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Birding at Walmart, or: Why I eBird Every Day

As of August 28, 2016, I had entered at least one complete eBird checklist per day for 3,528 consecutive days. I think that might be a record. Call me the Cal Ripken of eBirders. (And if you’ve bettered me, please tell us about it.)

Why? Part of it, no doubt, is the listing–OCD streak that runs strong in me and in so many other birders. But another part of it—a large and important part of it—for me is a form of self-discipline. eBirding once a day means I go birding at least once a day. Sure, there are the days on which I go all-out: Big Days and Big Nights, tours and field trips, CBCs and BBS routes, etc. But, honestly, there are more days, many more days, when I catch as catch can: at Rockies games, on airport layovers, and at my local patch of course.

The other day I found myself at a nearby Walmart. Honest, my objective there wasn’t to go shopping. Rather, I was passing by, en route to a local eBird hotspot, Prince Lake No. 2, good for shorebirds at this time of year. As I drove past Walmart, I noticed a flock of Rock Pigeons on the building and couldn’t stop myself. Pigeons are really quite beautiful, and endlessly varied. I had to take a closer look.

Rock Pigeons, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Aug. 28, 2016, 7:06 am.

Plumage variation in Rock Pigeons, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, 7:06 a.m.

 

There were European Starlings at the Walmart, too, stunning in their fresh new basic plumage.

European Starling, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Aug. 28, 2016, 7:06 am.

European Starling in fresh basic plumage, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, 7:17 a.m.

 

A flycatching form caught my eye: a pale Western Kingbird, a juvenile. In the same tree was a juvenile Eastern Kingbird, a neat juxtaposition.

Juvenile Western Kingbird, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Aug. 28, 2016, 7:30 am.

Juvenile Western Kingbird, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, 7:30 a.m.

Juvenile Eastern Kingbird, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Aug. 28, 2016, 7:06 am.

Juvenile Eastern Kingbird, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, 7:31 a.m.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The parking lot had a House Sparrow of course, and several House Finches. And mixed in with them was a Clay-colored Sparrow, my “FOS” (birderspeak for First of Season). The Clay-colored Sparrow is small and subtle, a birder’s bird. I would have overlooked it, for sure, had I not been impelled by eBird to linger for a bit in that Walmart parking lot.

Adult Clay-colored Sparrow, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County Colorado; Aug. 28, 2016, 7:35 a.m.

Adult Clay-colored Sparrow, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County Colorado; Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, 7:35 a.m.

 

I was in danger of not making it to Prince Lake No. 2 at all.

I heard an American Crow, and then two Blue Jays. Then I saw a stunning Common Raven and a flock of bewitching Black-billed Magpies. Ravens and magpies are Walmart trashbirds in Colorado, but that’s a problematic assessment. I’ll never forget my lifer Common Raven, way up in a misty mountaintop bog in the highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania; and my lifer Black-billed Magpie, out on the prairie of Montana, was a jump-for-joy moment. Ravens and magpies are classy birds, and there they were in the parking lot.

Adult Black-billed Magpie, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Aug. 28, 2016, 7:46 a.m.

Adult Black-billed Magpie, Walmart Supercenter, Lafayette, Boulder County, Colorado; Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, 7:46 a.m.

 

I looked at my phone and realized I’d birded the parking lot for a solid 40 minutes, an eBird area count, 2.2 hectares. I’d run out of time, and had to deal with a day of non-birding affairs. I wouldn’t be going to Prince Lake No. 2 today.

That’s okay. I’d gotten in my birding for the day. Yeah, I never made it out of the parking lot. But I’d seen a Clay-colored Sparrow and a Common Raven. I got nice comparative studies of two kingbird species perched practically side-by-side. In my studies of pigeons and starlings, I’d pondered molts and plumages. As I pulled open the car door to head back home, I stared south and could just make out the form of Pikes Peak, 100 miles to the south and one of the most beloved natural landmarks on the continent.

That’s more than okay. That’s marvelous. And that’s birding: the certainty, every day of our birding lives, that we will encounter beauty and wonder, everywhere we go.

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Ted Floyd

Ted Floyd

Editor, Birding magazine at American Birding Association
Ted Floyd is the Editor of Birding magazine, and he is broadly involved in other programs and initiatives of the ABA. He is the author of more than 100 magazine and journal articles, and has written four recent books, including an ABA title, the ABA Guide to Birds of Colorado. Floyd is a frequent speaker at birding festivals and state ornithological society meetings, and he has served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations. Mainly, he listens to birds at night.
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