It began in the early 1980s, when I was maybe 6 or 7, and I found an old rubber duck in my grandma’s basement (it had been one of my aunt’s). I claimed that little duck immediately and appropriately name him “Ducky.” Several rubber ducks followed until I had a rubber duck entourage that rivaled some of my friends’ doll collections. I still have my first two duck books: The Little Duck by Judy Dunn, and Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. This early onset love of waterfowl turned into a healthy love and appreciation for the wetlands in and near my house, or mostly the wetlands I would read about (it’s hard to get around and explore too much when you’re 7).
I started taking birding seriously in my early 20s after watching a Carolina Wren build a nest on my parents’ front porch in southern Ontario, Canada. I continued to bird a lot in this area and found a very colourful and bright group of individuals for whom I spent many Saturday mornings. I once saw 100 bird species in 1 day in May in the early 2000s. I birded from dawn to dusk, with one of my best friends Janice, and saw 100 species in what is called the Point Pelee Birding Area in extreme southwestern Ontario. If you’re familiar with birding and with this area, you’ll know that seeing 100 species of birds in one day in May is actually not that out of reach. The Point Pelee area’s habitat diversity and the park proper’s prominence as a sand spit in Lake Erie place this area in what you could call the fall and spring bird migrations’ Path of Totality.
Zoom to the fall of 2017, and I’m sitting in our newish home in western Oregon, finally making time to read a damn book. The book, Lost among the Birds by Neil Hayward, recounts the author’s Big Year, a year in which he travels the American Birding Association (ABA) Birding Area* in search of as many species of birds he can find. To give you an idea of the enormity of this task, Neil broke the ABA Big Year record in 2013 and saw 749 species of birds. Since then, a few people have broken Neil’s record, the latest being John Weigel, who in 2017 came in at 783 species. How can somebody see, find, and identify so many bird species? It’s not common, but if you’re a savvy birder, are willing to dedicate 12 months of your time travelling pretty constantly, and have some coin set aside, it can be done. A little bit of luck helps, too, as it’s hard to predict when or if the rarities will show up, and oftentimes, they’re the surprised guests that help beat records.
I decided then that I would embark on a far tamer version of an ABA Big Year, a 2018 Oregon Big Year. In 2018, traveled statewide, on several evenings and weekends, navigating around a full-time job, and explored the various habitats of Oregon and specifically seeking out as many bird species as I can. Depending on the source, there are an estimated 470 bird species that can be seen in Oregon in a given year. This does not include the odd vagrant that will end up in Oregon. I made it to 265 bird species, and a little less than I had hoped. However, letting a number cast a shadow on such an incredible year would be a shame.
In 2019, we moved to Washington! Will I do a Washington Big Year? Maybe one day. In the meantime, I’m casually birding (let’s call it sauntering) along the Columbia River gorge and from my backyard, which faces the confluence of Lacamas Creek and the Washougal River.
Linda (Wood Thrush)
* The ABA defines the ABA birding area as including “the 49 continental United States, Hawaii, Canada, the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, and adjacent waters to a distance of 200 miles from land or half the distance to a neighboring country, whichever is less. Bermuda, and Greenland are not included.” Source: http://listing.aba.org/descriptions/