Good news. I don’t have to make any New Year’s resolutions for 2020. I can just reuse the ones I published last year. Since public shaming may be the only way I can behave better, let’s grade how I did.
My top resolution for last year was to treat my binoculars better. I’ll give my 2019 performance a C, which is actually an improvement over the D minus I earned in 2018. I still throw them on the backseat too often. I still leave them on the dashboard of the car too often, risking heat damage on sunny days. I still don’t use a protective case or lens covers. Binoculars are fine instruments, and need to be treated with respect. Jolts can knock lenses out of alignment. Grit can scratch glass. Sun can damage coatings. Leaving a pair on a sunny windowsill is just about the worst thing you can do to binoculars.
Last year, I resolved to sit more often. I failed. Total F. Sometimes, amazing things happen when you just give the birds a chance. Sitting quietly in a pleasant spot can make you part of the background, ignorable by birds. Once, years ago, while I was sitting in an Adirondack chair reading a book, I had a black-throated green warbler perch on my shoulder in order to reach a cobweb behind me for use in building her nest. Way cool.
I resolved to clean my feeders more often. I’ll generously give myself a B minus. Anytime birds gather in one spot, they can spread disease. Seed can rot. Mold can develop. Suet and nectar can spoil. Feeders should be cleaned and disinfected regularly. In reality, my performance in 2019 was no improvement over 2018, but my feeders didn’t get as dirty because for much of the year, the birds just ignored them.
I resolved to chase rare owls in 2019. I’ll give myself an easy A on this one, because there weren’t any to chase. In some winters, we might get a great gray owl or a northern hawk owl visiting from up north. None appeared this year. Even snowy owl numbers were way down, which is really just a return to normal after a few years of an owl baby boom.
I resolved to go find a boreal owl. It’s a tiny owl from the far north that occasionally slips into Maine. Two of them were captured and banded this fall in Steuben. I missed those, but I still give myself a B plus, because I did go up to Quebec for a try in October.
I resolved to explore the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument. I get a C, because I only got up there once. I’ve now visited a handful of times, and I’m currently writing a short guide for where to find birds there. It should be on the Maine Birding Trail website by the end of the year.
I resolved to paddle across Pushaw Lake and explore the inlet stream in search of rare marsh birds. This is my A plus. I managed to get off the couch a couple of times to paddle over there. Sure enough, I discovered a least bittern. That’s a small, secretive wading bird that is so unusual it’s on the state’s endangered species list.
I also resolved to renew my Maine Audubon membership without being nagged, I pledged to thank landowners at every opportunity and I promised to vote, because rolling back environmental protections is indefensible. Those are pass-fail grades. I passed with pride.
I’ll add one new resolution for 2020: make more videos. At the beginning of 2019, the Bangor Daily News asked if I would consider making videos about birds and birding for the BDN website. I agreed that it could be a hoot, and by the end of the year, at least 18 videos had made the big time. I’ll be exploring the coast and the woods a lot this winter, and I look forward to taking you along with me.
My wife, Sandi, suggests I should resolve to be less compulsive. I should spend more time appreciating common birds and less time chasing rare ones. I should slow down and watch bird behavior, which can be fascinating. I should enjoy the fact that I have now seen 327 bird species in Maine during my lifetime, rather than trying to boost that number to 330 by the end of 2020. I should just relax.
Yeah, right. Like that’s going to happen.
Bob Duchesne serves as vice president of Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter. He developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at mainebirdingtrail.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.