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County List Crazy

October 25, 2010

One of my favorite aspects of eBird, and one of the features that makes it so much more useful as a personal database, is the ability to keep county lists.  I’ve always considered these smallest of sovereign domains to be merely a side show to the bigger and obviously more interesting state and country lists.  How wrong I was!  County lists are a blast, and while I hadn’t been actively searching out birds for most of them, preferring to passively accumulate species and note with a small bit of satisfaction when I ended up adding to one or the other, I had been paying close attention to my totals as they compare to other eBirders through the Top 100, especially as I slowly closed in on the top spot for three of the counties in my region.  I was either second or third for Orange (my home county), Durham (where I work), and Chatham (where Jordan Lake is).

I don’t know if other local eBirders have been playing as close attention to the game as I have however.  When I gave a talk on eBird to the local Chapel Hill Bird Club, I talked afterwards with the woman who has been leading me by 5 to 10 species in Orange County for some time, and said, “Nice to finally meet my arch-nemesis!” and which point she looked at me like I’d accused her dog of using my lawn as a port-a-potty.  So maybe I’m alone in taking this county list thing seriously, even if I haven’t been kicking up birds in these counties like I should be able to if I make a real effort.

In any case, with the successful twitch of the Connecticut Warbler, where I also found a handful of other good birds for the county, I finally found myself sitting in the first spot for Durham County.  This was unexpected and sort of cool, until two days later when I got knocked back off that pedestal by one Robert Meehan (who also comments around these parts as BirdtrainerRobert).  Rather than accept my demotion with the good graces you might expect from any reasonable individual, I decided to put myself on top for good, so this past weekend I went out for the first time to specifically find some birds in a specific county.  This is the dawning of a new era for The Drinking Bird.  One no doubt defined by repetition, naval-gazing, and mind-numbing minutia. Get ready!

What I was lacking more than any on my Durham County list was waterfowl, so the order of the day was to visit the arms of Falls Lake that stick out into Durham County to see if I could turn up any early ducks or interesting gulls.  The first place to hit was the old Ellerbe Creek rail grade, the exact same place where the long-staying Connecticut Warbler had been until recently, seen.  The warbler had apparently vamoosed, a few nights prior the winning combination of a clear night with strong southward winds and full moon was too much to resist, but in a small-scale reproduction of the Patagonia Picnic Table effect, several other locally good birds had been seen at this same area.  There were several on my radar, but one that surprised me as a reminder that even if the Connecticut Warbler was no longer waiting to be flushed, other birds were.  This juvi Black-crowed Night Heron for one.  A sharp start.

I walked out onto the peninsula that jutted out into Falls Lake where I was able to find the bird I most wanted, a Ruddy Turnstone fairly easily.  Less expected but also good for the county were Greater Yellowlegs, and a first year Herring Gull loafing with a flock of Ring-bills.

With four new county birds already in the bag, I was feeling pretty good.  But I wanted to find some ducks to put a nice bow on the morning so I headed out to a couple additional access points, campgrounds and boat ramps around the lake and managed as Falls Lake State Park.  The first couple stops I didn’t have much more than a Bald Eagle, some Cormorants and a handful of Killdeer on the old swimming beaches, but towards that end, at Rollingview, I had better luck.

A small group of dark smudges in the heat haze turned into a half-dozen Ring-necked Ducks with a couple Ruddy Ducks mixed in, providing me with the completely unexpected “Ruddy slam” (Ruddy Quail-Dove notwithstanding).  A total of 6 new species for Durham County, which puts me pretty free and clear on top of the eBird top 100 for Durham County, but still about 60 species behind the actual Durham County top lister.  But let’s not worry about that just yet…

  1. October 25, 2010 7:11 am

    I also find the county list fun, but alas too little time to play it to fully effect.


  2. October 25, 2010 7:26 am

    Having fought my way into a tie for the top spot (at 266) in my home county, Queens, NY, I can say that eBird county listing is pretty darn fun. Though I do live in perpetual fear of one of the long-time Queens County birders suddenly deciding to enter their life list into eBird and leaving me down 50 species.

    And, Nate, down 13 in your home county? You better get out birding!

  3. October 25, 2010 10:03 am

    NATHAN!!! You’re making me want to start eBirding!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ll prob start by going through the big day/old c-birds reports. Oh, and delete my second account 🙂

  4. Nate permalink*
    October 25, 2010 10:16 am

    @Dan- I’ve found it’s a much less time intensive way to get my listing fix. With a baby around and a wife who has a finite amount of patience for long birding trips, I’m able to have a little fun with listing in a way that doesn’t end up with me in the doghouse. Saves gas too!

    @Corey- I know exactly how you feel. I know local birders personally who have me beat by a significant amount. Now to just get them on eBird, or not… And yeah, I’m working on my Orange County list, I need to turn up some waterfowl and shorebirds to be competitive.

