Well, we returned from the wilds of PA yesterday. It was groovy. My stepfather and I got up at the crack of dawn and went looking for birds. He sees Goldeneye, Buffleheads, and various swans along the river practically daily, along with eagles and pileated woodpeckers and whatnot. As could be expected, they all heard that I was in town, and cleared out at once. We scoured the river, the lake, several iced up beaver ponds, and a wildlife refuge, and turned up nothin’. My great sighting was an American Tree Sparrow at the wildlife refuge. (I love my new birding books–they allowed me to actually ID a sparrow for once! O glory!) My stepfather was actually relieved to see some mallards lurking along the river at last–at least it meant they hadn’t dumped several metric tons of rat poison in the river or something over Christmas. It was that dead.

Still, waterfowl aside, there were kestrels lurking on phone wires and deer tracks in the snow, and it’s really never a bad time to go tromping through snowy woods with tiny icy streams gurgling through ’em. So that was fun.

The new books really do rock. My old field guide was so old that it listed the Bachman’s warbler as “rare” and the dusky seaside sparrow as “endangered.” (Both are extinct, since 1962 and 1980 respectively.) And it still had “orchard towhees” which were eventually divided into the Eastern and Spotted Towhees. This sort of speciation and unspeciation goes on relatively often, as science decides that the Spangled Prairie Wuffle is actually just a subspecies of the Greater Pooping Prairie Wuffle or whatever. If you’re an obsessive lister and get into the very large numbers of birds, apparently you have to stay on the cutting edge of ornithology just to keep your list current. This is a rareified height I have not aspired to. Yet.

Lifelist is up to 96. I wound up not adding the anhinga–the new books have rather different drawings, and my degree of certainty from memory isn’t high enough to rule out “badly waterlogged cormorant,” so I’ll have to go back and tromp around the lake and see if I can find one again. Hell, I have to go tromp around the lake anyway. I have new gear! I have new books! MUST TROMP!

P’raps tomorrow morning. Getting up at the crack of dawn to go peer at birds in the icy chill of morn seems like a nice way to end out the year.

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