Today was a day of no field trips. There was a presentation to attend in the morning and the afternoon, but I skipped out on the afternoon session to just relax. I took the opportunity to ride the ski resort's tram up to Hidden Peak (a two-handed, sweaty, grip-of-death ride up to eleven thousand feet). After the tram ride I then took advantage of some above average wifi bandwidth to enter bird sightings into my account at eBird, and to work through some of the photos I have taken out here in Utah.
After I had entered all my bird sightings, I came to the happy realization that I had seen a lot of species for the first time this week. Some bird watchers like to keep lists of what birds they see, where they saw them and when (I use eBird to track mine). The "master list" is their individual Life List: the list of species they have seen in their life. The number of species on your Life List is a convenient (although misleading) measure of how much bird watching experience you have. I say it is a misleading measure because counting seen bird species does not mean that you are good at finding birds, or at identifying birds, or at understanding birds. Usually you do get better at those things over time, and consequently the number of birds on your Life List will increase, but the opposite is not necessarily true. So, although I am about to reference my Life List, and revel in the fact that it has grown significantly this week, I understand it for what it really means.
When I left home and traveled to Utah, my Life List was at 364 species. People who are not birdwatchers think that number is huge. But when compared to the approximately 1,000 birds that you can see in the United States and Canada (excluding Hawaii), and the approximately 10,000 birds you can see worldwide, my 364 is put firmly in perspective. I knew my 364 would grow this week. This is only the second time I have focused on birdwatching in the western half of the country, so there were going to be easy birds that do not occur anywhere near Virginia that would be first time birds ("lifers") for me. I did not think, however, that I would see as many lifers this week as I have.
As I write this, my Life List has grown to 395! That's right, I have seen 31 new species of bird this week. That is a very large number of new birds. If I manage to see 5 more new species, then I will hit a nice milestone (multiples of 100 are considered relevant in the birding community). I have two more field trips (tomorrow and Sunday) to get those 5 new species before I travel back home. It is entirely possible that I will get those 5 and hit the milestone of 400. I am crossing my fingers!