Last Sunday, I did not only go to the Arb to check for rarities but also to check on the quality of the Birdchick's calendar.
Simple: I recently got sent a copy of Sharon Stiteler's Birds of Michigan Calendar by the Birdchick herself, and I must say that I like it quite a lot.
The pictures from Stan Tekiela are very nice. Of course, only the showy birds are included, not a Fox Sparrow or a Tennessee Warbler, but I maintain that it is a nice selection of pictures. The content of the calendar is surprisingly interesting (having the usual quality of comparable calendars in mind):
For each month there are a few "bird notes" mostly in the form of technical advice on how to keep birds on or attract them to your property, there's a bird list of species likely to be encountered during the month and there are a few notes on selected dates to keep you motivated or inspire you to a field trip, e.g. December 20th: "50,000 Long-tailed Ducks were counted in Manistee County in 2003". Well, maybe I should visit Barton Pond in Ann Arbor on the 20th of December then to check for Long-tailed Ducks! See, it is working well!
But how do you know if you can rely on the Birdchick's calendar? Naturally by looking for 50,000 Long-tailed Ducks in Manistee county on December 20th, but aren't there other, less time consuming options? Yes, there's the monthly check list, so I went out on Sunday to see how many of those I could find at the Arb. The December list is 30 species long and of these I saw a bit more than one third. Hmmmm, not so good. But then, this list possibly wasn't intended for someone to test in a city park and it would also be unfair to blame the Birdchick for my inability to locate even the common birds, like the oh so secretive American Tree Sparrow! So, as this wasn't going to work, I compared her list to my observations from late November (close enough) when I temporarily had a car and drove around a bit. With a few short trips to some wetlands and the countryside I recorded 22 of her 30 species, which is more than two thirds. And the rest? Well, these are birds I would have likely seen in more northerly parts of Michigan (Pine Siskin, Common Redpoll,...) or species that have a strong personal dislike for Bell Tower Birders (owls, or why else do I never get to SEE them??), so fair enough: the list is good and the Birdchick really knows what she's writing about.
Now that the calendar is tested, I have no hesitation to recommend it as a nice Christmas present to others, even to Non-Birding-Friends. This calendar is actually so much of a nice Christmas present that sadly my wife has decided so send it to a friend in Germany. I should probably have lied to her and told her it's crap, and I disapprove of calendars that are so good you never get to keep them for yourself. But the 50,000 Long-tailed Ducks I'll get to see at Barton Pond on the 20th will surely brighten me up again.