Lister

(This column was first published in the January 11, 1999 Buffalo News.)

    It has been several years since I last kept an annual list of birds identified. This year I've begun to do so once again.

    Of course my personal contest will not be at all the same. I do not expect to approach the 259 species on the Niagara Frontier I recorded eleven years ago. With my eyesight and hearing declining, I can no longer make those quick calls that used to come so easily.

    Listing is criticized by many bird watchers. They feel that it takes away from the serious study of avian biology. Listers, they believe, are interested only in that first bird and pay no attention to migration peaks, nesting habits and other aspects of bird behavior. Indeed, there are some to whom that criticism applies. But to many of us listing merely adds another dimension to birding -- a sporting dimension that motivates us to get out and look for birds. And it certainly does not exclude other aspects of ornithology.

    With my resolution in mind, I join Dick Collins and Mike Galas on New Year's Day to start our birding year. It is not a propitious beginning.

    We meet before six a.m. at our usual spot along Buffalo Creek in Eden where in past years we have recorded either screech or great horned owl. No luck. We can hear nothing over the howling wind.

    Now the long trek to Dunkirk to find waterfowl in the warm harbor waters discharged from the power station. Not an easy drive -- after a Thruway whiteout we pass several cars stuck in snowbanks. Dick calls 911 for assistance on his cell phone.

    In the dim light an alien -- house sparrow -- starts our birding year and along Dunkirk city streets we add a few other everyday species. But Dunkirk Harbor produces little, among the common ducks and Canada Geese only a gadwall and a redhead, and no unusual gulls. Point Gratiot and Lake Erie State Park are busts and we pick up only robin at Canadaway Creek. We head back with a list of 17 species, half of what we have usually recorded by this time.

    Much of Route 5 is still closed but we find the section open in Lackawanna. From it in the Small Boat Harbor we add pied-billed grebe, both scaup and common loon. Nothing at the Tifft feeders, however.

    We cross the Peace Bridge and follow the Niagara River north occasionally adding waterfowl species in the river and dickeybirds at feeders along the parkway.

    But then a mile south of Chippewa our best bird of the day appears. A peregrine falcon powers its way with deep wingbeats from the woods to our left out over a raft of ducks in the river. It stoops on a female bufflehead and there is a big splash. Unfortunately now we lose sight of the big hawk. Does it fly off as we try to focus our binoculars on it or does it drift slowly downstream underwater, its talons firmly entangled in the body of that duck?

    The rest of the day is anticlimactic, but we do find a red-headed woodpecker in the Fort Niagara woods and a mockingbird in Lewiston. Our final total, 51 species, is well below our usual high 60s for New Year's Day.

    On the East Aurora Christmas Count on January 3rd, I add great blue heron, wild turkey, pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers and brown creeper so my count stands at 56.

    In any case I'm off and running. Through the year I will give you an occasional update, but meanwhile, if you come across any unusual birds, please give me a call or contact me through the internet. -- Gerry Rising