Sunday, December 6, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Of course, they haven’t treated that water quite as I anticipated. Within days of putting out the heater, my birdbath became quite the spa getaway and the surrounding patio is frequently splashed from flocks of bathing birds - and splashed more because they are so skittish that no bath lasts longer than a few seconds. Now, it’s important to note that while the temperatures have been decidedly warmer than normal for late fall, the birdbath is in the shade on a north facing patio. The resulting 40 degree or lower temperatures there aren’t what I’d call perfect for a cooling dip at any time, but the birds, especially the sparrows, can’t seem to get enough. It’s hilarious to watch them juggle positions in the basin and along the rim of the birdbath, and I’ve seen as many as a dozen birds at once crowded around what becomes an increasingly shallow puddle.
Of course, this does mean that you’ll see me several times a week shivering on the patio as I refill the birdbath with a bowl from the kitchen – the outdoor spigots having been sealed for the winter some time ago. Cleaning the birdbath is also an ongoing necessity, what with the leaves, dirt, and other debris getting into it from so many eager bathers. Nonetheless, it’s a thrill to watch the birds enjoy their makeshift spa, and I can’t recommend enough that you get your own birdbath heater or fully heated model so you can invite your backyard flock for a fun spa day.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
- Swapped out some larger capacity summer feeders for smaller, more sheltered winter designs
- Rigged a way to shelter my ground feeders beneath the patio table to keep them free from snow
- Installed my birdbath heater
- Inventoried my store of seed and added to the stock with extra millet and sunflower chips
At this point, I have more than 150 pounds of birdseed ready to go, of many different types: sunflower chips, millet mix, straight nyger, straight black oil sunflower seed, whole peanuts, cracked corn, and a nyger and sunflower chip mix. But where is it all? One of the landscaping improvements this summer was to add a birdseed shed at the edge of the patio, very conveniently located for refilling feeders. In it I not only stock my seed (all in appropriate plastic containers, transparent for easy choice), but also feeder and birdbath cleaning supplies, my filling cup, gloves, a pitcher to refill the birdbath, a broom for sweeping up the patio, and a step stool for reaching the higher feeders hanging from our gutter. I also have a bin that holds miscellaneous supplies, such as small cups, extra chains, and various accessories.
Storing birdseed and supplies properly can make a world of difference for enjoying refilling your feeders instead of making it into a chore. While not everyone will need - or want - a dedicated shed, if you find a way that works for you you'll be sure to keep the feeders filled and the birds happy all winter long.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
- Cooper's Hawk Profile
- Sharp-Shinned Hawk Profile
- Cooper's Hawk or Sharp-Shinned Hawk? Identification Tips
- How to Protect Backyard Birds From Hawks
Most of all, remember to enjoy the hawks when they grace your yard with a visit. It may not be the ideal image you have of backyard birdfeeding, but any visit from a less frequent bird is a sighting to be enjoyed and treasured. Happy birding!
Thursday, October 8, 2009
If you'd like to learn more about the Festival, there will be an information booth this Saturday (10/10) at the Wild Bird Center in Layton, as part of the store's ninth anniversary celebration. There will also be live birds of prey, Audubon chapters, prize giveaways, and more. I will be manning the information booth from 10 a.m. until noon, but it will be there in the afternoon as well with other members of the planning committee. If you've never attended a bird festival and would like to know what one is all about, please do stop by!
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
It can't get much more spectacular than the nearly four hour hike through the mountains I did today, with two new lifer birds joining my list. The first was the mountain chickadee, a perky, active bird of high pine forests that is much like its more familiar cousin, the black capped chickadee. Easily distinguishable by the bold white eyebrow that the black capped variation lacks, the mountain chickadee is still a beautiful and feisty bird that I was thrilled to see. That was at the beginning of the hike, which eventually led to the stunning Stewart Falls waterfall cascade.
