County Birding, Level: Expert
I hope I’ve made my somewhat pathological and debilitating addiction to county birding known here on this website. I blame eBird. It it wasn’t for the ease of submitting records from hundred of counties to one online depository, I’d never do it. I’m obsessive with these lists, but not that obsessive. North Carolina is my preferred state for county birding, but I enjoy taking the act on the road as well. This past weekend I traveled with my family to Washington, DC, driving there from my home in Chapel Hill. Of course, my plan was to eBird the way up and back in order to pad my nascent Virginia list and the associated counties. It wasn’t until I began to research the route along the I-95 corridor that I realized that county birding in Virginia is a more difficult proposition that I initially realized, and far more difficult that equivalently birding in North Carolina.
See, Virginia is unique in having, in addition to the state’s nearly 100 counties, city governments that act as counties in every bureaucratic way. For instance, though the town of Emporia lies completely within the county of Greensville, within its civic boundaries it is essentially a county unto itself. And better, eBird considers those independent cities to be counties in their own right, and offers the opportunity to keep a separate list in each one. In short, due to some bizarre historical reason that no amount of research has explained to me, Virginia has 134 county or county-equivalent jurisdictions, some less than a mile across. Guys, this state is weird.
Faced with this seemingly insurmountable bit of cartographical arcana I did what any other serious county birder would do, I tackled it. With on hand on the wheel and my trusty field notebook on my knee, I kept a close eye on the county and city line signs all the way up to DC and back again. At times it was a bear (3 counties collide just north of Richmond and it’s hard to know exactly where you are), but I stuck with it, and now I have a Virginia total ticks list well above what you’d initially expect (130 total species in VA, but 257 ticks) thanks to the ubiquitousness of Rock Pigeons, European Starlings, and Turkey Vultures in nearly every county all the way to my destination. Am I certain I screwed up the Petersburg-Colonial Heights area? Almost certainly.
But do I regret it for a second? Absolutely not. For I am king of all I survey, so long as it’s the narrow strip along I-95 in the Virginia Piedmont.