Thursday, April 26, 2012

Forgotten Lifer

Earlier this month my husband and I returned to the sea, enjoying a getaway cruise to Mexico and Cabo San Lucas - our first sailing in several years as family obligations, school schedules, and work schedules never quite coincided in the meantime. What I'd hoped would coincide on the trip was an opportunity for birding, and I wasn't disappointed.

On one of our days in Cabo San Lucas, we toured to San Jose del Cabo, including a stop at one of the city's missions. As any birder knows, urban birding is never as prolific as scouting wild areas, but anywhere there are trees and shelter there is the possibility of feathered sightings. And sight I did - as we approached the mission and listened to the background provided by our guide, a small dove - nothing so much as a hyperactive, miniature mourning dove - foraged nearby. As I watched, its perky steps brought it closer, and after we were allowed to explore the mission on our own, I stepped toward it in return. It let me approach quite closely, then fluttered off several yards away to resume its industrious scrounging. In that brief flight I was still able to observe the rusty color beneath its wings, and I'd already noted the red-and-black bill, spotted wings, and scaly pattern over the head and breast. A quick consult to my field guide led to the conclusive identification: a common ground-dove.

Not a bird I ever see in Utah, of course, and at first I was thrilled to have added an unlikely lifer to my list - despite frequent cruises in the past, I've never excelled at birding on the sea, and sighting a bird on land was my only hope for a lifer on this trip. Yet after reviewing my records at home, I realized that I had seen this bird before, and based on the notes I made, it must have been during my press trip to Jamaica. It must have only been a fleeting view, however, to have not made as strong an impression on me, but I'll never forget the excitement of seeing this dove in Mexico.

Even a forgotten lifer can be amazing when it is rediscovered, common or not.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Oh, Deer

In late winter, as natural food supplies dwindle and spring migrants have not quite arrived, backyard birding can be quite sparse. Oh, I always have the company of my house finches and house sparrows, as well as the mourning doves and Eurasian collared-doves, but more colorful visitors are few and far between. One morning, however, I discovered that I'd had a visitor of a non-feathered variety when I found some friendly droppings scattered on the lawn, in four different places.

We have deer in our neighborhood, though we've not seen them so close to our house - they typically stay down in the river bottoms (our neighborhood is on a precipice above) and further away from active areas, though our exact location can be quite quiet and peaceful. After finding their "gift" I checked my feeders, but they showed no damage or disturbance - fortunately, for deer will pry at feeders to access seed and have been known to empty feeders quickly if they become used to the easy snack.

I haven't seen more evidence of the deer since, with the exception of discovering a few more leavings in our front yard - though they may have been there all along. I don't mind their visits, and I hope they return at a time when I might actually see them. They aren't new on the life list, but a new guest on the yard list nonetheless!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Spotting a Towhee

Ground cover is vitally important to backyard birds, more so than many birders realize. At the old house, the only cover I was able to have was a brush pile in the backyard and some widely spaced mugo in the front yard; not nearly enough to make ground-feeding birds feel secure. As a result, I rarely had any ground-feeding birds make appearances.

This house is a different story entirely. The landscaping is mature, including plenty of low shrubs and ground cover - too mature, in some places, which is a problem I plan to work on this spring and summer. In the meantime, however, the birds enjoy it, and I enjoy their company. One such visitor a few weeks ago was a spotted towhee, a large, colorful sparrow that had discovered the cache of sunflower hearts I toss outside my office window periodically - right underneath a low bush that provides a safe, sheltered feeding spot. While the bird didn't stay for long, its hopping, scratching behavior was clearly evident in the disturbed soil, and the brief glimpse I caught showed off its red eye, rusty flanks, and striking plumage.

Other birds have taken advantage of the cover as well - dark-eyed juncos were frequent guests throughout the winter (and only migrated away in the last few days), and the house sparrows are year-round visitors, as are the California quail, though recently they've dispersed for nesting. I can hardly wait to see what birds might be spotted next - whether they have spots on their plumage or not.