Journal archives for March 2016

March 07, 2016

TOS's Texas Century Club, The Theory

At about 5:15 p.m. on the evening of March 4, I located a Hermit Thrush in the underbrush along the Leon River in Hamilton County, Texas.
By my calculation at the time, it represented the 100th species on my Hamilton County bird list, and that county was my 100th county in which I'd accomplished that task, thus qualifying me for the symbolic "Texas Century Club", sponsored by the Texas Ornithological Society (TOS).

The Texas Century Club

The Texas Century Club is an effort, dreamed up I believe by TOS member David Sarkozi, to challenge birders to widen their birdwatching focus beyond just their own home turf and the well-known birding destinations such as state and national parks, wildlife refuges, etc. This arose at about the same time that the eBird database of Cornell University was really taking off as a repository for bird sightings and checklists.
It wasn’t surprising that vast areas of Texas have been underbirded, being skipped over by birders traveling to far-flung, high visibility destinations. Consider this: From any one of the major population centers in Texas (where birder’s residences are also concentrated), how many different counties would a birder pass through on their way to get to Big Bend National Park, Palo Duro State Park, High Island, or the Lower Rio Grande Valley? More revealing, how many counties would they miss and never traverse? Any examination of the data being accumulated on eBird showed huge gaps in our detailed knowledge of bird distribution and seasonality over vast swaths of the Texas landscape.

To fill in those gaps, birders were challenged to spend enough time and effort in underbirded counties and habitats to see if they could accumulate a personal bird list of at least 100 species in a given county and to upload the results into eBird. This is theoretically an achievable goal in virtually any and every Texas county—easy in any coastal county and those with diverse habitats such as Big Bend (Brewster County) but tougher as one goes inland and into drier and more uniform regions (e.g. parts of the Texas High Plains).

And we were challenged to see if we could accomplish this task in at least 100 of Texas’s 254 counties.

Listing and Listers: A Sport or a Clinical Diagnosis?

At this point it seems useful to insert a sidebar about the diversity of birders. There are as many ways to enjoy birds and birdwatching as their are nature enthusiasts out there. Every one of those ways is perfectly fine because the enjoyment of birds arises from within us. We may notice colorful birds passively as we work in the back yard or during some other diversion such as hunting or fishing. Or, at the other end of the birding spectrum, we may chase all over the place with the particular goal of seeing more birds (in a county, a state, a country, or the whole world).

And now for some armchair psychology. There is the innate need in all of us to put a name to a thing. Naming and classifying objects in our world gives us a set of handles by which we can retrieve information and memories about all these “things” we have encountered.

Separate from naming things, humans to varying degrees are collectors. Of necessity we accumulate food, clothing, and shelter. Optionally, we accumulate goods, property, wealth, baseball cards, knickknacks, memorabilia.

And finally, we all have an innate drive to accomplish, to meet goals, to achieve.

Applying all this to birding, i.e., naming, collecting, and achieving, leads to bird lists. Very naturally, bird listing will express itself to the degree that one is motivated by each of those three separate, underlying human characters I’ve just mentioned. You may seek your own place and balance on this scale of effort and also find a balance of your own energy that you might expend on this tiny subset of life’s diversions vis-a-vis everything else you have to do in the modern world.

I, Lister

As for me, on the aforementioned scale of listing, I have to plead that I’m a 10-10-10…or maybe some of those closest to me would say I occasionally dial it “up to eleven”. I am obsessed with naming things. I am an accumulator—some would say pack rat. And I set myself goals, especially now in retirement, if for no other reason than to stave off boredom. The result when applied to my birding efforts is that I jumped on the Texas Century Club wagon with gusto.

Posted on March 07, 2016 05:21 PM by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 1 observation | 9 comments | Leave a comment

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