The final day. My Greyhound leaves at 6:15 at night from Chatham to arrive at Toronto at 10:30. My list stands at 169 species. My goal for the week: 170 species. I decide my 170th bird has to be Bobolink. I am convinced I will hear their maniacal warble if I just drive around the Onion Fields and concession roads north around Hillman Marsh. Gas prices are high. The sky shows rain. I still have to visit with various family members in the early afternoon. Panic sets in. I get desperate. I stop my van and look in vain. There are no Bobolinks. I give up.
I reflect. Why was it so important that I see 170? Is 169 insufficient? Does it say anything about my skills as a birder? No, probably not. But 170 is an even number and that annoyed me. Not to mention, I hadn't seen any Bobolinks within the Pelee Birding Circle, and yet, every night I got back home in the country, I could hear and see them taunting me from the back of our property where they nest annually. I'll let you in on a little secret, though. My final May list wasn't 169. It was 170. Here is how it happened.
As mentioned, I had given up. I arrived at home in the early afternoon, ready to drive with my parents back to town to visit my grandparents. They asked if I had hit 170. Oh if looks could kill. My glare must have instilled some kind of pity in my dad. As we were driving from Wheatley to Leamington, he suddenly slowed down on the highway and took an unexpected left. We were entering Kopegaron Woods. I groaned. He was reigniting that last ounce of hope I had left for one more species. I was bound to be disappointed, right? Wrong! Upon exiting the vehicle, we walked over to check out the patches of Trilliums that thrive in the small woodlot and I heard a drumming sound on a nearby tree. Assuming Downy, I let my eyes scan the trunk until they fell upon my 170th species for the week: Hairy Woodpecker.
Of course, all of this makes me seem like a raving lunatic but I'm really not. Keeping a May list is all in fun. I actually stop to enjoy the birds once in a while. I'm not going to trample a Prairie Warbler in pursuit of something common I haven't seen yet...say, an Eastern Screech-Owl that I could very well see any other time. Well, unless it's close by of course.
Perhaps it is a burden to keep a list. Probably not. Keeping a May list keeps me motivated. On an afternoon when I'm tired, dehydrated, sunburned, covered in bug bites, and hungry, it's the May list that keeps me going. What if something good shows up as soon as I leave? It's happened countless times. In fact, it happened this year: Lark Bunting!
Oh, and for the record, I never actually gave up looking for the Bobolink. Not until our van crossed the outer boundary of the Pelee Birding Circle. But once we got home, I spotted one; flying in its peculiar way, like a bird that has hit one too many windows. It perched on a fence post near our house. I smiled smugly and shouted to him, "Nyha nyah! I didn't even need you to make it to 170 so there." The bird cocked its head to one side and then flew from its perch. He could care less.