Speaking of Nature: A new record, and then another: October brought more photos and more species: one a guarantee, the other serendipity

I knew that photo 23,000 was just a few clicks away, so I was able to wait for something special, like this white-throated sparrow perched on the tip of a dead stick.

I knew that photo 23,000 was just a few clicks away, so I was able to wait for something special, like this white-throated sparrow perched on the tip of a dead stick. PHOTO BY BILL DANIELSON


For the Recorder

Published: 11-06-2023 6:00 AM

Sometimes you see these things coming and other times you don’t. This is a story about both. The first was simple math and I could see its approach coming months ago. There was a certain inevitability about the whole situation and it was really just a matter of time and continued, determined effort. The second came as an absolute surprise; the product of pure unadulterated luck … and a fair bit of continued, determined effort. One was a guarantee, while the other was serendipity.

In October, after a summer of dedication to a single endeavor, I managed to reach a benchmark of 23,000 photos for 2023. This is not the first time that I have reached a number this high. That came last year, but I didn’t reach that many photos until December 31, the very last day of the year. So, with two full months to go and a photo counter already poised at the next 1,000 benchmark, I can be sure that I will take more photos in 2023 than ever before. It is mathematically inevitable. I can see it now.

The record that caught me completely by surprise was the record for most bird species observed in the month of October. Faithful readers of my column will know that I keep track of the number of species observed in my yard every month and keep track of the records as well. This adds a bid of drama to the delight of bird watching and provides its own satisfaction for someone who loves to collect and analyze data.

But the thing about bird watching is the fact that you cannot always depend on the birds, or the weather, to cooperate. You still have to put in the effort, but the fact remains that if it is pouring on a Saturday, then you are probably not going to see too much of interest. The key word there, however, is “probably.” Sometimes you see something amazing because you are stuck inside and you glance out your kitchen window at precisely the right moment to see it. Let’s explore this just a little further.

After spending weeks at the edge of my meadow, always visiting at the same time of day and always observing from the same spot, I had a very good idea of who I was going to see on the first day of October. It was a Sunday morning and despite the fact that it had rained the previous day, the rain had stopped and I went down to the Thinking Chair. It was wet and it was foggy and misty in the meadow, but it was an opportunity that I could not ignore.

During that particular morning I ended up observing 19 different species. Most were birds that I actually saw, but at least one (the Pileated Woodpecker) was one that I identified by sound. The rules state that I have to either see or hear the bird from within the confines of my own land in order for it to count. Pileated Woodpeckers are loud birds and I generally hear them rather than see them, but the rules are satisfied.

The majority of that morning’s list was full of “regulars.” These are the species that you can count on from one day to the next and include birds like Black-capped Chickadees, Song Sparrows, American Crows and Downy Woodpeckers. They are there today and they will be there tomorrow, with the exception of the Song Sparrow, which will eventually depart at a reliable time. However, in addition to the Pileated Woodpecker, there were three other species that stood out as “lucky.”

The first of these was the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. No need to go any further with that bird because I recently dedicated an entire column to it. The second species of interest was a Swainson’s Thrush. I had seen one near the end of September, but these birds do not linger long during their migration, so there was no guarantee that I would see it in October. But that was where the weather came into play.

It had been rainy for a couple days and the birds were grounded. Oct. 1 was still not great weather, but I happened to see the bird (for the last time this year) on that particular day. Pure luck.

The last bit of luck came when I glanced upward in time to see an Osprey headed across the meadow.

What in the name of Charles Darwin was an Osprey doing over my meadow? It was such extreme luck that I have named these sorts of sightings “X-factors.” I had to be in the right place at precisely the right time while looking in precisely the right direction to see it. Nikonus and Iso had witnessed my dedication and sent me a reward, but I still needed to be quick enough to get a photo … which I did.

An Osprey on the first day of the month may have served as good omen. Various events on various different days produced one sighting after another until, by the end of the month, I had a list that contained the names of 50 different species. The previous record, set in 2022, had been 41 species.

The new record obliterated the old and I don’t expect it to broken (or even matched) any time soon.

So here is my challenge to you. Go buy a simple pocket notebook and start taking notes on the birds you see. Add up the numbers for each month and then try to do better next year. This can be a great deal of fun, but you will be forced to learn a lot about birds in the process. Or, if birds aren’t your forte, then you can focus your attention on wildflowers in your yard. Anything that draws your attention will do and you may find that there is a naturalist tucked away inside you, just looking for a chance to come out and play.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 26 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.