Like any self-respecting lister, I wanted to come up with a challenge for myself in 2014. Reflecting on my failed attempt at a big year last year and thinking more about my best bird of 2013, I have created a goal that I am dubbing the “strategic year.”
The strategic year will not be about finding as many birds as possible by any means necessary. Instead, I have chosen 12 specific individual species that I am targeting. It will be my goal to learn about the behavior, range, and habitat of these birds so that I can go out into the field and find them myself. The reason I chose the American Bittern as my best bird of 2013 was because I found it without assistance from anyone else, and I want more of these successes. So I will not be following list-serv reports or chasing individuals from eBird to tick them off my list. Of course, I will still use these resources to study where they have been seen historically and how best to find them. But I will not be following directions to any Wal-Mart parking lots to see one particular bird (well, maybe I will, but if I do that I won’t count it as a successful tally). The goal is to become a better birder, regardless of how many birds I see.
I asked for suggestions for target birds on the Indiana Birding Facebook page, and I got plenty of responses. I narrowed it down to 12 birds based on my ability to travel and also to keep the list realistic yet challenging (all of these would be life birds if I succeed in finding them):
The Cerulean Warbler represents a nemesis bird for me. I have tried specifically to go find it on several occasions with no luck. I expect that this might be the easiest bird to find on my list. They seem to pass through most parts of the state during spring and fall migration.
I really don’t know much about the Lark Sparrow, but where it occurs it favors farmland and open fields. Check one for Indiana!
I might be overly optimistic in thinking that I have a better chance of seeing a Golden-Winged Warbler than other birds on this list. It is steadily being bred-out of its range by Blue-Winged Warblers, but at least one well-documented bird was in Fort Wayne last spring.
Another of the “easy” birds on the list. Apparently Black-Billed Cuckoos are common, though frequently unseen. I can verify that last part.
I will be very excited if I find a Rusty Blackbird this year. I have read that their population is declining faster than almost any other bird. They winter in Indiana.
Golden Eagles are scattered but regular in Indiana, and this is another one of the birds on this list that I could expect to find in winter in the state.
I do not know much about the Loggerhead Shrike, other than that Indiana looks to be on the far northern edge of its summer range. Thankfully their look-alike kin the Northern Shrike should (should) be out of the area by then.
I will probably not see a Black Tern unless I manage a trip to the lakeshore.
Like the Black-Billed Cuckoo, Long-Eared Owls are apparently common but hard to find. If I see one at all, it will likely be due to dumb luck.
It will take some effort in the marshes of Indiana to see a Least Bittern, although they are apparently fairly common in the summer.
The King Rail is another secretive marsh bird whose call I will have to learn. They too are declining in population.
Finally, the Ruffed Grouse will probably be the toughest bird on this list to see. They are found in only a few places in the state, although thankfully that does include the forests of northeast Indiana. Even still, they are famously difficult to find.
This challenge will be very difficult with my other time commitments, and I will be happy to see even one of the birds listed above. Thankfully though, preparing to see one species will most likely mean I will find all kinds of other good birds too. Like always, I will update my progress here with both hits and misses. Good birding to you in 2014!