For the Birds Radio Program: New Years Resolutions

Original Air Date: Dec. 29, 1989

What kind of resolutions for a new year, or a new decade, does a birder make? (4:10)

Audio missing


New Year’s Resolutions

(Recording of a Snowy Owl)

It’s that time of year again when people make dozens of resolutions, only a few of which they’ll actually keep for any appreciable time. One year my sister resolved to be perfect all year. That was a resolution which obviously couldn’t be kept for long, but I always admired her for trying—It’s better to aim for and miss a difficult target than to aim for and miss an easy one. My resolutions tend to be more limited than absolute perfection. If I resolve not to yell or get too mad when the kids spill a whole bottle of purple tempera paint on the dining room carpet I can take advantage of a technicality when the paint they spill is green.

With the passing of the 80’s, this year’s resolutions are as much decade- as year-goals. Since having children, I haven’t been able to chase down rare birds like I used to. I only added two lifers all year—a Brambling in East Grand Forks last January and a Golden-crowned Sparrow in Duluth last week. 1988 was better, because we took a family vacation to Florida, where many birds were new for me, but I didn’t see a single new Minnesota bird all that year. The year Tommy was born, 1985, I didn’t see a single new one anywhere all year.

Now that I don’t have any babies, I’m aiming to get back into the mainstream of birding again, chasing down rarities like I used to, and finally seeing some of the common birds of southeastern Minnesota. One good weekend trip could get me into the state’s 300 club, which seems like a worthy goal for the start of a decade. My family is planning a trip to Los Angeles in June—that trip will easily get my lifelist over 500, since right now it’s at 494. I’m already preparing, studying the songs of western birds on my records, and reading books about the California birdlife, resolving to see at least 20 new birds. It’s easy to add a few new species whenever you take a trip to a new place, but the more you know about the area’s birdlife ahead of time, the more birds you’re likely to find, and the more you’ll appreciate seeing them.

Not only do my resolutions involve bird sighting goals, they also involve record keeping. When I started out as a birder, I kept meticulous notes of every single bird I saw. That quickly evolved—or devolved—into keeping notes on rarities and some interesting observations of common birds, but on many days I ended up keeping only a list of the species seen. Since having children, though, my record keeping has pretty much flown out the window. Having healthy and happy babies was my most important goal for the 80’s, but now that they’re spending more and more of their time trying to grow away from me, it’s time for me to get back into record-keeping in a serious way. My mother-in-law has been keeping a daily record of birds she sees in her yard for several years now—that kind of record is valuable for noticing whether something really is early this year, or whether something is becoming more or less common.

One of the best things about the hobby of birding or birdwatching is that no matter how good you get at it, there’s always still another rarity to chase down, a new list to keep, a new plumage or song to learn. And one even better thing about it is that all the while a birder builds up lists, he or she is enjoying birds—creatures which are among the freest, most beautiful, most musical, most airborne, most conspicuous, and most interesting of all creation. Ringing in a New Year and a new decade with birds may be the finest resolution a person can make.

(Recording of a Snowy Owl)

This is Laura Erickson and this program has been “For the Birds.”