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Posts Tagged ‘The Big Year’

 “My favorite weather is bird-chirping weather.” Terri Guillemets

Himalayan snowcock -- Wikipedia photo

Chasing Birds

While the recently released movie, “The Big Year,” hasn’t been a top box-office hit, I thought it was a great film. Of course I’m a passionate birder and could relate to the chase to be best North American Birder of the Year.

The record number of species seen between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, by the way, is 745 species. I won’t tell you who holds the title, however, because that might spoil the movie for one of my readers who hasn’t yet seen it.

One of the scenes in the film, which shows just how crazy we birders can get, depicts a wild helicopter chase of Himalayan snowcocks in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains.

Chukar on Antelope Island ... Photo by Pat Bean

Boy I wish I had such a conveyance at my convenience. I’ve never seen this pheasant species, and these days am not up to the rough hike, which unless one is extra lucky, is the most likely way of spotting one.

I may still give it a try next year, however. Like a lot of other birders, “The Big Year” inspired me to step up my birding game. And my curiosity about snowcocks inspired me to see what I could find out about these birds. The Internet, which I have come to love, turned up a couple of interesting blogs from birders who have seen the Himalayan snowcocks in the Ruby Mountains.

I noticed, when looking at pictures of the birds on a couple of Web sites – http://tinyurl.com/3uya55p and http://tinyurl.com/3w6edbx– that the snowcocks look a lot like the chukars I have seen on Antelope Island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

The chukar, however, is not a difficult bird to add to one’s life list. It can be seen in at least nine western states, whereas the snowcock can only be found on this continent in the Ruby Mountains. And it wouldn’t even be there except that Nevada Fish and Game thought the bird would be a good game bird for hunters – and in the 1960s, transplanted about 200 of them there from Pakistan.

There may be 500 or more of the birds today roaming around the mountains near Wells, Nevada. Yes, I am for sure going to have to visit the Ruby Mountains soon. The snowcocks are calling to me.

 

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“A leaf fluttered in through the window this morning, as if supported by the rays of the sun, a bird settled on the fire escape, joy in the task of coffee, joy accompanied me as I walked.” Anais Nin

Snowy egret at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

The landscape around the Texas Gulf Coast home of my son, Lewis, is always full of birds. It is why my binoculars are always sitting beside me when my RV, Gypsy Lee, is parked in his driveway.

Wrens, woodpeckers, warblers, hawks and ducks all visit or pass through his yard.

This morning, Carolina wrens inspected the gutters over his garage, a pair of cardinals sat on the utility wires attached to his roof and a flock of black-bellied whistling ducks flew overhead, alerting me to their presence with their high-pitched chorus as they winged past in V-formation.

Is this a photographer taking picture of birds, or a birdwatcher photographing birds? -- Photo by Pat Bean

The park directly across the street from my son’s home offers even more entertainment for this passionate birder: Logger-head shrikes hang out in the trees, mockingbirds frequently chase away a red-tailed hawk when it comes around and goldfinches hang around the feeders in the yard next to the park.

I sometimes think I might be mistaken for a peeping Tom, or in my case a Jane, because I might appear to be looking in someone’s window when I’m simply watching a ruby-throated hummingbird flitting around the flowers.

If you really want to know how crazy we avid birders are, you should go see the movie, “The Big Year.” It’s about competitive bird watching. Or you can read the book, “The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession,” written by Mark Obmascik. It’s actually a true story and I couldn’t put it down once I started reading.

 

Great-tailed grackles near Surfside, Texas. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Recently, when I was down at the beach – to watch birds of course – I watched another bird watcher as he tried to take a picture of some skimmers. Watching him was almost as much fun as watching the skimmers myself. I wondered if he was more photographer than birder, or more birder than photographer, like me.

We birders are actually a funny, but much blessed lot. The day I realized I had joined the craziness was the day I took a 440-mile, one-day, round-trip drive just to see nesting ospreys.

In fact, many of the 122,000 miles I’ve put on Gypsy Lee the past seven years have been in pursuit of birds – from the elegant trogons in Southeast Arizona, to the marbled murrelets on the Oregon Coast, to the Atlantic puffins in Maine, and the Florida scrub jays in the Everglades.

It’s been one great feathered adventure after feathered adventure.

Perhaps that’s why, at least for a little while, I’m content to simply watch birds from the comfort of my RV that is parked in the driveway of my son.  

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A northern mockingbird was my first bird of the new year. -- Photo by Pat Bean

 “Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” — Henry Van Dyke

Travels With Maggie

I’m a passionate birdwatcher, who keeps a list of birds I’ve seen. My life list now totals 696 bird species. It’s a respectable number for this late-blooming birder, but far from spectacular.

If you want to know more about the birding numbers game you should read “The Big Year” by Mark Obmascik. It’s a great read even if you aren’t a birder. It’s about three guys who spend a year chasing birds all across North America. At the whisper of a rare bird alert, they would fly thousands of miles on a minute’s notice.

Although I did once drive 400 miles to see one particular bird, these days I usually just bird where my travels take me. I check out bird festivals going on while I’m in the vicinity, and hook up with local Audubon chapters for birding field trips. This past year these efforts, including one day when I hired a guide to help me find the golden-cheeked warbler that I had been trying to find for three years, earned me 12 new life birds. And yes, the warbler was one of them.

I spotted this yellow-crowned night heron at the Sea Center in Lake Jackson, Texas. -- Photo by Pat Bean

This year’s birding efforts, meanwhile, have begun slower than normal. I’ve been parked in my son’s driveway here in Harker Heights all this week and a cold front moving through the area seems to have kept the birds tucked away.

At least they’re not falling out of the sky dead, as red-winged blackbirds and starlings have been doing in Arkansas the past couple of days. That’s a scary thing because birds, like the canaries coal miners carried into the tunnels with them as their bad air detectors, are indicators of an environment’s health.

My first bird of this new year was a northern mockingbird, appropriate since it’s Texas’ state bird. It was a brilliant gray and white fellow with yellow eyes that landed on a fence about eight feet from my RV window. As I watched, it flashed its long tail in the air – then pooped.

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