Archivy etc.

opinions, occasional rants, and sometimes things that have nothing to do with archives at all. Nothing here should be assumed to be reflective of my employer's opinion(s) nor should it be assumed that at anytime afterward, this is what I still think.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A flock of memories

A few years ago, I started noticing that my memory, a source of pride for me, had some weird gaps in it. Some old, some new, some more than happy to lose. But also really scary--the fright of Alzheimer's always looms large these days, doesn't it?

It's tough to know what to do about that kind of thing, but I figured exercising the memory couldn't hurt. And one of the things I'd been doing on a rather casual basis was birding, so I decided maybe I should work a little harder at it. Try and get better at identifications. See what I could see. Learn what I could learn, about behavior, habitat, calls, and identifying plumage. Plus, getting out into nature, especially when you live in a place like Alaska, isn't such a bad thing either.

I'm really very lucky to have several friends and colleagues who are excellent birders who teach me, drag me to events where I can learn more, who will laugh with me when I do a happy dance at seeing a common eider for the first time, and who will tell me that yes, that yellowlegs that called from the top of a tree above my head for about 45 minutes in late summer in Cordova until I was ready to start screaming "shut up, shut up, shut up" was indeed probably doing so to gather around him or her a group of shorebirds with whom to migrate south after the breeding season was over. And I'm even luckier that I have a job that I love, with decent leave time, that pays me well enough that just occasionally I can run away somewhere interesting for a few days to see what I can see. (And by interesting, I mean like Nome or Monterey. Not Peru or the Lake District. I don't get paid that well.) By the way, go to Monterey. Even in November. Even if you're not into birds, the scenery is spectacular if you like the rugged coastal thing and there's always the whales and otters.
There's always otters!
Despite the best efforts of my friends and colleagues, and despite some dedicated birdwatching trips this year, I'm still a pretty bad birder. It's hard to feel like I'm any good when I have to pull out the guide every time I see a loon. Or a warbler. (I think I might have finally got to the point where I can ID a song sparrow on sight.) I don't mind that, really. Tonight I finished reading Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufmann, which among other things, was a bit of a cautionary tale about getting too focused on numbers instead of enjoying the learning process. I don't find it hard not to get lost in the numbers, I seem to be missing whatever the genetic component for competition might be, but I do like to keep track of what and where I've seen birds for the first time.
I may not be competitive about bird counts, but I appear to have developed some compulsions regarding the acquisition of bird guides.
That's where it gets kind of surreal, actually. See, I didn't start tracking the birds I was seeing until I was in my late 30s, early 40s. I was living in Alaska by then and at least once a year taking a wildlife viewing trip out of Seward. So some of my earliest life-list birds are ones that other birders do once-in-a-lifetime trips to see. Parakeet auklets. Thick-billed murres. Kittlitz's murrelets. Seriously. I can't tell you how many crows I'd seen--and ignored because hey, it's just a crow--in Seward before I ran into somebody who was nearly frothing at the mouth at seeing and hearing one because we have Northwestern crows, not American crows like most of the lower 48. (I still couldn't swear to the difference.)

So my life list is somewhat unique. I didn't add in an American crow until 2011. My record of the Northwestern crow pre-dates that by seven years, the very first year I started writing down when and where I was seeing them. A friend from the intermountain west took me birding at the Bear River Refuge in Utah in spring 2012 and kindly concealed her utter shock at my not knowing what a western meadowlark looked like.
This is what a western meadowlark looks like. And that's a redwinged blackbird partially hidden behind the no parking sign.
Anyway, that was all a very long intro to my list of this year's birds. Again, I'm not so much with the concept of a Big Year--I'm just not that competitive, but I thought it would be an interesting look at what I'd seen in one year which, with a few exceptions, I hadn't made major efforts to go birding. I had a few trips where I didn't do any birding at all. I also didn't take my annual boat tour out of Seward this year, so some typical-for-me Alaskan birds aren't represented. But not all my lifelist additions represented here are boring-for-you birds. A short weekend trip to Kodiak this spring to celebrate a friend and colleague's achievement resulted in the addition of the Emperor goose. Take a few seconds to go check out that range map. There's a flock of them that winter every year just south of the Coast Guard base about 15 minutes by road south of Kodiak. By the hundreds. Crazy, right? And I've seen them. Gorgeous birds.

So here's this year's list. I'm putting it up in mid-November because I don't have any other out-of-state travel planned and there's nothing missing here typical to Anchorage winters, short of a Bohemian waxwing or 50. (I probably saw some in February and just forgot to write them down. That's the more innocuous non-worrying part of my memory loss. When something is so common that you know you've probably seen it a bunch of times and just didn't make a point of remembering it.) In the meantime, I've learned a few things. With the help of some amazing people along the way. Having problems recognizing surfbirds from amongst the huge numbers of similar looking shorebirds out there? They tend to prefer rocky shores to sandy/silty/muddy ones, the black markings on their tails are pretty unique, and after the one guy in Homer said "they look like the hockey players of the shorebirds" I think I may just have them figured out. Maybe. We'll see, come next spring and the shorebird migration north. 172 birds total for 2014, 49 additions to the life list--those are in italics.

