Sunday, January 24, 2010

Taking a Tip

Birding may be a solitary hobby, but collaborating with other birders often leads to great rewards - tips on birding hotspots, new bird sightings, more accurate identifications, testing new equipment, and more. I'm always happy to share my tips with others, but I'm afraid I'm not quite so connected into receiving tips myself, though I don't hesitate to ask for help when I need it. I have recently, however, begun watching the Utah Birds Hotline List from Birdingonthe.Net, and the sightings are enough to inspire and excite any birder after long weeks of little to see but the backyard flock. Mind you, I do love my backyard birds (I wouldn't have spent more than an hour cleaning feeders and refilling them in a snowstorm if I didn't), but a birder's heart flies through many skies and yearns to share them with many birds.

This morning, my husband and I headed out toward Utah Lake, turning along the west side of the Provo Airport dike toward the control tower. On a tip from the list, we knew a long-eared owl has been seen regularly in the area for the past couple of weeks, and I've been itching to add a new lifer to my list. We parked somewhat north of the tower, walking along the dirt road (none too easily in the mud and slush from the recent snowfall) until we came near to the tower. Just south of it we met up with a trio of birders and exchanged greetings, learning that the owl was still nearby. Indeed it was, and beautifully so! Finding owls can be a challenge as they're superbly camouflaged and not prone to either noise or movement that might make them more visible to birders, but if you know what to look for and watch for disturbed patterns in winter-bare branches, you just might add another to your life list, as I did today.

While the birding along the dike was not as prolific as one might hope, we did spot several species...
  • Canada Goose - Several flocks flying overhead.
  • American Coot - Happily swimming in small areas of open water.
  • Great Blue Heron - Looking cold and forlorn in the field.
  • Northern Harrier - Hunting beautifully over the field.
  • Red Tailed Hawk - Both perched and hunting, as well as harassing the harriers.
  • White Crowned Sparrows - Feeding along the road and flitting among the brush.
Even on a cold winter's morning when the lake is mostly frozen and the weeds are snow covered, there are birds to be had. I encourage everyone to take advantage of whatever birding resources you may have to learn where the birds are in your area, and head out to new locations to discover what you may. Whether you get a new lifer or not, the walk and the fresh air brings new life to the joys of birding.

Check out these winter birding tips for finding the best birds in the bitter cold!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Just When You Thought...

It's all well and good to enjoy birds in one's neighborhood, but it's not quite the same as having them visit your yard, your feeders, your birdbath. Just when I'd been lamenting the loss of the pine siskins and the emptiness of my backyard, the very next day I could hardly tear myself away from my binoculars with all the bird action. A generous flock of American robins descended on the property line trees to feast on the fruit, and they took turns sipping from my birdbath.

A closer look revealed other guests; several cedar waxwings were part of the flock, just as eagerly enjoying the feast, and a northern flicker stopped by to investigate one of the trees for a brief moment. It's a never ending lesson; you never know what may visit your yard, but you have to be looking to appreciate the guests. If I'd stayed in my office at that time, I'd never have known the brief burst of popularity my yard enjoyed.

There have also been a great number of European starlings romping through the neighborhood, flitting from one yard to the next en masse. While many birders don't enjoy European starlings because of their propensity to empty feeders and intimidate other backyard birds, I have to admire a bird with such lovely iridescent plumage and one with such a successful attitude and physiology to adapt to so many habitats and conditions with equal aplomb. They do love our neighbors' apple tree and its residual fruit, as do the American robins, but occasionally I'm fortunate enough to see the flock roost in the tree across the street, affording me a spectacular view from my office. When the ground thaws a bit in early spring they'll likely visit even closer, but they only seem to do so once or twice before the large flock disappears for the season.

I urge all birders never to take their birds for granted. They bring such joy and ask so little, what's not to love and enjoy?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Missing the Siskins

Looking out at my feeders and seeing how empty they are day after day can be disheartening in these coldest, grayest days of winter. Last winter I was inundated with tremendous number of pine siskins in the midst of their biennial irruption, but this year not a single siskin has graced my feeders. While they’re not particularly colorful birds, nor do they have pleasing personalities, their sharp territoriality and flashes of yellow were welcome and now are missed.

Too often we take for granted the birds at our feeders, assuming they will always be there to brighten our days. Just because they’ve vanished does not mean we’re doing anything wrong or that our yards are unattractive, but it can be a lonely lesson to remember that even the most common of backyard birds are still wild. If you just look, however, you may discover more birds around you than you think.

While the siskins may be absent, I’m still enjoying the rambunctious company of house sparrows and house finches whose ranks are regularly scattered by Spook and Dart, our ever watchful sharp shinned and Cooper’s hawks. The Eurasian collared doves drop by almost daily to visit my hopper feeders, and the dark eyed juncos are occasionally mingling with my backyard flock. American goldfinches and lesser goldfinches are rare but lovely splashes of yellow at the nyger feeders, and I’ve spotted American robins feeding in our neighborhood’s trees and poking around my bushes now and then. And just yesterday, I had to hastily find my peanut dish where it had been stored away and replenish it for a pair of hungry western scrub jays that quickly emptied it.

Just look around you, and you’ll be surprised at what birds are visiting your yard, even if some species are more conspicuous by their absence.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


While the past few months have been hectic and work-filled, I've still managed to make some time for the birds, though closer to home. One of my most successful efforts has been leaving our patio table out this winter rather than storing it in the garage. I've put my platform feeder on the cross supports beneath the table, effectively shielding it from snowfall, wind, and other inclement weather. The ground below also gets less snow thanks to the table's cover, giving ground feeding birds more of a chance to enjoy the seed.

While it took a day or two for the birds to really discover the feeder's undercover location, it's been more successful than I'd ever hoped, and daily there are hungry, feisty flocks of house finches and house sparrows taking advantage of the shelter and seed. Occasionally the dark-eyed juncos will join them, though the American and lesser goldfinches prefer the nyger feeders and the Eurasian collared doves prefer the more open hopper and platform feeder out in the yard.

It just goes to show that even if you can't make it out into the field, you can certainly enjoy the birds close to home. Too often we forget the fun behavior and colorful personalities of our most common birds, but they can be just as entertaining and amazing as any new lifer or rare vagrant.

Enjoying the backyard birds more is just one of the birding-related resolutions I've made for 2010. I do also want to travel more, acquire more lifers, and continue renovating my landscaping for a better bird habitat. Of course, more frequent blog posts will be a part of all this! Whatever your New Year's bird-related resolutions may be, I wish you very happy birding!