Birds and More | All Blogs


By Nic.Korte

    “Rare Bird Alert” is the title of the most recent album from the grammy-winning bluegrass band: Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers. Yes, it is that Steve Martin—the former “jerk” and “wild and crazy guy,” who was a recent headliner at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and star of the recent movie “The Big Year.” If you are reading this blog, you probably know of “The Big Year,” the movie based on the best-seller by Mark Obmascik which chronicled the efforts of three birdwatchers attempting to break the record for most bird species seen in one year within an area (mostly the contiguous United States) designated by the American Birding Association. Many non-birders enjoyed the book and movie because the characters, their lives, and the competition are compelling and, at times, very funny.
    Most bird-watchers are not that obsessed with numbers of species seen and enjoy the beauty and lives of birds as much or more than simply seeing a new species. But, the movie is hilarious to most birders who see themselves arising in the pre-dawn hours to search for owls or racing out into bad weather to chase a rare bird after seeing a report on the internet. Martin’s introduction to bird-watching acquainted him with the term “rare bird alert,” so he used it for his next album.
     The three protagonists in The Big Year were always checking “rare bird alerts” so they could chase after an unusual species and, hopefully, find it without their rivals seeing it as well. I spent the last week with family in San Diego and, I admit, the first thing I did was check the local “rare bird alert,” in this instance, a Yahoo-group called SDBIRDS. I was delighted to learn that the day before, a lesser sand-plover (aka Mongolian Plover) had been seen in Imperial Beach--~25 minutes from where we were staying. So, I spent the first afternoon of our “family” vacation with a couple of birders from Massachusetts, one from the bay area, and several locals viewing the lesser sand-plover. How rare was this bird? My copy of Birds of Southern California rates the likelihood of seeing area birds. Those most likely to be seen are designated as “Hard to miss.” The lesser-sand plover did not even make the grouping called “Cosmic Good Luck.” This was the first record for San Diego County.
    Seeing rare birds is a lot of fun. There’s the excitement of seeing a species that may not return for decades and it is enjoyable to meet other excited and like-minded people. When a bird is really rare, such as San Diego’s lesser sand-plover, you don’t have to search for the bird. You look for the spotting scopes. That’s what I did. I showed up at the marsh and saw groups of scopes in three different locations—all aimed at the lesser sand-plover. Indeed, my first view was through someone else’s scope before I even had mine set up.

In Western Colorado, we have a yahoo listserve similar to SDBIRDS. Ours is WSBN (western slope birding network). Just log on to to sign up and receive all local reports or to check it from time-to-time to find out what local birders are reporting. A statewide rare bird alert is maintained by the Colorado Field Ornithologists ( This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at and “like” us on Facebook!]


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