It's 15 years since I first travelled to North America, touring California on honeymoon with Hazel. Funnily enough, I took my bins too. Since then I have visited almost every year, either with the family and/or birding, and have made multiple trips in a few years. As an American Birding Association member I've got 'remotely' involved with the listing thing too; I'm not a fanatical lister in any event, even if the evidence of this blog suggest otherwise, but sometimes it adds an interesting angle to record-keeping.
After a post-Christmas break in New York with the family, my ABA Area list stood at 584 species. I had limited time for a spring trip, and after careful consideration chose Colorado - a new state for me and one which had the potential, if the birds and weather behaved, to add a dozen or more species to this total, edging it towards the 600 mark. It's hard to be specific about targets when so much spring birding there can be weather-dependent; but grouse, rosy-finches and a few choice birds like Sage Thrasher, Juniper Titmouse and McCown's Longspur promised a very interesting line-up; I'll surely be too early for the likes Common Poorwill and Grey Flycatcher.
My natural preference would have been to escort Birdwatch's own reader break to Colorado and Wyoming in late May and early June, organised in association with Birdfinders, but it would have wiped out spring half term with the children and, at two weeks and three weekends long, involved more time than I had. Another Birdwatch partner, WildWings, offered a more focused and potentially more tick-heavy trip in mid-April, but that would have significantly reduced Easter with the family too.
In the end, I did a cost-benefit analysis of all the main Colorado tours during April, assessing past species lists, costs and how they compared - as well as taking soundings from the ABA's Ted Floyd and from WildWings leader and Colorado semi-resident Dick Filby, who was generous with information even though I couldn't make his tour.
The results were interesting. Prices varied considerably, as did species lists; the most expensive trip had the longest lists (for both birds and mammals). The least expensive was excellent value, but didn't have a chance of several of my targets for itinerary reasons. The variation in the quoted likely trip totals ranged from about 150-220 species, except for one company which couldn't tell me what number they saw last year; so it obviously does pay to do your research. After checking dates and availability, as well as considering these factors and advice received, I opted for a tour offered by Sunrise Birding, a company recommended by two Connecticut-based birders I know.
So, as time and web access allow, the next few entries to this blog will be about Colorado. I am not reviewing this tour for Birdwatch, or travelling to promote the state's birding potential: this trip is pleasure rather than business (even if I'm fortunate that the boundaries are often blurred). And I am looking forward to it.