New year, it’s for the Birds


By Mandy Martin

Darke County Parks

Serious bird watchers keep lists. Each list is comprised of birds they have seen or heard. They have a yard list, county list, year list, and of utmost importance, a life list. I do consider myself a serious bird watcher, but my lists aren’t so serious. I like to think I have all of the birds I’ve seen properly recorded in my head, but at my age, I know I’m fooling myself. As the new year begins, one of my goals is to update my life list and write it down!

In 2014, I diligently kept an accurate list. That year a dear friend of mine and I decided to do a competition that birders refer to as a ‘big year’! We set out in January to see as many different bird species as we could in 365 days and at the end of the year we tallied up our numbers to see who had the most. Now, if money, time, and work were no object, some birders travel the world in a big year to bolster their list. Of course, we weren’t able to travel the world, but we sure did make the most of every opportunity to add to our list. Rare bird spotted in Montgomery County? We were there. Migratory hummingbird in some stranger’s backyard in Troy? We were there. It was a never-ending race to add to our list for the year. It got to the point where we both had seen pretty much all of the western Ohio birds we could see. Thankfully a few trips were stashed in our pockets to boost the variety. The big numbers came in after we both took a trip to Colorado, where many life birds were counted. A life bird is a bird that you see for the first time in your life. It is a joy to add those to the list! We spent an hour looking for a Prairie Falcon. It finally appeared at the top of a Colorado blue spruce long enough to get a positive ID. My friend then traveled to California that year and was able to spot many lifers that gave her the edge. The Acorn Woodpecker was her favorite and I admit, I was jealous of that one! The competition was stiff and heating up. I was able to make a run at the win after a trip to Costa Rica, a birder’s paradise. I chalked up 68 species on that trip and each one was a lifer!

Late in the year when the competition was winding down, I found myself in the most unlikely place looking for birds. Someone posted on the bird listserv in PA that a large variety of waterfowl were seen swimming up river. I grew up in Beaver County Pennsylvania where the motto is “divided by our rivers, united by our people”. There are so many bridges spanning the Ohio and Beaver rivers and I crossed them a thousand times as a child. On a cold November day after Thanksgiving, there I am, standing at the confluence of the Beaver and Ohio river looking for ducks. With ice-cold tears running down my face, I marveled at the spectacular vantage point. I spent 21 years of my life in that county and never even knew that river side park existed. I was able to add the Gadwall to my list that day. The competition ended with me winning the coveted golden binocular prize with an impressive 268 species on my list. My friend was not far behind with 254 birds. It’s pretty hard to top Costa Rica and I’m sure that trip is what put me over the edge.

As I fondly recall the memories of 2014, here I sit on January 3, 2024, lamenting over birds. Along with lists, you see, birders also take it upon themselves to brag about the first bird they see of the new year! Will it be a cardinal? Maybe a junco? One year, I was thrilled when the first bird for me was a Bald eagle! The morning of January 1, I said to myself, please don’t let the first bird I see be a House sparrow. House sparrows are public enemy number one. They are an invasive species introduced from Europe and wreak havoc on our native bird populations. For the last two days, I’ve been looking out my window at the bird feeders hoping for a Song sparrow. I had to venture into town yesterday for a doctor’s appointment and getting in the car, there they were, a huge flock of House sparrows. Not one, not two, more like 30 of the birds I did not want to see first. To top it off, my next two species for 2024 were a pigeon and starlings. I suppose I’ll begrudgingly start my list for 2024 with three nuisance species, nevertheless, there is hope! Our Darke County Parks provide many opportunities to improve my odds for this year. There will undoubtedly be a late January day blanketed with snow and the bird feeders at Shawnee Prairie Preserve will be littered with Northern Cardinals. I foresee a

warm morning in May when the migrating warblers are dripping off the trees at Worth Family Nature Preserve. Ultimately, there will be a late fall afternoon when the Sandhill Cranes announce their travels over Winterrowd Wetlands. Find yourself a park, maybe a park you’ve never been to before. I guarantee the memory of the birds you see will last a lifetime. My list, and the new year, can only get better from here.

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