For the last two weekends I’ve chosen one day to wake up around five in the morning. Bleary eyed, I pull on a pair some clothes, work my way downstairs and randomly smack my coffee maker until the grinder bursts to life.  I then gather my binoculars, my notebook, a travel mug of joe, and the various accoutrements of a day in the field and  drive out to an intersection in the rural part of my home county, hoping to arrive at the assigned spot by 5:30.

From there, I do a point count every half-mile for the next 9.5, a miniature version of that well-established national citizen science project the Breeding Bird Survey.  While the data from the official federal BBSs goes straight to the Fish & Wildlife Service for use in analyzing changes in bird distribution and abundance, these M(ini)BBSs are mostly the work of a former ornithology professor at a local university, useful for those concerned about the effects of massive sprawl in my little corner of the North Carolina Piedmont.  Now that the data is being entered into eBird regularly even this extremely local look at breeding birds will have some value beyond sitting in a folder on a professor’s desktop.

The typical BBS (or MBBS) route is run once a year, so veteran surveyors may look askance at my claim that I’ve been running mine for the last two weekends. But I have a reason for that.  I’m fairly certain my route is cursed.

MBBS stop #3. Hardwood forest, some openings. My route is full of this

I, of course, cannot be made to take the blame for either of these unfortunate “incidences”.  For the first, I blame the North Carolina Department of Transportation.  I mean, really.  Why would you build a road and call it NC Hwy 86, only to build another road later and call it NC Hwy 86, at which point you change the name of the first to OLD NC Hwy 86.  It is this kind of logistical genius that undoubtedly contributed to the failure of the South to effectively secede.  That and the moral reprehensiveness of slavery.

In any case, I had just returned home from what I understood to be a perfect inaugural MBBS.  49 species in 9.5 miles and run with the sort of military precision that forces the Cornell folks to make you eBirder of the Month.  Heck, the year.  It was then I returned to read my route description to discover I’d started 2 miles farther down the road than I should have, and ran 2 miles farther than I needed to on the other end.  A minor mistake, though.  Easily remedied.  Nothing but a practice run.

This past weekend I decided to go again.  At 5:30 I was at the correct spot.  For 3.5 miles I did my BBS duty.  Three minute point counts every half mile.  I noted habitat and counted the cars that passed.  I listened intently, even picking up a half-dozen species in the first two miles I actually missed the week before.  Score!

At stop #7 things went awry.  After picking up the morning’s first Acadian Flycatchers and Wood Thrush (I’d missed that one a week earlier) in a nice little patch of woods and returned to my car to move on.  But my car wouldn’t start.  The key turned, the lights flickered, but the car wouldn’t start.


So I call my wife.  Keep in mind this is just after 6 in the morning on a weekend.  My son, who at 3 is generally the earliest riser in my house, has not risen yet.  But she comes with a minimum of fuss (we should all have non-birding significant others so understanding) to give me the jump I need, but by then the schedule it off, the MBBS is scuttled for a second straight week.

I have one more weekend to do this survey before the window ends on June 20th. One more morning to wake at 5 and drag myself to a random (but correct) intersection in rural Orange County.  But hey, they say the third time’s a charm.

Written by Nate
Nate Swick is a birder. He grew up in the midwest but currently makes his home in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife and two young children, who are not yet aware that they are birders too. He has a soft spot for Piping Plovers and loves pelagics even when his stomach doesn’t, which makes him the quintessential Carolina birder. Nate is the editor of the ABA blog, host of the American Birding Podcast, and author of two books, Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.