On the return hike I again spotted the mountain chickadees flitting through the same area of trees, and when I was raising my binoculars to watch them once more I commented to my husband that what I really wanted to see was a nuthatch, a type of bird completely lacking from my life list. To my surprise, however, it wasn't just mountain chickadees flitting in the pines this time - they were joined by at least two red-breasted nuthatches. Ask and ye shall receive! Not only could I observe them quite well, but their distinctive "henk-henk-henk" call couldn't have been clearer.
In addition to these fabulous new lifers, the walk yielded some other great sightings...
- Steller's Jay - Calling through the woods and pecking furiously at the pines.
- Red Tailed Hawk - A dark morph soaring over the mountainside, as well as a clear, vibrant call.
- American Robins - Pecking away at berries in a high mountain grassland clearing.
- Black Capped Chickadees - Toiling away in the grasses and aspens as they flitted for food, though one brave little bird posed beautifully for a moment.
Chipmunks and squirrels rounded out the sightings, though there were other unidentified birds that continually taunted me both with their calls and with brief glimpses too quick for confirmations.
Thus ends a beautiful fall weekend; I'm already looking forward to next weekend, when we'll likely scout a different location and who knows what we may find.
These fall birding tips can help you make the most of this season's birds!
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Even bigger is the backyard news, though it's not so birdy. I've heard many a tale of birders lamenting the visits from squirrels in their backyard - fuzzy, uninvited guests who clean out birdfeeders in a flash while preventing any birds from sharing a bite. Living in an urban area without mature trees, however, I've never been pestered by squirrels. This week, I was thrilled to see a fluffy, fuzzy tail scamper across my patio, and more thrilled still to see it attached to a squirrel with a fondness for cracked corn. I feed the corn in a shallow, wire mesh platform for the sparrows and doves, but this squirrel was even more entranced by the offering as his cheeks puffed out further and further as he munched. When he spotted me watching and snapping pictures, he flashed away, vanishing into my neighbor's woodshed where, I'm sure, he has a nice stash of corn. While I may change my mind if my yard becomes a squirrel sanctuary, for now I'm happy to have yet another guest at the feeders.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Back in my own Orem backyard, I hadn't had my new binoculars for more than three hours when I spotted a raptor soaring over the yard. I promptly grabbed my new eyes and managed to identify my first raptor on the wing - an osprey. How glorious!
Friday, August 14, 2009
- Franklin's Gull
- Peregrine Falcon
- Red Necked Phalarope
- Say's Phoebe
- Loggerhead Shrike
- Great Horned Owl
- Lark Sparrow
In addition to these new lifers, we saw dozens of other species: burrowing owl, western tanager, sandhill crane, white faced ibis, black necked stilts, eared grebes, killdeer, California quail, willets and more. Antelope Island is truly a birder's paradise, not only for the wide variety of species, but for the wonderful behaviors you can observe. We saw the phalaropes herding brine shrimp on the shallow waters of the Great Salt Lake and Franklin's gulls bobbing their heads to feed on brine flies in the morning breeze, as well as a peregrine falcon calmly observing the world after breakfast and western meadowlarks singing their greeting to the day. What a treat to live so close to this wonderful location; I cannot wait to go again.
Outside of Utah, my travels have introduced me to another lifer: the elegant tern. I was able to watch these agile fliers dive into the waters off Long Beach, California while they fished, often getting mobbed by Heerman's gulls who wanted a taste.
Back home again, my backyard and its new landscaping is continuing to draw in birds. Not only have my mourning doves, house finches, western scrub jays and lesser goldfinches been enjoying the full feeders all summer, but a female black headed grosbeak discovered the black oil sunflower seed and the black chinned hummingbirds have been monopolizing their nectar feeders quite frequently. Just this week the first of the migrating rufous hummingbirds appeared, and I can add a barn swallow to my backyard list after watching them perch and preen on our defunct television antenna.
Birding is truly amazing, whether at home or abroad, and summer is a special time to find new birds, nestlings, fledglings, and many other friends at your feeders. I hope your summer has been as avian rich as mine!
