July 18, 2012 “What is your number?”

What’s in a number?   There are seven days in a week.  At the Olympics we will be looking for under 10 second 100 meter dashes, sub four minute miles.  Baseball fans look for 40 homeruns, 100 RBIs, 20 wins.  Some numbers are so big I can’t imagine them like the debt surpassing 16 trillion.  Really what is in any of these or any number?

Last month, I also reached a number.  It wasn’t my age, my weight, or my IQ.  It wasn’t the number of dollars needed to retire or some magical golf score.  It was bird number “1000.”

Somewhere near ten thousand feet at the top of the alps in Austria, bird number 1000 on my life list the “Alpine Chough” landed next to me at the top of a cable car station on Dachstein Mountain.  As birds go, it wasn’t that impressive as it looks more like a small crow with a yellow bill, but there it was …number 1000.

I didn’t dance, I didn’t shout…I didn’t say anything.  I’m not sure anyone would understand.  I took a picture and needed to check and verify my numbers.  As birders go, I’m pretty amateur.  I knocked off “ALL” of my sandpipers in 1994 with a friend and an expert we ran into and one very large flock on the Virginia shore.  I’m not a very good caller, and have a bad ear for birds.  Most of my youth I spent working duck ponds, I know my ducks, and I did research on hawks but hawk identification is not the hardest.  I birded with some warbler experts and got most of them then.

1000 birds is impossible for North America alone, and my North American list is pretty lame, to be honest I consider 600 to be a respectable list for North America, with 700 to be really note worthy as sort of the top tier.  I’m not at either level.  I’ve birded all over and as such adding 200 from Central America, over a hundred from Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada, some from Hawaii, along with my many trips to Europe, it sort of gives me an edge to get a bigger number, and so here I am at 1000.  I’m sort of like the ninth batter for the Yankees, easier to get higher RBI numbers, but I’m not really any good.  Mind you, I’ve seen some really rare birds:  The Grenada dove, the Oilbird on Trinidad, and the Snail Kite on Grenada are like numbered in the 30-40 birds alive range.  I’ve walked eight miles to see a Colima Warbler in west Texas, six to see a pigmy nuthatch in New Mexico, and I buried a SUV in the Belizean jungle looking for Toucans and got rescued by a fortune 500 CEO in Francis Ford Coppola’s SUV…no I didn’t meet his nephew Nicholas Cage nor was Coppola actually in the Suburban either.

I’ve been a pretty lucky bird watcher, which makes up for my lack of talent, I suspect.  I’ve seen one Great Grey Owl.  I stopped the car at a stop sign, looked right, then left, and then I looked at the road sign next to me and one was perched there looking my way.  I got the feeling once I was being watched at a bus stop in Duluth.  I looked up and a small Saw whet owl was looking at me, also my lone viewing.  My lone spruce grouse came while looking for a suitable tree for a nature call in Ontario until I heard “nature call” and found myself five feet away from a male strutting his stuff.  If I wasn’t lucky, I’d probably be dead by now.  I even wondered once into the Phoenix Zoo oryx exhibit by mistake getting lost looking for roadrunners and whatever out in the dessert.  I climbed the fence thinking I was somewhere else and had found some really cool animals.  I was found drinking from their hidden water hole and was kicked out of the zoo by the main entrance by a whole team of security guards as my story was too bizarre to disbelieve.  I even got a parking ticket twenty years ago in Florida chasing a loggerhead shrike over a retaining wall for double parking in an empty parking lot (ticket still unpaid) which was more of a mystery of where the cop was than finding the bird.

Birders ARE crazy, we really are.  Last night I had a skip in my step as I walked out to my pasture to watch a very loud dickcissal, a bird looking somewhat like a meadowlark. I was irritating my daughter playing bird calls on my new Iphone app.  As I am talking about a Big Year next year, and looking into places to stay in Oklahoma and south Texas, I think everyone thinks I’m nuts.

Unfortunately, I also don’t know any of the local birders in Milbank, let alone any real twitchers (a english term for crazy birders).  It seems a bit of a closed community but it is good to have birding friends, birding alone is probably unhealthy over the long run, I believe.  Since my wife, doesn’t like 4 am trips to the blind or me slamming on the brakes of the car on trips, I need to make that my 2013 resolution to make more birding friends.  I probably have one of the bigger life lists around my home county, definately not the biggest, and I’m not a real liability with a pair of binoculars.  I may have bad ears but I have a good eye, otherwise, birdwatching would not be my thing.

Well now I’m looking for 1001, and sure it will again happen in Europe as that is the next trip planned.  What will that mean?  Really nothing, they are just numbers as then I’ll be looking for 1002, 1003, 1004…what really is in a number anyway?

Keep counting, my friends.

Olaf

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