Green birding

Green birding

For the past year I have been involved as a contributing editor with the Ontario Field Ornithologists’ publication OFO News, but recently stepped into the lead shoes when the previous person decided to take some time off to travel. This is my first issue at the helm. The last couple of days I’ve been busy pulling all the pieces together that our contributing editors have solicited and sending them off to our layout person. The position hasn’t been too much work, right up until the deadline (which is this week). I’ve spent about half my time the last few days following up with authors, doing last-minute edits, making sure all our pages are filled, arranging it all and sending it off. So I’ve been keeping busy. Having the computer die right in the middle of it all didn’t really help.

One of our articles for this issue is on green birding. This is also our birdathon (spring fundraiser) issue, so it’s partially tied in with that (doing your birdathon on bike or some other means of green transport). In the past few years I’ve done a birdathon, in support of the research station in Toronto, but since I’m not there this year I won’t be doing one. Dan is hoping to put together some research projects on the birds in the Frontenac region, but it’s still in its infant stages at the moment, and so I’m not sure if I’ll be involved any such fundraising efforts this year.

In the article, however, the author mentions a recent green birding initiative, started up by Richard Gregson, of Baie d’Urfé, Québec. Most birders probably know about the concept of the Big Year – the year when you try to see as many bird species as you can within your allotted timeframe. It’s been spotlighted in such books as The Big Year by Mark Obmascik. There have been many spin-offs to the idea. Generally, the original Big Year covered all of North America, but people have adapted it to their own state or province, their own backyard, or a particular destination they enjoy. There have also been Big Months and Big Days. Taking it yet another step is the Big Sit – as many species as you can while staying within one very small defined area, often simply a lawn chair but sometimes graciously extended to the area of a birding platform or tower to allow the participant to stretch their legs (and change their angle of viewing, if necessary). Some, such as the Big Sit, have become an event on the scale of Christmas Bird Counts in their participation.

Green birding

And then there’s Richard Gregson’s Big event. He’s started up the BIGBY goal – standing for BIg Green Big Year. The goal of BIGBY is the same as most big years – see as many species as you can. Where it differs is in how you go about doing it. In a BIGBY list, the only birds that can be legitimately counted are those that were seen while using some method of green transportation to see them. This could mean hiking in a park by foot, biking through your neighbourhood, canoing down a river, or driving to the state’s wildlife refuge using an electric vehicle, if you can get your hands on one! The primary goal is to avoid the use of internal combustion engines. “No gas was burned in the viewing of these birds.” (At least, not directly. In the case of using a bike or canoe, you don’t have any control over what method the companies used to freight their products to where you bought it, and you probably burned some fuel in getting it home.)

In most cases, this means your BIGBY list will also be a list of what’s in your neighbourhood, that circle, with your home at its epicentre, within which you can comfortably get out to bird and still return home without causing yourself physical pain. The particular radius of your circle will depend on your fitness level, and the method of transportation you choose to use. If you’re on foot your circle will be smaller than if you bike. Personally I think my circle is likely to have a radius of no more than 4 kilometers (2.5 miles), and if I’m very honest with myself, it’s probably more like two. That’s about as far as I seem to go in any one direction before turning around and heading home again, at least when I’m on foot. The exception to this would be if I’m out in our boat. I think because the boat is powered by an electric motor that also counts as green. I might make it three or four kilometers from the house in our boat.

Green birding

Stony Lake Birds is the blog of a couple who live on a lake north of Peterborough, at roughly the same latitude as Dan and I only a couple hours west. This year he is taking on the BIGBY challenge, while at the same time also keeping track of his birds on a wider scale. His circles are considerably larger than mine are, with his smaller one being 24 km in diameter – the size of a Christmas Bird Count circle. In his sidebar he lists all the birds he’s seen thus far this year, and highlights his BIGBY birds in green.

I thought this was a neat idea. I toyed with the idea of keeping track myself, in my sidebar, of my BIGBY birds. Then I thought that because I’ve tried keeping year lists in the past, and failed miserably to keep them up-to-date (usually losing track sometime in the second week of January), I was unlikely to be any more successful with this. But then I thought well, heck, why not. I don’t necessarily have to ascribe dates to the sightings, so if I fall behind it shouldn’t be hard to catch up again. And it would be interesting to see just what I observe in a year. And if I’m posting it to the blog I have more of a purpose to it than if I’m just writing it onto a piece of paper tacked onto my bulletin board.

So I’ve added a tab to the top of my blog – My BIGBY List – and we’ll see how it goes!


Author: Seabrooke

Author of Peterson Field Guide to Moths. #WriteOnCon Mastermind. Writer of action/thriller SF/F YA. Story junkie. Nature nut. Tea addict. Mother. Finding happiness in the little things. Twitter: @SeabrookeN / @SeabrookeLeckie

6 thoughts on “Green birding”

  1. First of all, congratulations on your “promotion”. Sounds as though you were just right for the job! Secondly, thanks for the info re: BIGBY. I live under a rock, so it is new to me.

  2. Good luck! I participated in BIGBY last year, but I still don’t have a final tally of how many species I saw. It’s a good initiative. I have nothing against traveling to famous hotspots for birding, but there is a lot that can be seen close at hand, without as much wasted fuel. And a lot of times, those local birds are not as well documented as those in the hotspots, so every BIGBYist could potentially help birds by gathering distribution information as well.

  3. John’s comment get’s BIGBYing about right … when we started it we were feeling purist about the carbon emmission problem but as several humdred people have become involved and have given feedback this ?new? knowledge of what’s right outside our back doors is coming more and more to the front. It’s the local spect that keeps many people coming back for more … if you jump in your car and zoom off the the hotspot you miss that good bird down the road, never even know it’s there in fact.


  4. Thanks, Karen! This being my first issue, I’m nervous to see how it comes out.

    John and Richard – it’s an interesting thing about eBird and BIGBY and other such movements that local birding by folks can really help to expand our understanding of bird populations. And I do often wonder about all the birds I’m zooming past as I drive to another location. I’ve never kept year lists, and my lifelist is mostly in my head and not meticulously tracked or numbered, but I’ve always kept a yard list. Knowing what’s close to home has been of the most interest to me.

    Cis – Even though we’re rural, I wouldn’t call us a bird hotspot, either. Compared to the lists people can tally down on the Great Lakes shores, we only get a fraction. Still, it’s much more satisfying when it’s your own backyard, regardless of potential diversity. Good luck with it if you choose to do it!

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