I’ve never been a huge “lister”, at least in the formal sense. I know what birds I’ve seen, but I really haven’t ever kept a written list anywhere. Photos? Yeah, I definitely know how many bird species I have photos of. I keep a spreadsheet to organize my photos, with species, date, and location. I have photos for 415 species, all in North America (I haven’t traveled outside of North America during my time birding).
For species I’ve actually seen? I have a rough guess of around 480, just based on the number of of species photos I have. The problem is that I’ve never kept track of species that I’ve seen, but not photographed! Hooded Warbler? Check! Baikal Teal? Check! Even something as common in South Dakota as a Prairie Chicken? Check! I’ve seen them all, but have no photos.
If eBird would have existed when I started birding 15 years ago, I would definitely have an exact count. I’m not just talking my lifetime bird list, I’m talking my “South Dakota List”, my “Minnehaha County List”, my “2008 List”, etc. It’s a wonderful tool for not only contributing to ornithology studies, but also for listing. Since I really started using eBird a couple of years ago, I’ve entered 419 species, including 277 in South Dakota.
One of the interesting aspects of eBird is that you can get your “ranking”, in comparison to other birders in your area. I can see who has the most sightings in South Dakota, in my county, in the U.S. as a whole, or even who has the most “yard birds” in their life. It’s pure genius to me that Cornell includes these features in eBird. Given how (annoyingly sometimes!) competitive birders can be, seeing how you rank against others in your area is a good way to spur more eBird sightings!
This year I decided I would track how many species I see in South Dakota, for several reasons. First, I’ve never done it, and was curious how many the number might be in one year. Secondly, if you’ve birded for a while, seeing your 1,987th Common Nighthawk may not be that exciting, but I admit it IS satisfying to mentally and physically cross it off your list for the year, the first time you see one.
It’s May 26th, and the count for the year is (drumroll please…) 193 species seen in South Dakota. That’s many more than I thought I’d have seen by this date. If you include every rarity ever seen in South Dakota, even if there’s only one recorded instance, there are about 435 “South Dakota species”. Recording 193 of them in less than 5 months seems pretty good to me, particularly since I haven’t traveled at all in the western part of the state, where many species can be found that can’t be found in the eastern half of South Dakota. It’s also good from the standpoint that I haven’t seen much in the way of “mega rarities”, which means I’ve seen a good majority of the species you’d expect to see over the course of the year.
The downside? Well, if you’d have asked me on January 1st whether I’d take 193 species by May 26th, I’d have definitely said yes! However, 193 puts me in a mere SEVENTH place in South Dakota right now! SEVENTH!!! The highest totals right now are around 220 species. Does that bother me? I admit it kind of does! I have REALLY birded much more this spring than in the past several years, and thought I was doing pretty good! Evidently there are even kookier bird nuts out there than me!!
CURSE YOU eBIRD, for bringing to light my birding inadequacies!!! If it weren’t for eBird, I’d be quite merry with my 193 total!!