Put Some Life Into That List

A Life List in birding is simply a list of every bird species you’ve ever seen. Some birders take the list very seriously and some are just casual observers. No matter what kind of Life Lister you are though, you will inevitably hit a plateau and your bird species numbers will stagnate.

The reason for this is simple: there are a limited number of birds in this world and an even more limited number of birds in your local area at any given time. Some of these birds will be common, of course, but the ones that you need for your list will be rarer and harder to find.

In order to see more birds, birders must do two things: 1) Bird in all seasons 2) Travel to a wide-range of ecosystems.

For me, I did both of these things while living in North Carolina. I’d head to the coast and I’d head to the mountains. I’d bird in the cold and also in the sweltering summer heat. My numbers stagnated around the 170 range. The more birds I found, fewer birds were left that were considered common. I had to dedicate more time and effort to finding the uncommon and rare (or migratory) birds listed in my field guide.

However, there is one major thing you can do to boost your numbers and that is . . . travel to a far away land.

Boosting Your Life List Numbers One Trip at a Time

By traveling, birders can expose themselves to completely new species. My trips out West allowed me to see the variety of bird species that I was unfamiliar with, given that I live East of the Mississippi. But even the birds out West were not all too uncommon. It wasn’t until I traveled to another continent that the birds of my imagination came to life in a variety of colors, shapes, and sounds.

My trip to Nepal exposed me to whole new species with strange new names: Drongo, Niltava, Minivet, Jacana, Bulbul, Barbet, and plenty more otherworldly bird names. It was an exciting time, when everyday I could see birds that looked strange compared to the birds I was used to back home. During this trip I was able to push my Life List numbers well past 170, reaching closer and closer to the 280 mark. For many these numbers might seem amateur, but I was stoked to surpass 200 and even more excited to list over 100 birds in Nepal alone.

Even if you can’t make a trip out of the country there are plenty of options nearby. Simply venturing into different ecosystems will provide you plenty of opportunities to get a new bird for your list. Look for wetlands, prairies, farmland, mountain flyways, creeks, old growth forests, shallow freshwater lakes, saltwater, public parks, and even cityscapes (Peregrine Falcons love hunting pigeons among high rises). You’re sure to find something interesting, if only you venture out to find it.

Birding at Dusk

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Sunset at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Two hours before sunset the sky is filled with day. The colors of the Earth are vibrant beneath the blue sky and it is quiet. There is still time before the night comes.

At the first hint of change, from day to night, the forests and the fields and even the lakes will become alive again–a frenzy of feeding before the light runs out. Fish reveal themselves on the surface of the water and birds make their hurried calls to eat before dark.

You’re apt to hear the chittering of a Kingfisher making its rounds above the water–diving in and reemerging with a small fish. If you pay attention, you may see the bird land on its chosen branch, perhaps a downed tree sticking out from the shore. Keep watching because you just might observe the Kingfisher bashing its prey on the branch, incapacitating the fish before it is swallowed.

One hour before sunset the sky is gold and the lighting becomes divine with the hint of heaven reaching down through the leaves. Most birds will use this time quietly. Their locations will only be revealed to you in the rustling of the leaves and the motions among the trees.

Thirty-minutes before sunset the sky is becoming red and pink and purple and blue and . . .

The colors of the Earth are no longer vivid, but the sky bleeds an artist’s palette. Visual observation is still possible here, but behavior is what we’re looking for. How does nature behave before bed?

There is a calming that occurs in the final seconds of daylight, a peace available to those who are there to experience it.   

It is in these moments that the world becomes beautiful again–and indeed it is necessary for us to be reminded of this. No matter the difficulties of your day and the challenges of the night, these moments will be there for you.

If only you have a mind and a heart to observe.