Friday, June 15, 2012

Birding, Life Lists, and The Big Year

When I was visiting my sister the first time, four years ago I think, I fell in love with birds. I live in an urban area and mostly see pigeons, chickadees, mourning doves, you know, common city birds. Occasionally I would see a hummingbird since we had a flowering tree on our street. I enjoyed seeing birds, but my first visit to Washington State enhanced that to become a passion. I am a birdwatcher, a birder, albeit a very amateur one.

My sister’s home near the coast and forests of WA is heaven for bird watching. On our first trip we visited a lot of attractions in her area, including two wetlands, one by a lighthouse which was lovely. I saw such color and variety of birds that I never knew existed so near people! I never made an effort to see birds, just enjoyed whichever ones flew into my field of vision, so having all these amazing birds in sight started a desire to see more. Many more. All of them!

Every visit to my sister following has involved bird watching of some degree, mostly just looking out the window and consulting the bird guide when we weren’t sure what we saw. We always visit the wetlands and see new birds. But, this last trip, we saw something that changed our amateur birding into a concerted effort to see as many birds as we can over our lifetime.

We didn’t see some grand bird or fabulous bird watching expert. We saw Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson racing to see as manybirds as they could in one year in a wonderful, inspiring movie, The Big Year. This movie shows the lives of three men, passionate birders, who are competing to see the most birds in one year. There is no prize, but the respect of the birding community. You see these men get so excited at viewing birds, hearing new calls, interpreting weather patterns to see new birds. It is mostly funny, a little sad, too. There is an underlying message to enjoy life, know what your priorities are or should be, and don’t let your passions dictate how you live. Know when to stop and when to keep going. Good life lessons!

I highly recommend seeing the movie, for entertainment purposes if nothing else. The cast was hilarious! I enjoy movies that are real and this one definitely had elements of heartbreaking realness to it. You should put this one on your must-see list.

But, be prepared! If you enjoy birds NOW, this movie will spark a fire in you to start a list, a daily list, yearly list, or even a lifetime list. You will be inspired to keep track of what birds you see, I guarantee.

My sister and I have decided to start life lists, a list of birds we have seen over the course of our lifetime. We began by daily spending time looking at the birds in the immediate vicinity and writing them down as we found them in the bird book or online. Then we went to the wetlands and purposed to find particular birds, such as a kingfisher (the first one I have ever seen!). We were always glancing around while driving and walking outside. A woodpecker landed on a tree outside her kitchen window and you would have thought there was an emergency by the way she was whisper-yelling my name to “Come quick! Hurry! Hurry!” I did catch a glimpse of this brilliant redheaded bird before he flew away. My sister and I looked at each other, grinning hugely, adding it to the mental list.

So all this is introduction to the newest page on my blog, my Birding Life List. I am back in an urban area now, sorely missing the great forest of the Northwest, and already have noticed a few new birds on my walks. The local cemetery has a bird watching group that meets monthly and I have plans to attend with Professor X. He’s caught the bird fever, too. I feel like something special has been added to my life, something to help me slow down and savor the moment. Something to help me listen more intently to the sounds around me, to catch that new bird call or whistle. Something to enrich my experience here in this world, on this crazy earth, living my small daily life. I encourage you to try it. What do you see out your window?


  1. Oh I have recorded dates of bird sightings in my field guide for years. Some of the same type of birds appear in the same week in my yard year after is truly amazing.
    I put up a nEW bird feeder just today. i have put up two baths this spring and both get a lot of use.

    I have to watch that movie!

  2. kathy, you are so lucky to be able to be so hospitable to birds! We have so many cats in this neighborhood I feel like it would be a disservice to the birds to make a central feeding center.

    Lmk what you think of the movie. If you are a birder, you will definitely enjoy it!