Not a bad year. And you know what? I still remember where I saw most of them. That's not bad at all.
  1. Avocet, American
  2. Albatross, Black-footed
  3. Auklet, Cassin's
  4. Auklet, Rhinocerous
  5. Blackbird, Brewer's
  6. Blackbird, Redwinged (also bicolored variant)
  7. Bluebird, Western
  8. Brant
  9. Buffleheads
  10. Bushtit
  11. Canvasback
  12. Cardinal, Northern
  13. Chickadee, Blackcapped
  14. Chickadee, Boreal
  15. Chickadee, Chestnut-Backed
  16. Chickadee, Mountain
  17. Coot, American
  18. Cormorant, Brandt's
  19. Cormorant, Doublecrested
  20. Cormorant, Pelagic
  21. Cranes, Sandhill
  22. Creeper, Brown
  23. Crow, American
  24. Crow, Northwestern
  25. Curlew, Long-Billed
  26. Doves, Rock
  27. Dowitcher, Longbilled
  28. Dowitcher, Shortbilled
  29. Duck, Harlequin
  30. Duck, Longtailed
  31. Duck, Ringnecked
  32. Duck, Ruddy
  33. Duck, Wood
  34. Dunlin
  35. Eagle, Bald
  36. Eagle, Golden
  37. Egret, Great
  38. Egret, Snowy
  39. Falcon, Peregrine
  40. Finch, House
  41. Flicker, Northern (yellow and red-shafted)
  42. Flycatcher, Alder (heard)
  43. Gadwall
  44. Geese, Emperor
  45. Geese, Greater white-fronted
  46. Geese, Dusky Canada
  47. Geese, Lesser Canada
  48. Godwit, Hudsonian
  49. Godwit, Marbled
  50. Goldeneye, Barrow's
  51. Goldeneye, Common
  52. Goldfinch, Lesser
  53. Grackle, Common
  54. Grackle, Great-tailed
  55. Grebe, Eared
  56. Grebe, Horned
  57. Grebe, Pied-billed
  58. Grebe, Rednecked
  59. Grosbeak, Pine
  60. Guillemots, Pigeon
  61. Gull, Glaucous-winged
  62. Gull, Heermann's
  63. Gull, Herring
  64. Gull, Mew
  65. Gull, Western
  66. Harrier, Northern
  67. Hawk, Harlan's/Redtailed
  68. Hawk, Rough-legged
  69. Heron, Great Blue
  70. Hummingbird, Anna's
  71. Hummingbird, Blackchinned
  72. Ibis, White-faced
  73. Jaeger, Parasitic
  74. Jaeger, Pomarine
  75. Jay, Steller's
  76. Junco, Darkeyed (OR subspecies, slaty)
  77. Jay, Steller's
  78. Jay, Western Scrub
  79. Kestrel, American
  80. Killdeer
  81. Kingfisher, Belted
  82. Kinglet, Goldencrowned (heard)
  83. Kinglet, Rubycrowned
  84. Kite, White-tailed
  85. Kittiwake, Blacklegged
  86. Loon, Arctic
  87. Loon, Common
  88. Loon, Pacific
  89. Magpie, Blackbilled
  90. Mallards
  91. Meadowlark, Western
  92. Merganser, Common
  93. Merlin
  94. Mockingbird, Northern
  95. Murre, Common
  96. Murrelets, Kittlitz's
  97. Night-heron, Black-crowned
  98. Nuthatch, Redbreasted
  99. Owl, Short eared
  100. Oystercatcher, Black
  101. Pelican, American White
  102. Pelican, Brown
  103. Petrels, Fork-tailed Storm
  104. Phalarope, Rednecked
  105. Phoebe, Black
  106. Phoebe, Says
  107. Pipit, American
  108. Pintails, Northern
  109. Plover, Black-bellied
  110. Plover, Semipalmated
  111. Puffins, Horned
  112. Raven, Common
  113. Redpoll. Common
  114. Robin, American
  115. Sanderling
  116. Sandpiper, Least
  117. Sandpiper, Pectoral
  118. Sandpiper, Spotted
  119. Sandpiper, Western
  120. Scaup, Greater
  121. Scaup, Lesser
  122. Scoter, Black
  123. Scoter, Surf
  124. Shearwater, Black-vented
  125. Shearwater, Pink-footed
  126. Shearwater, Sooty
  127. Shoveler, Northern
  128. Shrike, Northern
  129. Siskin, Pine
  130. Snipe, Wilson's
  131. Sparrow, Goldencrowned
  132. Sparrow, House
  133. Sparrow, Lincoln's
  134. Sparrow, Rufous-crowned
  135. Sparrow, Savannah
  136. Sparrow, Song
  137. Sparrow, White-crowned
  138. Starlings, European
  139. Stilt, Black-necked
  140. Surfbird
  141. Swallow, Tree
  142. Swan, Mute
  143. Swan, Trumpeter
  144. Teal, Greenwinged
  145. Tern, Aleutian
  146. Tern, Arctic
  147. Tern, Caspian
  148. Tern, Elegant
  149. Thrush, Hermit
  150. Thrush, Varied
  151. Titmouse, Oak
  152. Towhee, California
  153. Towhee, Spotted
  154. Turnstones, Black
  155. Vireo, Hutton's
  156. Vulture, Turkey
  157. Warbler, Orange-crowned
  158. Warbler, Townsend's
  159. Warbler, Wilson's
  160. Warbler, Yellow-rumped
  161. Whimbrel
  162. Wigeon, American
  163. Willet
  164. Woodpecker, Acorn
  165. Woodpecker, Downy
  166. Woodpecker, Hairy
  167. Woodpecker, Nuttall's
  168. Wren, Bewick's
  169. Wren, House
  170. Wren, Pacific (heard)
  171. Yellowlegs, Greater
  172. Yellowlegs, Lesser