Friday, July 3, 2009
- Scarlet Tanager
- Chipping Sparrow
- White Throated Sparrow
- Rose Breasted Grosbeak
- Common Grackle
- Baltimore Oriole
Don't neglect your own backyards, local parks, and scenic walks when you're interested in adding to your life list. You never know what may be there, and you don't have to go far to find new feathered friends to enjoy. The Baltimore orioles I saw, a brilliant pair of birds, were chasing one another through a stand of aspen trees near the river less than a mile from my childhood home, yet in all my years there I'd never bothered to notice. How I wish I had!
Sunday, May 31, 2009
This leads, however, to the June poll on water. Summer is a thirsty season for birds, especially with Utah County temperatures regularly reaching 90 degrees, and my concrete birdbath can dry out in the course of a day if I don't refill it regularly. I'm happy to do so, of course (and a neighbor will be keeping an eye on it while I'm away), but I can't wait to add more water features to the yard as part of my bird sanctuary landscaping. Birds love water, and as wiser birders than I have mentioned, not all birds will eat seed or nest in birdhouses, but they all need water. In a recent poll on improving your backyard, water features were the top response for landscaping wish lists, so now I'm curious: what types of water features would you like to add to your backyard?
Personally, my plans are for a small waterfall with appropriate basins for birds to bathe and drink. I don't want the upkeep of a large pond, but I wouldn't mind adding a few more birdbaths as well, though they can be a hassle to keep clean and filled. What water would you like to see in your backyard? Vote in the poll today!
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Ironically, the last two birds we spotted were also the most amazingly photogenic. Pulling out of the parking area, I saw dozens of swallows diving beneath the road bridge and begged my husband to stop so I could get a closer look, owing that swallows are notoriously difficult to identify unless you have a chance to see them up close and still. I slid down the embankment to find that we'd discovered a colony of cliff swallow nests, and it was awe-inspiring to see not only the exquisite architecture of their many nests, but to also see their amazing aerobatics as they flew to and from each cavity.
Further down the road, we stopped at what we'd noticed should be another canyon trail access point in a less popular area, giving it all the best properties of a birding location. No sooner had I walked to the guardrail than I saw another flock of swallows darting and diving near the river, but of course with their quick motion they're often no more than blurs. To my delight, however, one bird fluttered nearby and perched on a dead branch not ten feet away. It posed, preened, and turned about offering a most excellent view and positively identifying itself as a violet green swallow, arguably the most beautiful of the swallows with its iridescent green and purple plumage, white underparts, and sleekly tapered wings. Even better, it is yet another new bird for my life list, bringing my total to 135 unique birds.
How I wish I'd had my camera! Never would I dream of seeing such a beautiful swallow so close and in the perfect light. But even though I didn't have my camera and don't have a digital souvenir of the encounter, this beautiful bird is one that will be forever captured in my memory.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
- Western Kingbird
- Marsh Wren
- Snowy Egret
- Forster's Tern
- Western Grebe (pictured, top)
- Cliff Swallow
- Tree Swallow
- Long Billed Curlew
- Common Yellowthroat
- Snowy Plover (the festival's target bird)
- White Faced Ibis
- Blue Winged Teal
- Osprey (nesting)
- Spotted Sandpiper
- Wilson's Phalarope
- Red Breasted Merganser
- Ash Throated Flycatcher
- Eastern Kingbird
- Juniper Titmouse
- Black Throated Gray Warbler
- Yellow Breasted Chat
- Green Tailed Towhee
- Brewer's Sparrow
It is amazing to see the tremendous variety of bird species that can be found locally, as well as the diversity of habitats. During the thirteen hours of birding spread across three consecutive days, I visited riparian habitats, deserts, juniper and pinyon pine forests, elevated forests, wetlands, salt marshes, ponds, and grasslands. In each place the birds thrive, all cleverly adapted to their unique niches.
It is also amazing to see the diversity in different species' behavior and personalities. The yellow breasted chat, for example, is secretive and shy, while the juniper titmouse is an inquisitive and perky bird, boldly flitting around even a large group of birders. Some water fowl and shorebirds, such as the snowy egret, are comfortable in communities, while others, like the western grebe, are more solitary, even while they both share the same pond.
