Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Joys of County Birding

Ruff. 3rd county record. Forest Grove, Oregon. October 13, 2007.
I decided several years ago that the world was big--it's too big and my pocketbook too small for me to go jetting around the world trying to see a significant portion of the world's avifauna. And there is no North American Big Year waiting in my life, either. In fact, a few years back I decided that the State of Oregon itself was too big for me to regularly attempt to see a large number of birds in a single year. Instead, I concentrated on birding closer to home.

Emperor Goose
Emperor Goose. 1st county record at a local city park,
Hillsboro, Oregon October 29, 2008.  
Happily, I found that my passion for listing and big days and big years is adequately satisfied by county listing. Even a county big year is not an every year occurrence. There are some years where I decide to put my efforts toward other goals. And, of course, life happens. But I always keep working to build my county life list. It doesn't take a lot of money to do county listing. In fact, from personal experience I can opine that steady part-time employment is more conducive to a county big year than either full-time employment or unemployment.

Counties in the western United States are huge compared to those in the East--some are bigger than Eastern states! But my local Washington County west of Portland Oregon is rather small, 20 miles north and south, 40 miles east and west, if that. Any rare bird is likely to be at most 20 miles from my home. Even so, I don't often drop everything to go see a bird. Yesterday I chased (went to find a previously reported bird) a Mountain Chickadee only 3 miles from my home. It had been coming to a feeder for a week. That's #252 for my Washington County life list and number #193 for the year!

Hooded Oriole
Hooded Oriole. 2nd county record found on local
Christmas Bird Count. Gaston, Oregon, 26 December 2009.
One thing that county listing does is let you really get to know your local area and the status and distribution of birds. I know 3 bridges where you can find American Dippers in the county. I know the road you have to take to find Chipping Sparrows. I know the exact week to visit a certain flooded farm field in order to find Solitary Sandpipers. A Prairie Falcon spent 5 consecutive early Januarys in the same lone cedar tree in an agricultural area of the county. There's only one campground in the county where I can tell you to go in June to find Hammond's Flycatcher. I know exactly when to search the deep Coast Range reservoir to find fall migrant Surf Scoters.

A county lister, especially one that concentrates on only a couple of counties--or just one, becomes a local expert. I've been able to share the expertise I've gained by writing birding site guides and annotated county checklists.

Black Phoebe
Black Phoebe. 5th county record. Forest Grove, Oregon.
July 20, 2012.
Will I reach 200 species this year and break my 2010 record of 199? I don't know. I need 7 more species. I know what the most-likely are: Trumpeter Swan, Redhead, Common Goldeneye, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Sandhill Crane, Red Phalarope, Glaucous Gull. But the county has a total of 300 species seen, so there are plenty of possibilities, even with only 8 weeks remaining.

But the fun of county birding is that the next new bird I see for the county this year--whether I find it first or someone else does--could be one never before recorded in the county! That's fun!


  1. What a great idea to stay near home, to capture your these and I hope your week is filled with pleasant. I shall hopefully be west of Portland, Oregon next September, heading to Olympic National Park~

    1. I really recommend birding Fernhill Wetlands at Forest Grove in September, Mary! Great shorebirding.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Adam. It was a bird seen for a week or two--very rare. I was able to sit in the grass at the edge of the ponds and wait for an hour or more for it to walk nearer feeding in the mud. Lot's of fun doing that. I usually don't have the time (or patience not to go searching for other birds) to just sit and take photos.

  3. I agree with Greg. County birding is great for those of us with "restricted" budgets. I look at patch birding in the same way. It's nice to be the expert of your local patch with an intimate knowledge of the comings and goings of each species. When you know the common birds so well it helps in the discovery of the less common or even rare. Greg's post has an almost companion post at the ABA Blog today too:

    1. Thanks for pointing to that ABA article, Robert. County listing is just a large patch!

  4. Wonderful post! County birding is a great idea, especially when one has time restraints. Good luck breaking your 2010 record!

    1. Thanks, Julie. Other people have seen 7 species this week that would give me the record, but I can't get away! Still time...

  5. I enjoyed your post, I bird a lot in my and my neighbors backyards and around our area. We often see new things and it is so enjoyable. We have a big march reserve a few miles from here that I see migrating species in early spring and fall.

  6. What a wonderful way to encourage other local birds, Greg. Nice post!