Friday, February 29, 2008

Birder in a Book

It's slow going with the yard recently, but the project is speeding along in my mind. I've recently read Backyard Birdfeeding for Beginners by Mathew Tekulsky and now I'm working on Impeccable Birdfeeding by Bill Adler, Jr. Both are excellent resources that I'd highly recommend for their easy reading style and strong advice for novices along with colorful and fun descriptions of different species and their behavior.

Spring is gradually creeping through the valley and the snow is all but gone. Still, March is an unpredictable month and there may yet be snow and freezing in the forecast, making it inadvisable to begin adding plants to the yard. Next week, however, I am beginning to get estimates on the concrete bits of the landscaping, namely taking out the small garden area and finishing the flowerbed curbing with an integrated dust bath. How much that will run I have no idea, since the garden area is partially buried and will take some demolition to remove. My husband and I may work on that manually, but it depends on the estimate.

Having no trees from which to hang feeders is certainly an obstacle, but I plan on creating a triad of platform feeders of varying heights -- likely also surrounded by curbing to allow for mulching beneath the feeders. Because the yard is so bare, no birds have yet consistently visited the two feeders I have out, but I plan on cleaning them soon to make them more enticing. I will also be switching from generic mixed seed to black oil sunflower seed, cracked corn, hulled sunflower seeds, and other tasty treats, and hopefully the yard will soon be a regular flocking destination, with or without cover.

For now, I'll have to content myself with learning more about my future visitors in the pages of other authoritative works. Soon enough I'll be learning firsthand and hopefully be able to write my own.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Winter Visitors

With realistically no cover in the yard, coupled with the heavy snowfall we've had this season that covers feeders and conceals seed, avian visitors have been few and far between during the winter months. In the past few weeks, however, a pair of Eurasian collared doves have made regular visits to the feeder, even more frequently now that the snow is nearly melted and the seed is more accessible.

This pair is extremely camera shy; it took me several days to sneak in a photograph that showed both of them enjoying a treat. Their markings are very distinctive, and their recurring visits to my backyard demonstrate the mobility of the species, since it was originally introduced east of the Rocky Mountains but has now increased population sizes to span more of the continent.

They're delightful to watch. One of the pair will generally perch on the roof or one of the two small trees nearby to serve as guard while the other begins to feed, though the temptation is overwhelming and very soon both doves will be on the feeder platform (they are too large to comfortably feed from the hopper perches). If they spot an observer through the window, they flit off immediately and may not return for several minutes, if at all.

They are most welcome. They eat the larger seeds in the mix that are disdained by smaller birds, and so they help keep both the feeder and the patio clean. In the summer there may be another pair that visits, but in these colder weeks it is only the one pair that continues to drop by for dinner, and I'm pleased to be their hostess.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Birding Books

I got two new resource books this week -- Birds of Utah Field Guide by Stan Tekiela and The Backyard Bird Feeder's Bible by Sally Roth, both of which I would highly recommend. These augment my older two books, Birds of North America by Kenn Kaufman and Audubon North American Birdfeeder Guide by Robert Burton and Stephen Kress. Owning more than one field guide is extremely valuable for identifying species -- different books use slightly different descriptions of species and their behavior, and different photographs can help novice birders such as myself more accurately identify visitors. I especially appreciate regional guides as they are generally more comprehensive, and I see no sense in buying a field guide that will tell me mountains of information about birds that are hundreds or thousands of miles away that I have no hope of seeing visit my feeders.

The birdfeeder books will prove invaluable as I begin the landscaping projects needed to turn this bare plot into a suitable sanctuary. Already in reading through them I've gleaned many seeds of information I plan to implement -- ground level birdbaths, layering plants, non-seed foods to attract and nourish newcomers -- and I know they'll work wonders as the sanctuary takes shape.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Great Backyard Bird Count

Today I reported my findings for The Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual event to catalog birds through the combined efforts of thousands of birders around the country. My results were less impressive than I'd hoped, though I have submitted three checklists - one for my own backyard, and two for separate walks through lovely trails a few miles from home. All in all, not bad for my first year participating in the Count. My results (positively identified) are:
  • 15 Mallard Ducks
  • 1 Black Billed Magpie
  • 5 Dark Eyed Juncos
  • 8 California Quail
  • 2 Eurasian Collared Doves
  • 2 House Finches

Perhaps next year, when there is more to attract feathers to my yard, there will be more birds on the annual checklist and I'll be more experienced in identifying them so I can include every species I see. I also hope to spend all weekend next year traveling to other areas to document the birds to help the count be even more valuable and accurate.

If you've counted birds in your backyard, you have until March 1 to submit your checklists, so don't delay!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Taking Flight

Hello, my name is Melissa, and I'm a birder. Rather, I'm a novice birder, and my projects to attract backyard birds to my home in Utah are only now taking flight, hatched from a compromise between me and my husband.

I've always had birdfeeders and enjoy watching the various feathered visitors, but what I really wanted was a dog. Unfortunately, my husband isn't much of a dog person, so as I was eyeing the backyard one morning, watching the house finches chase one another around the pole-mounted hopper feeder, I was inspired to compromise. Fine, no dog, but I get to control the landscaping to turn our relatively bare backyard into a bird sanctuary for local species and welcome migratory wanderers.

Our house is only a few years old (built in 2001), and there is very little in the way of landscaping at the moment. There are lovely mulched flowerbeds but they are empty, and a rear garden area that we don't use. The only tree when we bought the house was a dwarf variety near the patio, but we planted an October Glory Maple that will take years to look like more than a stick with leaves. There are a few small flowering cover plants, and we also planted a lilac (still tiny), but other than that the yard is an open area with no avian cover. My goal is to restructure the yard into an attractive, inviting place for birds of all species to rest, feed, and bathe. My ideas at the moment include:
  • Removing the garden area in favor of finishing the curbing for integrated beds.
  • Creating a permanent dust bath area.
  • Filling the beds with appropriate low trees, shrubs, and flowers to attract numerous species.
  • Adding specialized feeders, birdbaths, and other accessories at different levels.
  • Including an area for annual sunflower gardening (free birdseed!).

Undoubtedly there will be more to come as I design the best way to landscape and accessorize the yard. Just as every fledgling must take that first step into open air, however, so too must every birder make that first commitment to their local bird community. A migration of a thousand miles begins with a single flap.

Let's fly.