I finally have it up and online! But what is an ABA life list? It is the list of birds that I have encountered that meet the criteria to be included on my list in the ABA area. Wait, what? Well, the ABA is the American Birding Association, and they have a somewhat complicated (but sensible) list of rules for recording something on your checklist. Included in that list of rules is a detailed description of the exact geographical area in which one can count birds for inclusion on your ABA list (essentially the North American portions of the United States and Canada, 200 miles out into the ocean, and some islands). Anyway, my ABA life list now totals 425 species.

Why am I bothering to write a blog post about this? Well, in going through my records of birds I’ve seen or heard I have discovered some interesting sightings, especially from my first year of birding, that have left me scratching my head. For example, I don’t think that I actually saw a Glaucous Gull off the coast of Connecticut in the middle of July seeing as Glaucous Gulls are winter visitors to the northeast. So when did I see my first actual Glaucous Gull? It was the following winter when I saw one along the Mohawk River.  But I have decided that on my life list all of the species of which my first sighting is questionable will not have first sighting information recorded.  There are two reasons for this.  One, I can’t be absolutely sure, maybe I did see a Glaucous Gull in July in Connecticut.  Two, the lack of a date and location on my list will humble me as Northern Rough-winged Swallows humble Nate.

Now, unlike Mike, I am not a compulsive lister.  But keeping a life list or different types of year lists is fun as when I look back at them it brings me back to the time I spent finding, identifying, and watching birds that I might not see again for awhile.

But how did I keep my life list before I did it on the blog?  Well I had a composition book for each year in which I recorded the birds I saw on each outing.  Each lifer had a dot next to it and I kept a running tally of my life birds.  Not exactly the most high-tech solution but it got the job done.  Moving forward I have the blog to keep my life list on and I have started entering my bird sightings in eBird.  I will eventually, I am sure, try out Birdstack to see if I like it more, but at the moment I am happy with using eBird.  With these free listing tools available on the internets am I ever glad I resisted the clarion call of expensive listing software that, I imagine, will soon be going the way of the dodo.

Everyone has to make their own decisions about what kind of list to keep, what their rules are for putting something on the list, and what tools they are going to use to record their list.  I will say that in this day and age it only makes sense to harness the power of computers to keep lists.  It’s certainly better than hand-writing each and every species one sees on each and every outing.  So try out eBird and Birdstack.  Not only will it make your listing easier and let you manipulate the data you collect but you will be contributing to everyone’s knowledge of bird abundance and distribution.  And that is too valuable to ignore.

How do you keep track of the birds that you see?

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.