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Thumb Twiddling vs Continued Obsessive Bird-Hunting

One of the things that is different about doing a big year in a relatively small state such as South Dakota, as compared to doing one in Texas or in the ABA area, is that by the end of June I have already seen most of the likely birds. There are fewer different habitats to visit and fewer miles to travel to get to them.

Between now and the end of December, I suppose that if I were to be both diligent and lucky, I could add 6-10 species, or possibly a few more, to my year list. That’s something like 1-2 new birds per MONTH as compared to as many as 86 new year-birds in May! I’m having difficulty adjusting my expectations when I go out birding, and realizing that most days I will not see anything new. It’s also hard to get overly motivated to bird at the pace that I’ve been at for the first half of the year (birding all or part of 3-6 days each week), because I’m so unlikely to find something new. In fact, primarily because of my newness to the state, I mostly have difficulty figuring out where would be good places to look for the birds that I’m still missing for the year. Even if am able to keep going, the reward in terms of the number of new species seen per hour birding is going to be way lower than it has been.

I know of course that quite a few of my missing species are not even present right now in South Dakota, so I will need to wait until their return migration to expect to find them. It is tempting to sit back and take off a week, or a month, or more. But it won’t be long until shorebirds come back from the far north so I dare not get too complacent.

I also am becoming increasingly aware that if/when I do cut back on my birding because it seems so pointless, I may suffer withdrawal symptoms.

All of the above thoughts, however, are based on the theory that one only does a big year for THE LIST. I realize as I contemplate what to do now that one of the great things about having birded like mad for 6 months and having another 6 months left in the year, is that I should actually have time to “just go birding”, to step back at least a little from the frantic pace. I can spend more time enjoying the birds and the birding experience. And, unlike during the chasing throes of the first six months, I may actually be able to take some time to participate in other non-birding activities and maybe even get a little sleep.

But first, I need to go out and do three Breeding Bird Surveys before the month is out. A birder’s work is never done. Thank goodness!






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Lynn Barber

Lynn Barber

Lynn Barber started birding at the age of 7. In 2005, she broke the Texas big year record with 522 species, and in 2008, she tallied 723 bird species in the ABA Area. An account of her ABA Big Year, entitled Extreme Birder: One Woman’s Big Year, was published in the spring of 2011. Her second book, Birds in Trouble was published in 2016. While living in North Carolina, Lynn was active in Wake County Audubon and on the board of the Carolina Bird Club. Moving to Texas in 2000, she was active in the Fort Worth Audubon Society, serving as its president for 3 years. She is a life member of the Texas Ornithological Society, and became its president in April 2009. She now lives in Anchorage, Alaska.
Lynn Barber

Latest posts by Lynn Barber (see all)

  • Lynn-

    I’m aware that you’re making your size comparison to some very big areas, but I have to say it’s a bit offensive to call South Dakota “relatively small”. It ranks 16th in the Union in terms of size. By your standards, there are probably only 4 “big” states.

    That shows in terms of how you’ve run your big year! You didn’t save any “easy” species for the summer doldrums or fall migration?? Perhaps in expecting to need to cover huge areas, you overdid it this spring? I suppose that very much depends on which unreliable species you managed to tick off on each outing (which would make each outing “worth it”, no matter how many easy species you got). But you’re sitting pretty, which is unusual for a Big Year. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to do some cruising and turn up some rarities of your own?

    Good luck,

  • Ted Floyd

    I had very similar thoughts, Lynn, while listening early this morning, Sunday, July 1st, to a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Boulder County, Colorado, year bird #240 for me.

    Because 2012 is a leap year, today happens to be exactly the half-way point in the year. At the stroke of midnight tonight: 183 days down, 183 to go.

    I suspect I’ll add more than 6-10 new species this year, and I suppose an additional 35 (i.e., to bring me up to a nice “round” number for the year) isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility.

    Still, my feelings are pretty much the same as Lynn’s. The 2nd half of the year, if one is doing a big year (I’ll get to that in a sec), sure is different from the 1st half.

    Re: “if one is doing a big year.” I’m no Lynn Barber, that’s for sure. In the first half, I didn’t look for, didn’t “chase,” or outright dipped on a bunch of eminently gettable birds. Even if I hung up my binoculars right now (oh. wait. I do bird that way a lot.), I’m pretty sure I’d find a Snowy Egret at some point in the next 183 days. Missed it somehow in the first half. And a bunch of others.

    Then again, Lynn Barber ain’t no Ted Floyd. I bet she doesn’t count Indian Peafowl on her 2012 South Dakota list… 🙂

    Fun stuff, Lynn. Keep it coming! And let’s all remember: Listing is fun only inasmuch as it is fun.

  • Ted Floyd

    But Lynn’s point is valid, I believe, in terms of a qualitative size distance with relevance to birding. If you’re in Brownsville and you hear there’s a Snowy Owl in Dalhart, it’s a 900+ mile drive. Or if you’re in El Paso and you hear there’s an Ivory-billed Woodpecker (I’m just sayin’…) in Texarkana, it’s “only” 800+ miles.

    But if you leave Sioux Falls right after lunch, you’re in Rapid City, on the other side of the state (the long way), well before dinner–even a typically early Midwestern supper… 😉

    Let me put it in practical terms. I could sorta, maybe, conceivably, possibly see myself doing a South Dakota Big Year. But a Texas Big Year, for me, would be out of the question. The place is just too big.

    So, again, I think Lynn’s point is valid. There really is a difference between a Texas Big Year and a South Dakota Big Year, and relative size is the essence of that difference.

  • Ted Floyd

    One more thought, re: size differences.

    The official South Dakota bird list is 6.5% larger than the official bird list for Boulder County, Colorado. However, the area of South Dakota is 10,177% (correct, that’s ten thousand one hundred seventy-seven) larger than the area of Boulder County!

    And, folks, that, to me, is why local listing is where it’s at, as far as I’m concerned.

  • True enough. I wasn’t questioning her point. Texas is way above average (and the median), so “relatively small” with reference to SD doesn’t cut it. “Not giant” would be a better way to speak about it. Imagine doing a big year in Mass, or RI!

  • Ted Floyd

    This just in, from Noah Strycker, on the wonders and glories of county listing:

  • I agree with you Jesse – South Dakota is by no means “relatively small”. Relatively small compared to what? Texas or Alaska? Sure, but not in comparison to the Carolinas, the other Gulf States, North Dakota, any northeastern state, etc. South Dakota is plenty big in my book. If Texas is “normal”, then everything except Alaska qualifies as “relatively small”. But I don’t consider Texas to be normal by any standard. 😉

  • Sorry I used the term “relatively” but I thought it was clear what I was saying it was relative to, which is relative to Texas and relative to the ABA area, the only two other places where I have done a big year. Clearly I know that it is larger than lots of other places.

  • Your intent was crystal clear, Lynn, since you said “compared to…Texas” later on in the same sentence. It was a perfectly valid use of “relatively”. Here are two standard definitions: :1. In relation, comparison, or proportion to something else. 2. Viewed in comparison with something else rather than absolutely: ‘relatively affluent people’.” I don’t understand the responses you got to your post, Lynn. Seems a trip to the dictionary would have cleared up any confusion. There is no need to apologize.

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