Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Small Year

Lydia as Sad
Stryx adorablus, the Southern Cuddle Owl

Last New Year’s Day, I started out the year with an early-morning trek on the Katy Prairie. The day was a flurry of beautiful scenery, hikes through wilderness, and sighting over 50 species of birds. It was a beautiful and invigorating way to start the year.

This New Year’s Day I started out the year with an early morning diaper change in our nursery. The day was a flurry of crying, hiking through the baby store, and sighting over 50 new grey hairs. My daughter, at least, was beautiful and invigorating.

Times, like diapers, are a-changing. Rapidly.

It’s hard to describe how I feel about my daughter without sounding like a Hallmark Channel movie cliche. I love her so much it almost makes me feel guilty about other people I’ve loved in the past... like they weren’t getting the full extent of my love potential. My love for her goes to 11.

Lydia WIllow, Month
Even if she’s a little bite-y.

I don’t want to miss a moment with her. As much as I love nature and wildlife, she’s my priority now. I didn’t want her to say her first word while I’m wading through coastal wetlands, or miss out on her first steps because I’m driving to High Island for migrating warblers.

That being said, I still want to keep pushing myself to improve my knowledge of the natural world, and get out into it now and again. In the more insane corners of the birding community, a Big Year is an informal contest to see as many birds as possible in one year. It involves ludicrous amounts of money and travel, racing across the country to tick off rarities. It speaks to a singular, untrammeled obsession. I will never do a Big Year.

Sorry, Jack.

In contrast, I am doing a Small Year. My field time will be limited. I will focus on my local surrounding area; my “patch”. To try to reconcile this with fatherhood, I plan to bird incidentally this year. That is to say, I want to pursue it with the same drive, but restrict it to the times that don’t count; Lunches, hours tacked onto business trips, early mornings while wife and child are asleep. Local parks instead of far flung locales. Birding smart rather than birding hard. More importantly, my priority will be the small bundle of awesome who entered my life this year. This, therefore, is a Small Year manifesto of sorts.

Oh, I do still have a ludicrous personal goal of wanting to see 250 bird species in one year. This is a normal tally for an average year, which is potentially insurmountable in a year where I’m purposefully restricting my time in the field, birding locally, and can’t count on a species bump from planned trips elsewhere. 

While that seems like a challenge, I have some cards up my sleeve. I’ve accumulated enough knowledge, advice, and lore of the local avifauna in the last six years to make me moderatley effective at maximizing my time in the field.  Moreover, we live in Houston, Texas, in the core of one of the great migratory flyways of the Americas. 400-500 species can be found here at one time of the year or another. Just casual glances while driving to work can next a list of 20+ species. Most importantly, within 10 miles of my house are two of the largest urban parks in the country, a mix of no less than 10 other local parks and Audubon bird sanctuaries, and a broad mix of habitats from native prairie to wetlands. As of writing this, I have already recorded 191 species.

Just a few of the many habitats in the area.

Most of all, I have a little girl I adore, who puts all of it in perspective. Maybe I’ll see 250 species, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll update this blog with progress, maybe I won’t. Maybe I can make this work, maybe I can’t. In the end, there’s only one thing that won’t be left to “maybe”. At some point I will have to explain why Daddy likes birds/wildlife so much. I hope when that moment comes, we will be in the field together, and Lydia’s life list will be at least 200. 

Lydia Willow, 7

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