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Thanksgiving de los montañas or, the search for 500

November 25, 2010
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Ok, so I’m off today to spend a traditional family Thanksgiving with my wife’s family, by which I mean we’re going to rent a condo in the mountains and go to a buffet.  I love traditions.

In any case, it means I’ll be taking tomorrow off which as a blogger seems odd since I suspect lots of people will be ready for some internet time instead of some family time by the time Friday rolls around, but since I can’t guarantee access I’m taking a small vacation.

Here’s why you should be excited though, in the sense that anything I post is “exciting” (perhaps a better word would be interested or piqued or what have you).  We’re staying in Blowing Rock, a small community just south of Boone, nestled (I’m contractually obligated to use that word when referring to charming mountain towns) in the midst of the Appalachian Mountains, not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway and a couple parks managed by the National Park Service, Moses Cone and Julian Price, both of which have nice trails and lakes and recreational sorts of things.  In short, this means I’ll likely have some birds to share when I return.  No, not Chickadees and Titmice, but real deal mountain birds if all goes to plan.

I have three targets, two of which are life birds.  This is important beyond just the life bird yen we all feel.  You see, I’m currently sitting at 499 on my ABA list due to the split of Winter Wren into Winter and Pacific Wrens (yes, I’m counting it.  eBird is deeming all summer Winter Wrens in Wyoming to be Pacific Wrens in their upcoming great data split.  That’s good enough for me and I should be able to trust myself).  That means that the next life bird I see will be ABA 500, a notable milestone if there ever was one.  And I really really really want that number 500 to be Red Crossbill because, let’s just lay it out there, Crossbills are all kinds of awesome.  All kinds! And I swear to god I’ll fight anyone who suggests otherwise.

Also there’s the issue that for years I’ve been looking for Crossbills every time I go out there and get above a certain altitude and have failed miserably.  But I’ve never been there with time to search in the late fall and winter, so I’m hoping that this trip might be the game changer I’ve been hoping for.

Anyway, beyond the Crossbills, option number 2 is Ruffed Grouse, a species that I’ve inexplicably failed to find despite hearing countless stories of people finding them right alongside the Parkway on a regular basis.  I have no explanation for that other than I must have inadvertently purchased a car with a grouse-reduction-system which, come to think of it, might explain why I’ve never found Sage Grouse in North Carolina either.

Third target is Northern Saw-whet Owl, a species that nests in the mountains but is infrequently seen.  This will not be a life bird so a calling individual will be just fine.  I’m hoping that the early reports of Saw-whets along the coast are an indication that they’re making a push south this winter, which hopefully means they’ll be present in higher numbers in their regular range in the state.  Or at least I hope so, it’d be a state bird for me.

So that’s what I’m doing.  Come back Monday to see how I make out.

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7 Comments
  1. November 25, 2010 11:48 am

    I feel ya about wanting 500 to be something memorable. I just passed 500 this month. For me 500 was greater Prairie Chicken, a bird that I could have gotten almost any time, about a 3-hour drive from home. It had always been out of the way, or something like that, until a couple of weeks ago a friend wanted it for his ABA year list, so we went.

    If I could have foreseen that #501 would be Ross’ Gull, I would have waited on the chix!

  2. November 25, 2010 6:01 pm

    Looks like you just need to add a little Idaho to your life birding is all.

  3. November 26, 2010 4:11 am

    Good luck, Nate, all three sound not too hard – I mean, compared to e.g. hoping for Great Gray Owl or something.
    However, you might want to reconsider really, really wanting Red Crossbill as No. 500 as this might mean you’ll end up with No. 501 as your 500: once Red Crossbill gets split, and you have no idea which call type it was that you were seeing as No. 500, you’ll have to remove it from your life list, right?

    Just a thought…

    But whatever, the best of luck!!

  4. David permalink
    November 26, 2010 4:58 pm

    Oddly enough, my car has been attacked twice by Ruffed Grouse. I must`ve got your car`s archnemesis or something. Up here in Canada (around Ottawa), we`ve been seeing an exceptional flight of Bohemian Waxwings and a smaller flight of Evening Grosbeaks and White-winged Crossbills on the winter bird front. Also a much smaller movement of Black-backed Woodpeckers.

  5. November 28, 2010 7:05 pm

    Well? Results already? Darn bloggers and their making us all wait…

  6. November 30, 2010 11:00 am

    Agree with Jochen, only way to really add the red crossbill to your list is to actually record it!!! Redcrossbills are on my target list for this winter, and I carry my voice recorder with me all the time!

    Ok, so it seems that you let ebird managing your ABA list (just like I do). Does it mean you are actually NOT reporting heard-only birds on ebird that could be a lifer for you?

  7. Nate permalink*
    November 30, 2010 3:57 pm

    @Greg- No doubt! Ross’s Gull is a killer 500. Maybe you’ll get hot with a lump and it’ll knock you back.

    @Robert (BIF) – I certainly do. There are vast swaths of the west that are unknown to me.

    @Jochen- That must be why the x-bills never show themselves when I’m around. They know I don’t carry a recorder.

    @David- Here’s hoping some of those beauties make their way south this winter.

    @Corey- I think you know…

    @Laurent- I only count seen birdso n my ABA list, but I included everything on my eBird lists, so they’re not quite accurate. In fact, they’re off by one because I’ve had heard Chuck-will’s-Widow but not seen it. My dedication to accurate data is more important than having accurate counts on eBird. At least, so far.

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