How will you go birdwatching this spring? My answer has usually been, and still is, that I think, usually on a Thursday, about what habitat I feel like visiting (swamp or grasslands, mountains or shore, or maybe ...), check the weather to see which weekend day is more favorable, and go! This year it's a little different ...
This year I'm keeping a year list. I've been a birder for almost 20 years, and I've been wretched about keeping lists. I'm ashamed, now that I look back at it, that I didn't keep better lists and chronicles of my birding adventures and misadventures. I have some handwritten accounts from the early 90s that I treasure - why didn't I keep it up?
The past is past. I'm going to keep a list this year, and keep an account of my year in the real world. Ebird makes it easy, but it also changes the experience, not entirely for the better - I've checked my state ranking three times this week! Oh well, it's an experiment.
And it got me thinking about the many, many ways to go birding. Each one changes the focus a bit and makes for a different way of thinking about the natural world.
I love habitat birding. I consider myself a habitat birder. You tell me about a remote swamp in NJ or a new wildlife management area, and it's on my list. What birds might be there that no one knows about?
This year, though, there's the list. It's true, fox sparrow might pop up anywhere, but sandhill cranes - well, they do show up, I had three only a couple of miles from me last year, but to "get" them for the list, there's one "reliable" place, which I have visited twice unsuccessfully. I need to go a third time! Such repeated visits would be anathema to me in a normal year, but not this year.
But, it's fun! I'm taking a different path this year. It's going to bring me a different experience.
And it makes me think about all the other ways to go birding that await: I could do a hotspot year, staking out several known hotspots and getting a lot of birds that I often miss. I could do a regional or county year. I could focus on one habitat through the whole year. I could do a Bigby (Big Year Back Yard) Year and focus on very close at hand birds. I keep thinking about a "fringes of New Jersey" year where I explore the bordering state areas. I could try a year of group trips and see what I learn. I could take a year to really work on field marks of a relatively few birds. I don't think I could do a photography birding year - neither my camera nor my skills are up to the task.
What about you? How do you go birding? Have you ever tried a different method? What have you learned?