Data by eBird Plus
I used to keep my life list in an excel spreadsheet. I don’t do that anymore, as eBird has pretty much filled that niche incredibly effectively and as dealing with excel is something of a special kind of torture, I’m happy to outsource it to an online program that does all that collating for me. But there are some aspects of my birding career that eBird, for all of it’s amazing features, can’t manage for me. I’m talking about all these ways of expressing my birding career that are unique to me.
I call this kind of data eBird plus, because while I lean on eBird to do the heavy lifting of keeping track of everything I see, there’s is no way to manage that data in the way I’m looking to use it. And for good reason, it’s completely arbitrary and personal.
Like so many birders, I try to keep track of my life bird tally for every year that I’ve maintained a list. For me, that’s since 1993. I’
ve been pretty fortunate that I’ve managed to get multiple life birds every year that I’ve been actively birding, except for a period in high school and college where I burned out and took some time off. I also like to keep track of the states in which I’ve seen life birds, as it’s sort of a mini-history of my birding career.
As you might expect, Missouri leads the way there because I spent my formative birding years in the state. Number two is Arizona, where I visited for Camp Chiricahua in 1994. It was my first experience birding in the west so in addition to all the amazing Arizona specific species, I got loads of general western birds too. This is where I had my life Steller’s Jay and Western Tanager and Prairie Falcon (and oddly enough, it was the first place I ran into common eastern birds like Summer Tanager and Hermit Thrush, too). And number three? We’ll it’s my new home state of North Carolina, where I’ve made a significant dent in those coastal and pelagic species.
Thanks to eBird, however, I was able to go even farther and pull out in which counties I’ve seen the most birds. Once again, my old home county of Christian, Missouri, takes the honors, but look how close southeast Arizona is! And third with another local Missouri county (the one with the lakes), and then a fairly steep drop off into more or less evenly distributed counties.
It’s not terribly surprising that destination counties like Cochise, Arizona, and Hidalgo, Texas, and Dare, North Carolina, would be up there, but it’s awfully hard to knock off the first place you ever lived.
Incidentally, I also found that about 75% of my life birds came from one of four counties, which is pretty wild. It suggests that a birder who wanted to get to 500 ABA area lifers as cheaply as possible could do so by staying close to home and traveling to destination spots in south Texas and south Arizona. There are worse ways I suppose, but where’s the fun in that.
It’s also worth noting that I may see an interloper heading towards the top with a bullet. I’m heading to Southern California, specifically San Diego, for some birding (and helping with an ABA rally) next month. I’ve never birded SoCal, and I’ve got an absurd number of life birds that I might be able to pick up. My cursory look at the eBird abundance charts shows just over 40 with better than average chances and an additional 20-odd as possibles. I didn’t even add Blue-footed Booby to the list, and given that there are currently dozens of them off the coast maybe I should have, but that tells you about how well this could go.
More on that to come. I’m really excited to see precisely where that state and county end up on the list.