    @Ali- That’s the point, right? 🙂

  5. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    October 25, 2010 12:18 pm

    Dude, sorry Nate. I hadn’t even realized! Probably came about when somebody convinced me to move all my Granville sightings to their proper Durham location… but for the life of me I can’t think of who that was. 🙂

  6. Nate permalink*
    October 25, 2010 1:22 pm

    @Robert- My dedication to clean data is stronger than my dedication to winning eBird. 🙂

    Here’s to the friendly competition!

  7. October 25, 2010 3:34 pm

    Oh, how I love my county list. I’m only #3 for the year, but I’m tied for #1 in the all time list for my county. I started paying more attention to my county list when it became obvious to me that my time for birding or more especially, for driving someplace to bird, kept dropping. Chores, errands, family obligations, etc. keep me close to home, but by golly I can still bird wherever I am. And so I do.

    Once I retire, I intend to take up the challenge again and be a birding force throughout my home state. But until then, I have my county list, and there I rock!

    Carolyn H.

  8. October 25, 2010 7:46 pm

    You’re reminding me that my own county lists have been neglected for far too long. Maybe that can be my new year’s resolution: must start county listing again. 😉

  9. October 25, 2010 11:18 pm

    I love the county game and I know several Idahoans who have gotten into it this year. Now that I’ll be sharing some of your turf, I may have to give you a run for your money in certain counties. Watch out! Here I come.

  10. October 26, 2010 12:51 am

    Well, finished ebirding all my stuff in! Here are the counties I am over 100 in:
    Wake: 205
    Hyde: 141
    Dare: 125
    Washington: 113
    Pender: 112
    and, so close… Catawba: 99

  11. Nate permalink*
    October 26, 2010 12:31 pm

    @Carolyn- I feel the same way!

    @Jennifer- You should! It’s totally guilt free listing.

    @Robert- Bring it on! I look forward to the competition.

    @Ali- That Wake list is a nice one. I think I could push my Washington and Pender lists up if I found the time to get out there this winter. And it looks like you need to visit Catawba county soon…

  12. October 26, 2010 1:18 pm

    In Illinois, county listing is off the hook also. I have a very high count in my home county (been birding here over 35 years), but in other…not so much. I’ve recently started going out with a couple of friends who are maniacal about county listing, and I have to say it is contagious. We went on a wild chase through 3 counties in northern Illinois last week looking for Eurasian Tree Sparrows (found them in 2), and it was a blast!

    Small bit of relevant self-promotion: one of the birding sites I run is “Listers’ Central”. It’s an online database app where you can enter your list totals (very quickly and easily), and then view the rankings in any number of ways. So you can see everyone who has submitted for one county, for instance, or filter by state, view multiple states…etc. You can also enter Life List, Big Days, Year Totals and so on and so on. Check it out:

  13. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    October 26, 2010 2:16 pm

    Sooo, turns out there are more than a couple species I had unintentionally left off my county list due to not extensively using eBird when I started round abouts last year/not wanting to duplicate data when I was birding with someone else, but in the interests of this friendly competition I thought it best to rectify this. The total, when it gets updated, now represents my full Durham county list. Your move, Nate. 🙂

  14. Nate permalink*
    October 26, 2010 3:24 pm

    @Greg- That looks cool. I have list on Surfbirds that I don’t keep up, but this looks more intuitive. I’ll have to play around with it.

    @Robert- So the gauntlet has indeed been thrown down, sir! I look forward to seeing my new target and to remind you that I still lead you by a significant amount in Orange County, so stay out of Orange County!

    Also, I should ask you what Will Cook asked me, do you keep a triangle list? My total for Orange, Durham, Wake, and the Falls Lake part of Granville Counties totals to 213. Let the games begin!

  15. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    October 26, 2010 4:18 pm

    Nate – I still lag in the Triangle category, not much higher than my Durham total (which is now 158 btw) at 175… so I’ve got some catching up to do! My Orange Co. numbers are suffering from the same problem as my Durham numbers were, lack of complete eBird records. Not that I’m going to pass you there, but I’m gonna tighten the gap a little!

  16. October 26, 2010 6:04 pm

    My Triangle is 214

  17. Nate permalink*
    October 26, 2010 9:21 pm

    @Robert – Ah, 158. That will take more than a weekend to top, I think.

    @Ali- Man, I’ve got some good birds on my triangle list. Even a couple blockers like Wilson’s Storm Petrel and Sooty Tern. You must have some good ones too to be even with me.

  18. October 27, 2010 1:50 am

    Wow, what a coincidence! I have some goodies as well, WW Scoter, GW and Wilson’s Warbler, all eastern empids but Alder, Black-necked Stilt, Eared Grebe, and Vesper Sparrow. And, of course, CONWAR. I am in great need of a massive hurricane to get me some storm blown birds.

  19. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    October 27, 2010 2:10 am

    Argh, I think the only real blocks I have at the moment are Black-billed Cuckoo and Long-tailed Duck… I’ve really gotta get serious about this thing!

    • BirdTrainerRobert permalink
      October 27, 2010 2:12 am

      Oh, and Ali, I’ve got a Triangle Golden-winged too… the game is afoot!

