.......and Reflections

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reflecting on The Heartland Birding Trip 2011

I hope some of you chose to keep up with my birding trip to the great American west. It takes a day or two to recover from traveling well over 6,000 miles in 19 days. Any way you slice it, I averaged about 325 miles driving each day. Now that I'm settled back into being home I can assess the trip and reflect on how it compares to past trips and perhaps about yet another similar trip next year.

The birding this year was different. Excess water in one form or another certainly effected the birding and the route of the trip. Flooding in virtually every location along the way, and unusually large and low snow pack, seemed to cause birds to be either out of their normal places, or absent all together in some cases. This makes me realize that birds have to make adjustments to adversity in the course of their lives. As if dealing with normal conditions isn't enough of a challenge, they are also at the mercy of extreme elements and conditions.

My trip list totalled 248 species of birds. I think this is about what I would normally average. I missed some birds that I almost always find and there were some surprises. But this is pretty typical. People often seek my advice about where to visit when they travel, and where to find the birds they want to see the most. I am always careful to advise them to bird appropriate and diverse habitats, and in so doing, they will get a pretty good representation of the birds in that destination. Searching for target birds is often a very slippery slope. As soon as you expect to see even common birds you are setting yourself up for a big disappointment.

I followed my advice and I am pleased with the list of birds I saw. However, I am always disappointed when birds elude me one way or another.

I saw 27 species of mammals this trip including a "lifer", the Red-tailed Squirrel. Finding mammals in the course of birding is a great benefit of observation. Let's face it. You not only can't just watch birds. The rest of the natural world we encounter validates the birding experience. I saw or heard 8 species of reptiles and amphibians and added Red-sided Garter Snake, a new reptile.

I have been accused of being a "naturalist". It is absolutely not true. I have a limited cranial capacity and suffer from an ever-decreasing electrical output in the brain. Naturalists are generalists. They have a great knowledge of the plants animals, insects and everything else living that makes up any natural place. I chose to focus on birds and wildlife and that's about all I can effectively manage. I am working on butterflies, dragonflies, and plants but I'll never be a true naturalist. With that said, I greatly admire any good naturalist and respect their skills and knowledge with great humility.

Experiencing and writing about the middle of nowhere isn't just an activity, it is something that is in my heart, on my mind, and shapes who I am. Whenever and wherever I travel to wild destinations I can't help but draw comparisons between living in a metropolitan area with the remoteness of these places I love. In the last 3 weeks I haven't watched TV, except for the weather channel. I didn't watch any news while I was gone, and I only used the computer to compose my blogs. Since I've been home I am very sensitive to things that normally would just be ordinary.

I notice a very annoying, persistent News Channel 19 helicopter over my house, no doubt seeking out some juicy news story that, in the end, we've all heard before a million times. The news sounds a lot like it did when I left reminding me of the redundency of a day-time soap opera. Sirens are a common sound in Lakewood and I suspect the same in every city across America. Noise is a very real part of the human existence.

I miss the sound of the Western Meadowlark and the scolding of nesting Willets, Marbled Godwits, and Long-billed Curlews. It isn't noise but a necessary communication where their is an intrudor on the prairie. I miss the sound of the wind and the rain. I miss hearing Coyotes calling in the middle of the night. I miss the morning chorus of thrushes in the dimly lit, early mountain morning. The elements in the mddle of nowhere stimulate you whether you want stimulation or not.

Most of all I miss the sound of nothing. Wild places are a great place to focus on the beautiful tangible sights and sounds of nature. It makes you wonder. It makes you think...without distraction. It reminds you of what is most important in life and in nature. It spoils you, gloriously.

Tonight I will fall asleep to talking neighbors, barking dogs and the constant hum of unending freeway traffic. I think the last thing I will remember is thinking about the middle of nowhere.

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