Friday, February 10, 2012

these binoculars were made for walking

There has been a confluence of forces in my life that has conspired to turn me into someone who searches out new trails in the area on a nearly daily basis. First, I am now officially home alone with a baby during the weekdays (lucky me, I wasn't until very recently) and second, eBird.

The first reason for my almost pathological need to get out of the house should be self-evident. The added challenge that smallfry is still not supposed to be exposed to respiratory infections if we can avoid it at all means that I'm cut off from the traditional activities parents on leave might do with their little people. So I need to find ways to get out safely, otherwise I start to go crazy with only my own thoughts to occupy me. It's amazing what an anxious, fearful, sad bent they can take. smallfry is good company, but not always the most stimulating or even distracting companion. Hiking is perfect -- it bites a chunk out of my day doing something worthwhile that doesn't involve me stewing.

The second reason I've been on a hiking kick is eBird. Now, I've always been a birdwatcher, sometimes more casual and sometimes pretty hard-core, though I'm not what one might call a "twitcher." It's just not how I roll, though I see the appeal. I am not going to go out of my way to see something unusual, even if it's only half an hour away; I'm happy to see it if I stumble upon it, but I'm happiest just hiking along and watching whatever comes my way. Although... well, I'll admit to twitching the Yellow-Throated Warbler at Rondeau in spring 2011 since we were there anyway. And... I twitched the Summer Tanager at Pelee in 2010, but again, we were right there. And... well, let's just say that if there was a reliable report of a Kirtland's Warbler within half an hour of my current location, I would probably drop what I was doing and twitch that pretty hard. ANYWAY.

What I do like is data entry. I ... I really love data entry. Even more, I love to watch masses of data I've entered gradually growing into a statistical picture that reflects my experience. Something like eBird is like candy to me. Delicious, easily-accessible, free candy that almost might be good for you. In that reporting to eBird is good for science!

What I've realized through entering my backlists into eBird are a couple of things: first, for someone who likes data so much, I've been pretty pathetic about keeping it. I've seen a lot more birds than I've ever written down on a list; I've done a lot of birdwatching list-free. This is not necessarily because birdwatching is more fun list-free, it's more because I am lazy and/or disorganized. I really like keeping lists when I can be arsed to find a pen and paper.

The second thing I've realized is that I've not done a lot of birdwatching in my own backyard. We go places to birdwatch; Panama, Cuba, Bruce County, Point Pelee, Rondeau... but I don't really do a lot of birding around here, and that's a shame.

So that dovetails nicely with my need to get out. Turns out smallfry is a pretty excellent birding companion. She sleeps in her stroller, as long as we keep moving at reasonable intervals. She really, really enjoys her new carrier, in which she can be strapped to my front facing outwards (leaves my hands free, and we can hike on less-smooth trails, and she can see what is going on, which is paramount.) In the past week we've birded three different locations in the region, only one of which I'd ever been to before (and even there we walked much further than I've walked there before.) The fruits of our labours have included a juvenile Bald Eagle seen flying over the river today and many more Common Mergansers than I customarily see, since I like my warm and comfy house at this time of year. (Don't get me started about the weather, though; as much as I like getting out in the warm sun in early February, it's creeping me the hell out.)

The payoff? Lots of birds, meaning lots of data to add to eBird, and smallfry is sleeping well at nights thanks to all the fresh air, and I am getting that last little bit of pregnancy weight off, but most importantly I am feeling good. I've got a list of places I'm looking forward to hiking, and a growing list of places I'm looking forward to revisiting at regular intervals throughout the year. I suppose the exercise is its own reward, though that's never been enough for me. But hiking to watch for birds -- there's always something interesting to see.

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