Monday, November 21, 2011

Golden Days

These are the golden days of autumn, and while much of Utah's migration has concluded, the birds that remain are gilded in fantastic light and beauty. I saw this firsthand a couple of weeks ago when we visited a local park that is home to a generous flock of ducks, including mallards and a wide range of hybrids. Just at the right time of evening, the setting sun washed over the pond, and even those very common, very ordinary birds can be extraordinary.

Too often we overlook the birds we see everyday in favor of finding something new, exotic, rare, vagrant, or otherwise "special" and we fail to see what is special about the birds we already know well as they blend into the background of our birding consciousness. Every bird has its own personality and uniqueness, and as we observe them closely in every season, we learn their quirks and what makes them stand out even in the largest flock.

As birders, if we can appreciate these golden days of autumn and the beauty of all our birds, we will have an even richer connection to every feather.

Make the most of autumn with these fall birding tips!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Screech of Delight

Last week, I had the most amazing birding experience, completely by accident. As my husband and I were making popcorn in preparation for watching Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, I turned toward our large kitchen window and saw what looked to be a large leaf flutter upwards and out of view. That might not be so unusual given the season, except it was not windy enough that night for any leaf of that size to be blown upwards. Curious (and more than a little hopeful), I stepped onto the deck and into our yard to take a peek at what I believed would be a neighborhood bat.

I never expected what I saw; perched above the kitchen window, neat as you please, was an owl. I do believe my heart actually stopped, and I watched him for a moment on the roof before he winged to a nearby tree, giving me another great view from less than 20 feet away. It was only a minute later, when he flew off to the north along the property line, that I realized I'd been too shocked to take the requisite mental notes for proper identification. But what an experience!

Two hours later, after the movie (not too bad as anthropomorphized bird movies go), I couldn't resist bundling up against the freezing temperatures, grabbing my field bag, and heading into the neighborhood for a bit of hopeful owling. Once I got outside, though, I really didn't know where to start, so I went back to the beginning, where I'd seen the owl earlier. Even before I lit my flashlight, I saw a suspicious lump above the kitchen window, and lo and behold, it was the same owl, in the same spot, with the same mildly disgruntled look to give me. Again he perched on the roof for a few moments before flying to another tree, but this time, I was able to observe him from only a dozen feet away for several minutes - enough time to note the brilliant yellow eyes, gray and black streaked plumage, rounded tail, and overall field markings that positively identified him as a western screech-owl.

Not only a remarkable new yard bird (well worth the cost of moving, in my opinion), but a tremendous new lifer I'd never have expected. And all because I saw a "leaf" outside and opted to investigate. Never miss an opportunity to look for birds, no matter how unlikely the situation might seem - you never know what might be flying by.

Do you know these 20 Fun Facts About Owls?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Return to the Field

What with home selling and buying, moving, work changes, health concerns, and more this year, I haven't been into the field to enjoy birds in months, but this past weekend I took two hours to reacquaint myself with the joys of binns hanging around my neck, my field bag and camera bag bumping on opposite hips, and the feel of cold fingers in the autumn breeze as I fiddled with a focus wheel. I'd forgotten how good it truly feels to be out birding.

I felt I was rewarded, though with only spotting six species on one of my favorite loops in Provo Canyon, other birders might not agree that it was a productive morning. Still, the birds I saw were most memorable...
  • American Dipper: Dipping along in the river, and falling off a rock in its haste to secure what must have been a very tasty morsel.
  • Black-Billed Magpie: Elegantly flying through the picnic area of the park where I began my walk, sunlight glinting off its regal plumage.
  • Song Sparrow: Twittering back at me and eagerly responding to simple pishing as it hopped and skittered through thick brush.
  • Belted Kingfisher: Irately buzzing along the river in a never-ending quest for food, strong wing beats giving it both power and speed.
  • Black-Capped Chickadee: Frantically foraging for insects in the last remaining autumn leaves, never sitting still for an instant.
  • Spotted Sandpiper: Walking and probing along an exposed sandbar from the drained reservoir, meticulously pacing the shore while foraging.
No matter what birds you may or may not see, it pays to get out into the field to enjoy them all. I won't be so long away from the trails, paths, forests, fields, and feathers again.