Of course, these are not the only birds I saw during the festival. I was also thrilled to spot other beautiful birds such as the yellow headed blackbird, lazuli bunting, cinnamon teal, American avocet, and golden eagle, along with dozens of other species. Yet despite all of this birding success, I know I missed out by not participating in more field trips and taking better advantage of the available events. Perhaps next year I will enjoy the urban birding field trips to see Salt Lake City's peregrine falcons, or maybe a trip to more northern Utah birding destinations.
In the meantime, happy birding to all! Summer is nearly here, eggs are hatching, and feeders are getting emptied more quickly. Time to make your own birding festival right in your backyard!
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Friday, May 1, 2009
- Organized field trips with expert guides
- Lectures and informational sessions on all things birding
- Vendor booths with unique gifts, field guides, and other items
- Craft opportunities for making birdhouses or feeders
- Rehabilitated bird releases, falconry demonstrations, and other live bird events
Naturally, the exact composition of each festival may vary, but there are always birds to see, and that is why we all flock to them. Happy May, and happy birding!
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
- Greater White Fronted Goose (pictured, bottom)
- Ross's Goose
- Cinnamon Teal
- Ring Necked Duck
- Greater Scaup (pictured, top)
- Gambel's Quail
- Eared Grebe
- Double Crested Cormorant
- Common Moorhen
- Northern Rough Winged Swallow
- Barn Swallow
- Northern Mockingbird
In addition to these new-to-me birds, I also spotted Canada geese, mallards, an entire flock of northern shovelers, ruddy ducks, many American coots, one shy Wilson's snipe, many color variations of rock pigeons, several mourning doves, a pompous greater roadrunner, yellow rumped warblers, one yellow headed blackbird in a flock of Brewer's blackbirds and brown headed cowbirds, the ubiquitous house sparrows, and a great number of great tailed grackles. There were also at least two species of hummingbirds, a type of egret or heron, several other swallows, a largeish hawk, and other ducks and songbirds that I was unable to identify.
Frankly, I cannot recommend these two birding locations strongly enough. Easy and free to access, they are just a few miles from McCarran International Airport and an easy drive from the Las Vegas Strip. The Bird Viewing Preserve was wonderfully unpopulated - in fact, my husband and I were the only two in spacious facility for most of our visit - and while nearby Sunset Park is more crowded, the birds are also more accustomed to human presence and don't mind eager birders getting closer. I'm already planning a return trip in different seasons so I may see what other visitors are present. I'm also planning a full review of the Bird Viewing Preserve on About.com, so stay tuned for tips on hitting your own birding jackpot!
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Saturday, April 4, 2009
- Western Meadowlark: Saw the bird, heard the song, and saw the bird singing.
- Red Winged Blackbird: A male in scruffy but identifiable winter plumage.
- Green Winged Teal: Lovely ducks enjoying a pond and walking on the shore.
- Northern Pintail: Extraordinarily beautiful ducks with distinctive crisp plumage.
- Yellow Headed Blackbird: Perching on a fence and proudly displaying his colors.
- American Avocet: Flying and swimming, graceful and elegant.
We also saw numerous other species during the birdwalk, including sandhill cranes, Canada geese, American coots, an American kestrel (hovering!), American robins, a northern shoveler, northern flickers, a northern harrier, and tundra swans. Unfortunately, neither my binoculars nor my eyes were fine enough to pinpoint field markings on all the species, so I'm unable to count them all on my list to my satisfaction, but there is always the excitement of the next birdwalk. I highly recommend these events to all Utah birders, and I will definitely be at the next event on April 25. I hope you can join us then, or check out the birdwalks calendar for other upcoming events.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Thursday, April 2, 2009
- Pine siskins and lesser goldfinches prefer almost exclusively nyger seed, most frequently from sock feeders or ground feeding.
- American goldfinches prefer nyger seed but will also indulge in black oil sunflower seeds. They will feed from mesh socks, tube feeders, or platforms, as well as spilled seed.
- House finches prefer black oil sunflower seeds and eat from the hopper feeder and spilled seed. They do try to balance on the tube feeders, but the size isn't quite right for their comfort.
