Sunday, May 30, 2010

Overview of spring 2010 birding trip

I took this trip because I needed a break from the winter boredom of small town living and the stress of witnessing the relentless decline of everything. The world, the country, the environment, common decency, ethical behavior, hopeful romance (as opposed to mutual exploitation) etc. Not that a trip was gonna change any of that, but it would allow me to work on a simpler goal which was seeing a hundred species of birds in every state. Maybe not Hawaii, maybe not Alaska right away. I dread flying anywhere, not the flying part, but running the gauntlet of paranoia at the airports.

When the year started I still had four states with less than the stated goal, Rhode Island to the east, and Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada to the west. I was close in Oregon and at zero in Nevada. I have geekish/nerdish genes which have been cultivated for a lifetime into a real weakness for numbers and science. I have immigrant genes that make me like to travel, or at least tolerate its discomforts. After I started birding I was a sucker for lists and such, and when I got listing software (I favor Avisys) I was doomed. It spits out with a few keystrokes all sorts of information about what I've seen, what I might see, what I haven't seen yet, how many of each and so forth. Run all that through a few, or many, long winter nights and spring simply screams to GET OUT THERE AND FIND SOME BIRDS.

I learned from Pete Janzen, one of the Kansas uber-birders, that they had planned a trip to see a Lesser Prairie-Chickens dance, and that gave me a hook to get started. I have a big US map on the wall, my dream stimulator, and it clearly showed Kansas connected to Nevada and Oregon, not that I would make the connection directly as it turned out.

Logically enough Kansas led to Colorado, but then seeing friends sucked me south into New Mexico and Arizona. I was gonna make some stops in Utah on the way to Idaho, but the friend connections didn't work out, and the weather was way more like winter than I had imagined while map-dreaming. Hadn't taken elevation seriously enough. So instead of going north, it was west into Nevada, and that was a great interlude. From there on into California, more visiting, this time folks were home, all the way to the coast and twenty miles into the Pacific. An incredible, literally, pelagic trip out of Monterey. Then I was able to get to Oregon where the birding was excellent, the weather fine (lucky there), and I finally made it to Powell's bookstore. Too bad the listserv was hampered by technical difficulties, which finally made me nasty. More on thet later.

Then the eastward trending, with a few days in Idaho, which was frustrating at first but suddenly got very good when I met some local birders. I had a sad day in Jackson, Wyoming and didn't stay long. I had really been looking forward to that part, but it was the low point of the trip. Back through a corner of Idaho and another good local birder encounter. Utah again, again missed friend connections, again escape into Nevada, ending in low desert heat around Las Vegas before making a second pass through Arizona and New Mexico. Some good west Texas followed by relentless all day mid-Texas dismality. Ended the trip on the Gulf coast in Louisiana and Mississippi amid the oil spill consternation.

I succeeded at finding the hundred birds, in fact greatly exceeded my goals, as well as adding a lot of species in every state I passed through. Also thirteen lifers, though a couple didn't count for ABA, I'll explain further on, and some more nemesis aggravations focused on the old one, Gray Partridge, a newer one, Mountain Plover, and a fresh candidate, Flammulated Owl. These critters make me want to take up pottery or embroidery, but those hobbies aren't such good excuses for traveling.

So: On to the narrative.


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