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What Good Is a Life List?

by Diane Porter

In England, stonework walls ramble alongside rural roads. They run cross-country up and down the hills, accenting the contours of the landscape. And on top of such a stone wall, at eye level, was one of the first birds I learned by name, the European Robin.

European RobinIt was a plump little bird with a red breast and face. Don't picture the American Robin, which is a different species entirely, and a giant by comparison. The European Robin is only half as long from bill to tail as its American namesake. It's about the size of a chickadee and could fit in the palm of your hand, if it would. I almost thought it might do that, it was so friendly.

My friend Linda and I were hitchhiking from London to Scotland, on a college semester-abroad program. Of course I realize that the merest mention of hitchhiking is enough to make any parent shudder. However, hitchhiking was considered quite safe in Britain in the early 60s. We were actually encouraged by our college advisors to travel by thumb while visiting sites that were significant to English literature. Linda and I were just doing our schoolwork.

Often we went on foot between rides. One day, as we walked beside a rock wall, a little bird with a red front kept pace with us, skipping along the top, as if it liked our company. An old man we met on the path noticed our interest in the bird and told us it was a robin, a great favorite of the British, and the most familiar bird in English gardens.

Little did I know that one day I would keep a life list of all the birds I'd ever seen, and that the European Robin would hold a place of honor at the top of the list.

Many bird watchers keep such a life list, noting each new species they discover, along with the place and the date. Birds are creatures of location, and no two locations are exactly alike. So when you travel to a part of the world that you've never been before, you can be sure you'll find birds that are new to you. Even close to where you live, a habitat you have not explored before will provide fresh birds for your life list.

DianeAfter a few years, the term "life list" takes on a new meaning, because the list becomes a chronicle not only of birds but also of one's life--travels, past homes, old friends. Adventures that the years might have erased remain alive because they are memorialized in an entry on the life list. It's only a list of names, places, and dates, but to me my life list reads like a novel.

© 2007 Diane Porter

Birdwatching Dot Com

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