- House sparrows are more likely to take millet but will also eat black oil sunflower seeds. Platform feeders are their favored buffet line.
- Eurasian collared doves will eat milo, millet, and black oil sunflower seeds; it just seems to depend on what is readily available on the ground for them, and they swallow it without removing the shell.
- Mourning doves prefer millet but will also swallow black oil sunflower seeds.
- Dark eyed juncos are exclusively millet diners, perferably on the ground but also on open platform feeders.
- American robins don't care for seed but enjoy the bread scraps on the ground.
- Mallards will gorge on black oil sunflower seeds and millet from beneath feeders or on the ground. That they will also sample treats from low platform feeders seems to be quite the eccentricity from my neighborhood ducks.
- Cassin's finches prefer black oil sunflower seed but will also taste nyger in hopper and platform feeders.
Seeing such varied dining preferences reinforces the idea that a backyard will be filled with richer bird life if we offer a range of unique foods and different ways for the birds to eat. That, then, is the crux of this month's poll -- what bird foods do you offer in your backyard? Cast your votes!
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Watching ducks waddle through the snow is more amusement than I've seen in weeks - they looked like legless boats rocking precariously on the surface of a white, powdery sea. What's more, their expressions were undeniably disgruntled, yet they persisted. The wood duck and one of the mallard hens stationed themselves beneath my hopper feeder; she proceeded to shovel through the snow with her bill in order to vacuum up spilled millet and black oil sunflower seeds, while he kept a close eye on the mallard drake roaming the patio. Eventually, however, the hen decided that a better bet for sustenance would be the bread scraps I obligingly tossed onto the patio - in fact, it was so tasty she didn't bother to shake the snow from her bill.
While the calendar may say it's spring, in many places winter weather still prevails and we must not get disgruntled ourselves when the birdbath needs cleaning or the feeders need refilling. While I'm not about to put my hummingbird feeders out and the landscaping is currently on hold until the weather clears for more than a few hours, I can't help but notice how faithful - or at least how greedy - the backyard birds are when they know they can count on a rich food source. Will you be faithful to them?
Friday, March 27, 2009
- Cedar Waxwings
- Pine Siskins
- Lesser Goldfinches
- American Goldfinches
- American Robins
- Mourning Doves
- Eurasian Collared Doves
- House Finches
- Cassin's Finches
- You never know when, nor for how long, a unique visitor will appear. I happened to be working at the dining table this morning, and while doing so I'd moved my chair to easily see the feeders and watch the fun. I was astonished to notice a small flock of cedar waxwings alight in the trees bordering our northern fence, and even more astonished when they came into the yard to visit the birdbath. They were only there for a few minutes, and if I'd been working in my office on the other side of the house I'd have been none the wiser.
- Water is an irresistible attractor. Every one of the bird species that visited today stopped for a sip from the concrete birdbath, but the cedar waxwings and American robins weren't the least bit interested in the available seed. If you truly want to attract the widest variety of species to your yard, you definitely need to have water available. And this was just from a still birdbath (and one that was none too clean at the time) - I can hardly wait to see what happens in a couple of weeks when the new fountain is installed.
- The smaller the bird, the bigger the attitude. The pine siskins are some of the smallest to visit my feeding areas, yet they are the most vicious and temperamental of the entire mixed flock. They will snap at other birds, including other siskins, as well as beat them with their wings and engage in spectacular aerial dogfights (birdfights?) complete with an unrelenting barrage of buzzes, chirps, and chatters. The result? A momentary monopoly on the feeder - almost invariably the nyger sock - until another siskin decides to take on the challenge for feeder dominance.
The most important thing to learn from so many visitors, however, is that there is always something new to observe and you can always care for every bird. Every day I'm amazed at the birds that will make eye contact with me, chirp at me, and even buzz me while I'm refilling the feeders or scrubbing the birdbath. While some may think they're simply being territorial and reacting to a perceived menace, I believe they do recognize me and our fondness is - at least at times - mutual.
That, or I simply need to refill the birdfeeders more often. Happy birding!