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 in Nepal

Nepal is home to nearly 10% of the Earth’s bird population, which is impressive for a country of its size. Its distinct ecological features allow it to be home to birds with a range of preferences–whether it’s soaring in the Himalayas or perched in a fruit tree in the southern jungles of Chitwan.

My wife and I spent nearly 4 months in Nepal from September to December. And during that time I had one humble birding goal and that was to identify 100 different bird species. (It should be noted that a Nepali Ornithologist I spoke with briefly laughed at this goal and said, “That can be done in a day in Chitwan.”)

My main locations for birding were the Kathmandu Valley, Annapurna Conservation Area, and Chitwan National Park.

Kathmandu Valley

Kathmandu had its birds, but sighting anything other than common birds was very difficult in the dust filled streets of Nepal’s capital city. That didn’t mean there weren’t birds to be found. In fact, one of my most memorable finds was a white-throated kingfisher that perched in a field directly across from the apartment where I stayed. I remember spotting it, then rushing back into the apartment to get my camera. I must have taken a hundred photos of that one bird (and practically none of them panned out). It was my first kingfisher in Asia.

Kathmandu Valley, though crowded and full of city life, has pockets of good nature that allow small droves of birds to thrive. Thanks to my father-in-law who knew where all these pockets were, I was able to catch glimpses of the birds that lived there:

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Annapurna Conservation Area

During my trip in Nepal, I entered the Annapurna Conservation Area twice. The first time I was in Manang on the Northern side of the Himalayan range. There, I was well above 10,000 feet in elevation, getting as high up as 15,000 feet at one point. In Manang, I saw the high-flyers: Red-Billed Chough, Himilayan Vulture, and a few other indistinguishable falcons and eagles. The land there was dry, due to the rain shadow caused by the mountains to the south. It was a unique environment mirroring the high, dry plateaus and peaks of Tibet.

During the second trip, I was in Pokhara and the Kaski District on the Southern side of the Himalayas. There I trekked with my wife and her family to Ghorepani and Gandruk. Most of my time here was dedicated to trekking and seeing the mountains. But I was able to capture a few bird photos, thanks to the patience of my in-laws who allowed me plenty of moments to nerd out over the birds I saw. During the trek I saw many of the same birds that I saw in Manang, but in Pokhara (a city lying at an elevation of 4,600 feet and also next to a lake) the birds got brighter and more vibrant:

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Chitwan National Park

Chitwan lies on the Southern border of Nepal. It’s much hotter there and flat too. This area is known for its elephant, rhino, and tiger populations. It was a crazy thing to be high in the Himalayas one day and to be in the jungle the next (there were times when you could actually see the snow-capped peaks from Chitwan).

Here the number of bird species was overwhelming. It was difficult to keep track of all the new species–make note, take a photo, observe and enjoy. It was an action packed 3 days (for a birder) and the trip easily helped me get past my 100 species mark:

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