Friday, March 02, 2007

Lifer longings

All these folks stopping by to get their lifer Common Redpoll have me feeling wistful. I don't even want to say how long it has been since I last added a tickie to my ABA list other than by reading about a new split in the literature. I've never been a long-distance chaser. I prefer to see my birds either closer to home or in context on trips to their native lands. For instance, there's a Northern Wheatear 450 miles south of here near Mobile, which I haven't contemplated chasing. Sure, I need it for my ABA list, but I have seen the species in Europe, and this one is apparently hanging out in construction debris in a new subdivision. I'd rather my ABA wheatear be on a rock in the tundra amid arctic scenery, not on a piece of PVC at a construction site, expecially if it's gonna be a 1000 mile trip.

So I've been taking inventory of where and when I still have clusters of potential ABA lifers; regular "uncommon or better" birds in the lands and habitats that are their normal abodes. Running down the Tennessee list was bleak; only 9 species on it at all I haven't seen, and only one or two that merit listing as "casual" rather than "accidental." My single biggest clump is southeastern Arizona. My birding history there has consisted of one morning at Madera Canyon and a few days in Tucson, plus roadsides and industrial parks from an 18-wheeler. There are still 20-25 reasonable possibilities for me on an extended summer trip, depending on whether you count some of the more iffy visitors. The only other big batch is Alaska, but it's really not practical to lump all of Alaska together as one place. I spent a couple of weeks in the interior and southeast one June, which cleaned up most of the general Boreal birds (except for those dang ptarmigans!). So that really leaves me with two discrete Alaska hot spots: the southwestern sea birds and the western "Beringian" tundra. Either of those offers me about 15-17 birds by themselves, or about 23 collectively. Any old world vagrants I stumbled across would probably be cancelled out by "expected" species I missed, of course. Both of those places are long, expensive trips; even starting from Anchorage those are substantial time- and wallet-draining expeditions. So Alaska isn't even penciled in until several years in the future. Maybe Arizona can happen in 2008?

OK now, those two clumps would take care of about 40 or so more tickies. Other than that, it's a few here, and a few there. Texas offers about 7 species, but these are divided between Big Bend, the Edwards Plateau, and the Valley, with only 2 or 3 in each. I have two clusters left in California: a half dozen pelagics, and 4 or 5 in southern California. New England and the Maritimes offer a few also, though only one land bird (Bicknell's Thrush). Florida only really offers two more on the mainland (Snail Kite and Short-tailed Hawk) plus the noddies if I blew more cash for a Dry Tortugas trip. I'm not considering introduced birds; I'll take them if I find them, but I'm not particulaly keen on having my ABA #600 be some australian parrot in a Miami suburb.

My best bet closest to home is a group of six Great Plains birds that I have managed to miss by always living either too far east or too far west: both Prairie Chickens, Yellow Rail, Sprague's Pipit, Baird's Sparrow, and Smith's Longspur. Don't ask how I have managed to be just shy of 600 on my ABA list, and live in Colorado for 10 years, without getting either prairie chicken! Let he who is without jinx birds cast the first stone. I never got Gunnison Sage Grouse either, but in my defense we didn't even know that species existed back then. The pipit and longspur are both available just across the river in Arkansas, and they (along with the rail) have even been known to show up in Tennessee once in a turquoise moon. But it looks like I could actually swing a trip or two to the State just west, Oklahoma, and nab four of those plus maybe even grab a Black-capped Vireo while I'm there. I'd actually love to make a trip to the northern prairies in breeding season to get the pipit, baird's, and rail all in their full nesting glory, but that's a bigger project. So it appears that OK is likely to be in the travel plans during the next year, since this is the closest and cheapest clump to go explore.


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