number of species is high, generally mean we’ve taken some trips to far away locations. In 2018 I had a total of 222 species, an all-time high for me, but that’s because we went to the Gulf Coast in Texas in February, where we saw lots of shore and water birds.
We also keep a house list and 2020 should have been a good year, since we were here every day – something that has not happened before in our 35 years of marriage. The total was 67 which is about average. We didn’t see a lot of warblers in the spring migration, which is worrisome since they are species facing serious loss of habitat both here and in South and Central America.
We don’t know yet what spring will hold for us this year, whether we will be able to travel again or whether the Covid virus will keep us at home, but we remain hopeful and flipping the calendar open to 2021 means we start anew. What birds have you seen so far in this new year?
A local bird expert posted some interesting notes about the first birds a person sees each year, (these are her personal interpretations): a Blue Jay means your year will be marked with intelligence and good humor, a Chickadee means your year will be marked with civility and good cheer, and a Crow predicts a year filled with intelligence and clear communication.
The first bird I saw in 2021 was a Mourning Dove. While the name seems to indicate a less than cheerful outlook, but
the mourning in the name refers to the sound of its cooing. In Greek mythology there was a servant girl – Decaocto – who was transformed into a dove by the gods to escape her unhappy treatment; the dove’s mournful cry recalls her former life. Traditionally, we know that doves are symbols of love and peace and that is my wish for 2021.
By Kate Crowley