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January 5, 2013

Reflections on a birding year

Many birders keep a year list, a tally of the number of species that they see throughout the year. It is a way to measure personal achievements, or to reflect on the year that was.

Doug Chickering, of Groveland, reflects on 2012:

“Lois Cooper and I were out today (Jan. 1) to open the year. Last night the record was swept clean, and now we have started our yearly list again as we have done together for the last 20 years, and as I have been doing for the last three decades.

“In the sweep of our nature ending of the year, our starting anew is, of course arbitrary — as are most of the forms in birding. And even though it carries no meaning for the creatures we passionately pursue, it has a great deal of meaning for us. As humans we attempt to press order upon this disorderly natural world. It gives us clarity, it gives us the sense of satisfaction of knowing what is transpiring before us, and it makes no difference that it is largely illusory.

“Before we started out, Lois and I took a few minutes to reflect upon what we experienced in 2012. Last year I managed to add no birds to my life list, one bird to my North American life list and two birds to my Massachusetts life list — all very modest gains. To my most important life list, my Plum Island list, the advance was more remarkable. Four birds added to that list during a year that I expected one at the most.

“Of course my birding life is more than the accumulation of ticks and the filling in of blanks. My sharpest recollections sometimes seem to have no understandable origin and I don’t expect that the things that animate my memory would do the same for others. I think I can remember every red-headed woodpecker I have ever seen, this includes two from this past year. The adult clinging to a snag at the New England Biolabs that gave me only flashes of its spectacular head in the uncertain light, the juvenile I came across in the S curves on Plum Island is memorable for the surprise of unexpected discovery, and the Prothonatary Warbler at J. B. Little Road, was one of those reminders that some bird’s beauty is transcendent. It can never really be captured for long in the mind’s eye nor duplicated by any photograph.

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