Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflecting on 2011, a big year in birds

Lesser flamingoes in Arusha National Park, Tanzania

365 days. 525,600 minutes. How does one measure a year in the life?*

Bird watching with students at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda

In places visited? My journey through 2011 spanned eight countries on four continents. Some stays were as brief as a few days on long layovers, but the vast majority of my time was spent on a single hill in Rwanda.

Shoebill at Mabamba Swamp, Uganda. We loved this species;
we went looking for it on four days on our first trip to Uganda. This
picture is from the fifth visit, on our second trip to Uganda.

How about birds? I have observed and identified 807 species in 2011. The idea of seeing over 800 species blows my mind, and I am glad I kept a detailed list so I can wrap my head around it. I saw species from 109 families, just short of 50% of the roughly 230 bird families. Eight hundred is a large quantity, but due to the wide diversity, the set was also of a very high quality. To blow the mind even more, consider that 800 birds is just 8% of the world’s total bird species. It’s a big world out there.

Giving a bird tour to a visiting volunteer group at Agahozo-Shalom
Youth Village, Rwanda

Could I have gotten 1000 species for an even bigger year? For sure. It got tough to find new species in East Africa without traveling greater distances or spending more, but I probably could have made it happen. I skipped out on anything more than casual bird watching in the United States (only 17 species there in 3 weeks, mostly backyard birds). And I am currently in a bird-rich country with well over 1000 species; why am I not out chasing them down and ticking them off?

Grey-capped warbler, belting out a song at Lake Kivu, Rwanda

Believe it or not, most of my time in 2011 was not spent birding. It was spent educating, coordinating volunteers, removing invasive species, planning events and projects, hanging out with friends and family, eating, and sleeping.

Educational bird display that Michele and I made for the science center
at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda

To me, whether there was a high or low number of birds is not important. This year was about getting to know birds, not just seeing them. It was about becoming a better birder, of which a high “life list” total does not necessarily reflect.

A male Sooty Chat, a bird I got to see every day and know very well
because they lived just outside my house in Rwanda

In a broader sense, this year was about understanding my connection to the planet. It was about observing ecological interactions first hand. It was about supporting communities in meaningful ways to improve their quality of life. It was about helping others understand their connection to birds and the planet.

Agahozo-Shalom Environment Club members pose with in their
nature park in Rwanda

While I will try to see many birds here in Ecuador, I am volunteering and interning to help conserve a very special habitat, which is home to, you guessed it, some pretty special birds and some great people too (and ok, ok, I am spending a lot of my free time chasing down birds in the area). It is a fitting end to 2011, a big year, and a fitting beginning to 2012.

So how does one measure a year in the life? Measure it in love! Love of birds, love of people, love, love, love!

*Thanks to Jonathon Larson for penning and spreading the concept “Measure it in Love” in the musical RENT. What a way to measure a year.

No comments:

Post a Comment