Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Seeing Through New Eyes

I had a visual revelation last weekend during a birdwalk with Bill Fenimore of the Wild Bird Center in Layton - what a difference new optics makes for a birder's enjoyment, particularly one with my sometimes questionable eyesight! Bill was generous enough to let me take a pair of binoculars (8x42) from the store to try in the field as we visited the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area, and while the walk was about two hours long (during which time I added the western sandpiper and lesser yellowlegs to my life list) it only took a few minutes for me to be sold on the new optics. My old binoculars were also 8x magnification, but their field of view was much smaller and the lenses were smaller, admitting less light and creating a much poorer image. I had a blast with the new binoculars, and promptly bought them when we returned to the store. Should anyone in northern Utah need new optics, or any birding supplies for that matter, I can't recommend Bill Fenimore highly enough - his birding knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm are unmatched.

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!

Even more backyard news - I have another species to add to the backyard list, a female downy woodpecker. While it's not a new species on my life list, it's an exciting visitor to the backyard, especially considering that we have no large trees. What I've learned from the brief observation of this guest, however, is that downy woodpeckers love black oil sunflower seeds. At least, this one must, to show the tenacity to cling to an upright sunflower head and munch away.

Thus, it's been an exciting week. New birds, new binoculars, and a whole new avian world to see. Let's get looking!

Need to learn more about binoculars to choose a new pair? Check out my latest About.com article!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Getting a Life

Summer is a superb birding time, but unfortunately that also means it's not the best time for blogging. For the past several weeks I've been busy cleaning and refilling feeders, traveling to see new birds, taking regional birdwalks, and otherwise getting out into the birding world instead of sharing my experiences here in the virtual one.

The best news is that I've added quite a few birds to my life list, both from my travels and from a phenomenal trip to Antelope Island. There, the new birds I spotted were:

  • Franklin's Gull
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Red Necked Phalarope
  • Chukar
  • 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!