  20. October 27, 2010 8:55 am

    Cool! LT is especially good, I expect to find a cuckoo at the dam before long, it’s such a migrant trap. I still need BCHN, YCNH, Goldeneye, Anhinga, and the black-backed gulls for my triangle list, and shorebirds for wake.

  21. October 27, 2010 9:12 am

    I can’t help but checking the county top 100 quite regularly, especially since this is the easiest shortcut I found to have access to the list of “departures for the year”. So far am still #1, which, at 213 species, is pretty sad, as the top lister of the county is in the 290′. Convincing the top (and older) birders to ebird is really tough, though.

    But being able to check instant rankings every week is so much more fun than to check the State report (or ABA) once a year. This is now a year long, live race. For instant, I got most of my warblers during a green big day attempt, in May, but was starting to get worried to see my runner up starting to catch up during the fall migration!

    The day when Ebird will allow a real social interaction between Ebirders (being able to check each other’s lists, inser pictures of birds with reports, to send messages to each others), which is, I think, only a matter of time (at least there is a demand for this!), Ebird could potentially become the main birding social network in North America.

    I wonder what is ABA’s plan about this.

  22. Nate permalink*
    October 27, 2010 9:55 am

    This comment thread is getting out of control!

    @Ali- I have the Grebe and the Vesper Sparrow, two Wilson’s Warblers (Chatham and Orange Cos) and all the empids but Alder and Yellow-bellied. I missed a WW Scoter at Crabtree a couple years back and the Stilt would be very nice. Golden-winged Warbler, well, that would be a state bird. Nuff said.

    I have Anhinga and Lesser back (Wake Co) but not Greater, which should be the easiest rare gull left. Also have Glaucous Gull which may well be a blocker now that the Durant Rd landfill is closed.

    @Robert- Black-billed Cuckoo is a nemesis for me. Long-tailed Ducks seems to show up every three/four years, so I may get that one yet.

    @Laurent- Amen on convincing the top birders to use eBird. Inertia is a problem and I think many of them are hesitant to take the time to fill in their historical sightings, which I get I guess.

    eBird’s potential as a network for birders is limitless. I think the ABA would do well to find a way to build on that.

  23. October 27, 2010 10:05 am

    Wow, where did you get Anhinga in Wake??? I know they are supposed to breed in the north part of Falls, but never heard of them south of there. I think that those gulls will be bad blockers for sure, even the Black-backs are so hard bow. We had 2 Wilson’s at the Dam fall 09, a male and a female. Pretty cool birds.

  24. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    October 27, 2010 11:08 am

    Not only do I have Greater Black-backed on my Triangle list, but I have one for Wake of all places! Truly odd how that bird gets around.

  25. October 27, 2010 11:13 am

    Wow, that’s pretty cool. On Falls Lake?

  26. Nate permalink*
    October 27, 2010 11:15 am

    @Ali- I got the Anhinga at Yates Mill Pond. It came in and perched on a snag near the mill. A wild sighting. I think they nest in Chatham though, at one of the rookeries around Jordan Lake. They’re certainly nesting in Johnston at the TLC site at Middle Creek Bottomlands.

    @Robert- A Wake Greater back is a great bird. I would figure the best place to find them now would be Jordan Lake. Maybe this winter.

  27. October 27, 2010 11:21 am

    Wow, that is wild! My state Anhingas were at Middle Creek Bottomlands.

  28. October 27, 2010 2:15 pm

    Congratulations on seizing the top eBird spot for Durham. I’ve been sitting in second place in my home county for the past few years. The birder in first place keeps finding just enough new birds to stay ahead.

  29. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    October 27, 2010 2:48 pm

    My Wake Great Black-backed was on Shearon Harris Lake during this latest Jordan Lake CBC. I didn’t even realize Harris Lake was in Wake Co. til I looked it up just yesterday!

  30. Nate permalink*
    October 27, 2010 4:16 pm

    @John- Funny you say that, not two days later I’m back in second again. 🙂

    @Robert- Half of it is, and half is in Chatham. I think the part in the Jordan Lake count circle is in Wake.

  31. October 28, 2010 9:31 am

    31 comments! birding competitiveness seems to be an attractive topic!

  32. October 28, 2010 4:27 pm

    @Laurent: Of course it is! Competitiveness is half the fun.

  33. October 29, 2010 11:16 am

    Haha, one of the main reasons I bird!!!

  34. October 29, 2010 3:04 pm

    Dang, these comments are wild! Just goes to show that county listing rules! I’ve been a serious slacker here in Bucks County, PA where I’ve lived since late 2004–just never had the heart to go at it full force, and I’m currently way down at #4 and I don’t even know how complete my eBird list here is.

    Meanwhile, while I wasn’ t paying attention I slipped down to the #3 spot on my Travis Co, Texas eBird rankings–time to break out the old paper records and enter the missing species to put me back up on top, though unless I ever get to live down there again, it will only be a matter of time before some current eBirder knocks me off again.

    Maybe I should start taking my Bucks County list more seriously 🙂


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