Sunday, November 23, 2008

Exploding Trees

While checking the seed in the feeders this afternoon (I'm about to travel for the holiday -- hopefully to see new birds!), I was walking along the side of the garage when our neighbor's apple tree exploded. Or at least, one branch exploded in a noisy burst of leaves and action.

Sharp shinned hawks are small birds of prey, and don't make very big explosions.

Our juvenile hawk was lurking in the tree, waiting for his moment to dine. He was literally on the tail of either a house finch or house sparrow -- at the speeds they were flying it was impossible to tell -- and they veered between the houses, reappearing a second or two later in the opposite direction. Across our yard and just barely above trees across the property line they flew, the smaller bird darting and obviously terrified, but the hawk keeping up with precise determination. He dove, but missed, and the smaller bird flew rapidly away frantically chirping a warning while the hawk caught a small updraft and glided more leisurely in the opposite direction, ostensibly to find his next meal elsewhere.

In these few seconds of wild kingdom action, it was fascinating to observe the hawk's beautiful and acrobatic flight. Though he was unsuccessful in this attempt, his skills are obviously advancing from what they were earlier in the season. Our dear Spook is growing up.

Just one week left to vote in November's poll: How many species are on your life list?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Pruny Project

Even before the last leaves have fallen and despite the warm temperatures of the past few days, it is time to prune back unruly trees so the coming winter's weight of ice and snow does not endanger a roof, street, or pedestrian. Instead of letting the clippings -- some of which were substantial from the quaking aspens in the front yard -- go to waste, I added a lengthy section to my backyard brush pile in the hopes of providing tempting winter shelter to our backyard birds.

Already, the new pile is a success and has been frequented by both house sparrows and house finches. Not too many other species are currently enjoying the backyard buffet as the nights grow longer and chillier, but hopefully this new shelter will entice more visitors to linger. Throughout even the coldest of winter days, the feeders will remain filled and the seed abundant, so I hope the short days will not be long with loneliness.

Don't forget to cast your vote in November's poll: How long is your life list?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

High Speed Birding

Lately, illness and a hectic schedule have kept me from doing too much birding, other than what species can be spotted while whizzing along on the interstate. While it is exciting to see the birds, passing a hawk perched on an electric pole at 70 miles per hour doesn't afford much opportunity for identification. Nonetheless, it is fascinating to see such a range of birds of prey staking out sections of the highway -- clearly, carrion and road kill have become a valued and consistent part of their diet. Of course, drivers should always be aware of birds feeding at the roadside and be cautious not to injure any of the scavengers. Life is a highway, and we're all just along for the ride.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Birding in the Rain

Birding in the rain, I'm birding in the rain... And if you can imagine that sung to a popular, happy rain tune, you'll have an idea of how I felt during yesterday's constant drizzle. But it wasn't the rain that was exciting, it was the close-to-home birding that was a thrill.

Walking through the city arboretum on my way home from working at the library (such is the life of a freelance writer), I noticed a group of American robins flitting from tree to tree, looking much perturbed at the wet weather. One robin, however, appeared none the worse for the sprinkling as it foraged eagerly beneath a pine tree, looking for what I assumed would be worms forced to the surface. But as I got closer -- that tree was near my path across the park -- the bird flew away, and I knew instantly by the rich cinnamon under its wings and the bold white patch on its rump that it was no robin. It was, in fact, a rogue bird I'd spotted several times before, but had never been able to get close enough to in order to properly identify.

It didn't fly far, and naturally I followed, my rainsuit making the loudest scuffing noises I could imagine -- exactly what you don't need when you're approaching a fidgety bird. I followed it from tree to tree to tree, and in that third tree I managed to get close enough to watch its behavior and see, without a doubt, its distinctive markings. The heavy spotting on the back and abdomen, long straight bill, red cheek swipe, double spiked tail, and curved black bib left no doubt -- I've added the Northern Flicker to my life list.

This woodpecker is the only one that regularly feeds on the ground, and it wasn't worms I saw it feasting upon -- it was ants. The northern flicker has an antacid saliva that neutralizes the acidity that is ants' natural protection. I also saw the distinctive undulating flight pattern, and watched the bird use its powerful bill to delicately pry beneath bark for morsels. Such a thrill to be able to identify a bird not only by its appearance, but by its behavior -- both of which left me unconcerned about the rain dripping down the back of my neck after craning for 15 minutes to observe this latest addition to my confirmed life list.

My life list is up to 45 -- how many bird species are on your list? Share your total in the November poll!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tracy Aviary

An important piece of legislation for all Utah birders was passed by a greater than 2-to-1 margin in this week's election: Proposition 1 will provide up to $19 million for the renovation and expansion of Tracy Aviary in Liberty Park, Salt Lake City. The aviary is home to more than 130 species of birds and has a variety of educational programs that stress the importance of bird and wildlife conservation. While I have not yet had the privilege of visiting the aviary, I plan to in the near future and hope to become a regular patron.

Truly, this election was for the birds!

Speaking of voting, don't forget the November poll -- How many bird species are on your life list?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

November Poll - Life Lists

The October poll -- "What type of feeder(s) do you use?" -- has closed, and the results are in. The most popular feeder used by Backyard Birds Utah visitors is a tube feeder (83 percent), followed by a nectar feeder (66 percent). These are not surprising statistics, as tube feeders attract goldfinches and other small songbirds while nectar feeders are used primarily for hummingbirds and occasionally for orioles. All of these bird species are extremely colorful and attractive, making them some of the most coveted backyard visitors.

November's poll is about life lists, as in, how many birds are currently on your list? Not all birders keep a tally of the species they have seen, and it is something I have only recently begun to track myself. While I've seen dozens more than the 44 birds that are currently on my list, I am very meticulous about being positive of my identification before adding another bird to the total. How about you? Start counting, and vote today! For those of you with exceptional lists (or anyone interested in sharing), comments are always welcome!