Day 158: The Final (North American) Count Down

Hunting for birds and turning up murals.

June 7, 2015, Ithaca, New York — My core birding posse today included Marshall Iliff, a project leader for eBird; Tom Schulenberg, a taxonomist at the Cornell Lab; and Tim Lenz, an eBird programmer—a heavy-hitting load of talent to spend the day with in New York! The four of us left Ithaca shortly after 4:00 a.m. and didn’t get home until nearly 2:00 a.m. Just another epic 22-hour day of birding…

I’m running out of birds to see in North America, and we just had two new species to look for today: Henslow’s Sparrow and Eastern Whip-poor-will. Both were conveniently staked out north of Ithaca, but the sparrow is best in the morning and the whip-poor-will is best at dusk, so I knew it would be a long day.

After getting great looks at the sparrow this morning, the four of us spent the rest of the day bouncing around Jefferson County, hoping to scrape up some goodies. We found some interesting birds, though none were new for my year. In late afternoon we were met by a local birder named Drew Weber who showed us a Sedge Wren—which, if it eventually gets split from the South American Sedge Wrens, will be a bird “in the bank” for me. Then, at dusk, our posse met up with Mike and Matt from Cornell’s Macaulay Library at the Whip-poor-will spot.

Six of us stood along a dark road in the forest, listening for the poor-will’s distinctive call. Suddenly, a couple of people in our group noticed an extra person in a plaid shirt walk out of the trees nearby. As he passed, he said something like, “This never happened,” and continued walking down the road into the darkness. What his business was, we didn’t really want to know. The Whip-poor-will called once, just after dusk, and we got out of there.

At 12:30 in the morning, Marshall, Tim and I returned to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which I’d never visited—so Marshall gave us a quick tour of the building. Past midnight, the lab was totally deserted except for an artist named Jane Kim who is working on a large indoor mural. She had stayed up painting, and was surprised to have visitors so late, but happily explained the mural project: Her painting depicts a world map, two stories tall, with a member of each of the world’s 243 bird families arranged on the map, life size, in its native range. Her goal is to finish this huge painting by the end of the year, working full time, which made sense to me. “You are painting the world’s birds,” I realized, “while I am seeing them this year!” 

For more about this ambitious art project, see:

New birds today: 2

Year list: 2747

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