Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Big Green and Big Footprint Birding February 17, 2009

It was a long and pretty birdy weekend, with a bit of Big Green and a lot of Big Footprint birding. (That’s Big Carbon Footprint — see below.) The weekend was long because school was half days on Thursday and Friday, and the boys had Monday off for President’s Day. It was pretty birdy because we went on lots of birding trips and saw many of the birds we hoped to see, but not all of them.

The Big Green part was my birding for the Great Backyard Bird Count, which was mostly done around the neighborhood on foot. Big Green Big Year birding, pronounced “Bigby,” is self-propelled, low carbon-footprint birding. My Bigby ambitions for 2009 are to see 150 species while birding on foot around our extended neighborhood. I added White-breasted Nuthatch to my Bigby list on Thursday on a Backyard Bird Count. Go here to read about my Bigby progress.

It was a Big Carbon Footprint weekend because many of our birding trips were to far off destinations, driving hundreds of miles round trip. In our family, most Big Footprint birding adds rare birds for our lists. Aaron and I keep formal year lists of all the birds we see from January 1 to December 31. (Ethan keeps track of year birds in his head.) Both Aaron and Ethan keep formal life lists — all the bird species they’ve ever seen in the wild — but I don’t. (I keep Aaron company with year lists, but large-scale lists just aren’t my thing.)

When Aaron first started a year list in 2008, it helped revitalize his passion for birding. There’s almost always some bird he wants to see in Illinois or surrounding states — something to tear him away from his electronic interests. This Saturday morning we traveled to Lake County, Illinois, to add Black Scoter and Red-throated Loon to our year lists. Then we went to Indiana Dunes State Park for an evening owl walk, but only heard woodpeckers and raccoons. Our Monday trip swept from Kane County, Illinois, south and then east along the Kankakee River, ending the day in Indiana. We missed the Townsend’s Solitaire in Kane County, but found Long-eared Owls, Killdeer, Greater White-fronted Geese, Sandhill Cranes, and Wild Turkeys. Aaron’s 2009 year list almost reached 100 species. Go here for an update on my 2009 list and some details about our trips.

Our regional trips are mostly Medium Footprint expeditions; our Biggest Footprints come on family vacations. For instance, Ethan’s a dedicated life-list person. With more than 400 birds on his life list, he”ll find just a few more life birds in the Midwest. So, Ethan plans our family vacations around birds he wants to see. Last year he planned our summer driving vacation to birding hotspots between Chicago and Frisco, Colorado. The boys found more than 50 life birds on that trip. This year Ethan’s planning a family vacation to California, and he hopes for dozens more lifers.

Can you tell I’m ambivalent about Big Footprint birding? I like that it maintains my boys’ interest in birds, but my own interests are much more local. Aaron and Ethan get interested in local birds early in the year, when the year list is just beginning, or when there’s something rare at our feeders. Local sites also attract attention during spring and fall migration, when year birds and rarities show up not far from our home. Other than that, it takes travel to add birds to their lists.

Bigby birding is best for me. If we have to use a car, I’d rather chase rare birds within our county. This weekend’s short trips included a Thursday afternoon adventure to southern Cook County, a Sunday morning trip to the Chicago Lakefront, and two trips to look for Long-eared Owls in a Chicago neighborhood. These trips were not particularly successful. We missed most target birds and only got distant views of a female Barrow’s Goldeneye on Lake Michigan. These failures shaped our plans for longer trips on Saturday and Monday. At least we tried local places first.

The winds today are from the south. This time of year a warm front may bring snow, but it can also transport early migrants to our neighborhood. Maybe the boys and I can find common ground later in the week if a Ross’s Goose settles at Columbus Park, or a Fox Sparrow stops to search for seed in our backyard. Or maybe I can interest the boys in a new, more locally focused kind of list, perhaps a list just for our town or county. We have bird lists for our block and for nearby Columbus Park. The Listers’ Corner on the Illinois Ornithological Society website may provide more inspiration.

Or maybe we need to relate to birds in completely different ways. Maybe our bird monitoring at Columbus Park could evolve into a stewardship role. Perhaps our volunteer work at the Animal Care League could lead to helping out a bird rescue and rehab center. I guess we’ll try to keep an open mind and see what happens.

Until then, the boys will follow Birdmail to plan our next long trip, while I continue to walk the neighborhood.


One Response to “Big Green and Big Footprint Birding”

  1. Larry Jordan Says:

    At a boy Eric. Bigby birding is essential these days and it is amazing how many birds you can get just by keeping your eyes and ears open and checking local boards to find out what’s in your area. Especially in the winter when we get so many migrants in bizarre places.

    Informative and interesting post.

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