Sunday, May 24, 2009

Better Than Expected

With constantly dripping weather, today began as a disappointment with little promise of good birding, but once again the birds were a surprise. Early in the morning, after I'd about given up hope of venturing into the canyons for a bit of weekend birding, I saw a most welcome guest on my platform feeder: a male red crossbill. I'd wondered earlier this week what had become of the two pairs of crossbills that had visited several weeks ago, as I haven't seen them since. Yet today, within minutes, the platform feeder was under siege by a most hungry flock of at least ten crossbills, males and females. They didn't say for long, but I was gratified to see them and happy that they seem to recognize my backyard - despite its lack of vegetation in the new flower beds - as a good place to visit.

Shortly afterwards, the rain cleared up enough for an experimental foray into my favorite birding areas. First, we went to a small marsh wetland area, which proved to be a mistake. While I was happy to see the song sparrow and catch a glimpse of a hummingbird, the mosquitoes were aggressive and hungry. My husband and I quickly moved on, heading for a steep canyon in Provo that we've not yet gotten up to this spring. And what a wonderful choice it was!

The scenery was outstanding; rough, steep cliffs and a furious mountain stream alongside the steep asphalt and gravel trail. But the birds were most exciting of all: a stunning flock of western tanagers, plenty of American robins, a pair of spotted towhees, one proud male lazuli bunting, and a new one for my life list, a Townsend's solitaire.

The Townsend's solitaire is remarkable in that it is a purely plain bird of undistinguished medium gray plumage. The white eye ring is neither bold nor striking, and the white outer tail feathers are not easily visible while the bird is perched. We watched the bird, comparing it to my field guide, for fifteen minutes hoping to see something more distinctive, until it flew off down the river, fortunately in the direction we were heading. Around the next bend, we found the same bird in a pathside tree, flitting about as it foraged for insects. It would perch on an open branch for a moment, then dart up to a tree, snap at an insect, and return to the perch, repeating that action over and over as it fed. In doing this it afforded me most excellent views, and there is no doubt about its identity.

It just goes to show that even a day that may not seem conducive to the best birding can be more rewarding than you imagine. I hope your weekend visitors and birding walks are just as exciting!

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