Looking Back at the ABA Convention

Last week’s ABA convention was a lot of fun. I made new friends, learned a lot about birds, saw quite a few species, and heard more. Interestingly, although I got twelve new life birds, I whiffed on all my target species: Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, and Black-backed Woodpecker. All three birds were seen by various attendees at various times. I just managed to always be in the wrong group, on the wrong bus, or looking the wrong way to spot any of them. Life birds I did get included:

  • Manx Shearwater
  • Sooty Shearwater
  • Greater Shearwater
  • Wilson’s Storm-petrel
  • Leach’s Storm-petrel
  • Northern Fulmar
  • Arctic Tern
  • Roseate Tern
  • Virginia Rail
  • Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
  • Alder Flycatcher
  • Upland Sandpiper

Except for Upland Sandpiper, these are all gettable within New York City, or adjoining waters. It’s weird I had to go all the way to Maine to pick them up. Arctic Tern at least is a lot more common there than here.

My total species count for the trip was 92:

  • Common Eider
  • Common Loon
  • Northern Fulmar
  • Greater Shearwater
  • Sooty Shearwater
  • Manx Shearwater
  • Wilson’s Storm-Petrel
  • Leach’s Storm-Petrel
  • Northern Gannet
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Osprey
  • Bald Eagle
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Virginia Rail
  • Killdeer
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Laughing Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Roseate Tern
  • Common Tern
  • Arctic Tern
  • Razorbill
  • Black Guillemot
  • Atlantic Puffin
  • Mourning Dove
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Olive-sided Flycatcher
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee
  • Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
  • Alder Flycatcher
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Blue Jay
  • American Crow
  • Common Raven
  • Tree Swallow
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Brown Creeper
  • Winter Wren
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Veery
  • Swainson’s Thrush
  • Hermit Thrush
  • American Robin
  • Gray Catbird
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Northern Parula
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Pine Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • American Redstart
  • Ovenbird
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Canada Warbler
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Bobolink
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Purple Finch
  • American Goldfinch
  • House Sparrow
  • European Starling
  • Rock Pigeon

The total species count for the conference from all participants was a little over 180. (Update: the final tally was 187.) The highest individual totals I heard were in the 100 region.

One thing that struck me about Maine was that this is a really good place and time to learn bird songs. Too many of the New York City birds pass through too quickly to really get familiar with them. When they do pass through, they’re likely more interested in eating than singing. However in Maine they’re on their breeding grounds, and they’re all singing up a storm. In fact, we heard a lot more indiivduals than we saw. The leaders would spend a lot of time trying to spot one Black-throated Blue Warbler or Black-throated Green Warbler, but there’d be a dozen singing all around us.


A lot of people skipped the workshops to go birding on their own, but I found them to be quite interesting and valuable. Don Kroodsma’s the Singling Life of Birds was probably the best, but the Natural History of Sea Birds was also very interesting. Michael O’Brien’s basic course may have finally drilled into my head the location of the primary, secondary, tertial, and covert feathers; and in case it didn’t I bought a signed copy of David Sibley’s Birding Basics on sale for $10 (though he was about the only major birding author who didn’t show up).


The exhibits floor was small compared to a typical computer conference, but filled the space. There were about 40 or so vendors focusing mostly on optics and tours with a smattering of software, book, artists, and conservation organizations also represented. What really shocked me was how interested and interesting the exhibitors were. Unlike the market droids and booth bunnies at most computer shows who usually don’t understand the product they’re pitching (which you aren’t interested in in the first place) these exhibitors were essentially just birders like the rest of us with something to sell. So they attended the field trips, talks, and dinners with the rest of us. On the pelagic trip I borrowed dental floss from a Vortex booth staffer. On the Sunkhaze trip I got a live demo of Palm Pilot field guide software from another exhibitor. I can’t remember the last time I’ve actually been interested in most of the exhibits at a trade show.

Most of the major optics vendors were represented too, which made it a very nice place to comparison shop for binouiclars and scopes. Several attendees took out different loaner binoculars on each field trip so they could compare them. Brunton seemed to be doing especially well.

I’m quite happy with my current binoculars; but I am in the market for a scope so I tested almost every scope, mount, and eyepiece at the show and made a decision. When money permits, I’m going to purchase a Kowa TSN-601 angled scope, a 20-6ox zoom eyepiece, a Velbon Ph-157Q head, and a Bogen Manfrotto MagFiber tripod. The only thing I haven’t decided yet is whether I want the 055MF4 (51.4″, 4.4 lbs.) or the 190MF4 (44.7″, 3.5 lbs.) The latter is cheaper, lighter, and folds up smaller for carrying on the subway in a backpack; but it may be a little too short for me. I may need to find somewhere in town I can finish comparing these two tripods.


One surprisingly useful part of the conference was the ABA store. I’d seen a lot of cool clothes, accessories, and books in the ABA catalog before; but it was really nice to be able tp pick them up and try them out. I immediately decided to buy a Tilley LT3 hat, some Tilley socks, a Humvee vest (despite the obnoxious name), a Rite-in-the-Rain pen, and various other toys I would never have ordered from a catalog.

Upcoming Conventions

Next year’s convention is in April in Lafayette, Louisiana. I’ll probably skip it because it falls during the school year, and I’ve already quite familiar with both Lafayette and its birds. (I spent a lot of time there over my college years.) The ABA is tentatively considering St. Louis for 2008.

They also have several upcoming conferences that focus on field trips without all the workshops. The Ventura, California conference in the Fall looks interesting, as does the Ecuador conference next year. There’s also one scheduled for Plantation, Florida in 2007 that might be fun. See you there!

One Response to “Looking Back at the ABA Convention”

  1. Mokka mit Schlag » Raven Lite Now Free-as-in-Beer Says:

    […] The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has decided to release the Raven Lite sound analysis software as free-beer. Previously it cost about $25. I’d been meaning to try this product out since first hearing about it from Don Kroodsma at the ABA Convention back in June. Now maybe I’ll finally get around to it. […]

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