Sunday, March 24, 2013

Walking 1,000 Miles

For the past few months I've been focusing on a lot of goals, including the idea of walking 1,000 miles in 2013 - walks I hope will soon take me along mountain trails and other pathways to intersect more birds. While I was maintaining another blog about that journey for several months, I've decided to sprinkle the occasional walking updates here instead, bringing together two things I'm passionate about in a venue that makes most sense - after all, much of the walking is in hopes of birding.

There won't be much of a noticeable change here; my focus will always be on all things feathered. You will note the new mileage box on the right hand side - a cumulative total of the miles I've walked in 2013. That total will be updated with each blog post, and very rarely posts will focus on that journey more exclusively.

Consider this a migration - birds are always in motion, and if we want to keep up and be in the physical shape necessary to be the best birders we can be, we need to stay moving as well. Let's take a walk!

Monday, March 18, 2013


This month, while only half past, has been trashed with deadlines, cramped schedules, illness, and injury, all of which add up to keep me pinned down and unable to venture far from home for the wonders of early spring birding. Nonetheless, I've enjoyed visits in the backyard - the moody glare of the sharp-shinned hawk, a brief appearance by one of my California quail, the incessant demands of the western scrub-jays, and other familiar guests - and also enjoyed short neighborhood walks.

What is not enjoyable, however, is finding litter along the way, and one piece in particular caught my eye at the end of last month. A dash of pink in a muddy gutter caught my eye, and the first day I saw it I didn't think much of it. A couple of days later, however, it was still there, and I recognized it for the threat it is - a latex balloon. Oh, the pink color sprinkled with quaint white hearts may seem innocuous, but it got me thinking... In the late winter when fruits and flowers are scarce but migrant birds are returning with hungry appetites after their long migration, how might such a tempting morsel look to them?

A dash of pink might look like a tasty nectar flower, or the ripe flesh of a sweet fruit. In a wet and muddy gutter, it might seem to be a succulent worm, or an industrious bird might see it as a useful bit of nesting material.

A balloon is none of these things, however, but it is a grave threat to birds. It is a toxic piece of litter that can clog a bird's digestive tract, gradually starving them as they are unable to take in more food with a litter-filled stomach. It can stifle nestlings and get tangled among the legs of brooding adults, and the abrasive nature of the material can cause sores.

This one balloon, at least, is no more of a threat, however. On that second walk when it caught my eye again, after I'd walked past and it sunk into my consciousness what that pink, squidgy splotch in the gutter really was, I walked back and picked it up, carrying it all the way home to dispose of in a tightly tied trash back and heavy plastic garbage can, well out of reach of any curious birds.

What litter have you picked up along a birding walk? Every scrap you might collect can be helpful in preserving the habitats you enjoy the most, so take a plastic bag along on your next birding walk and do the birds a favor!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sharply Beautiful

It's always a privilege to have raptors in my backyard, but last week I had a very unique experience. Coming into the kitchen I looked out my huge picture window and was instantly dismayed to see fluffy snowflakes - again! - but my dismay vanished as quickly as any thoughts of spring when I saw the guest gracefully perched in the aspen tree: a sharp-shinned hawk.

I've had sharpies in the yard before, quite frequently, and have occasionally seen evidence of their hard-fought meals, but what struck me was how very tiny this hawk truly was. I've not had the honor of seeing one quite so close - he was perched only about a foot or two from the window - and he was definitely diminutive. And I say "he" because among these raptors, the female is the larger gender, and owing to his fantastically small size I have no doubt the bird was a male. The overall proportions and tail length also clearly identified him as a sharp-shinned hawk, for while I've also had Cooper's hawks nearby, they are significantly larger with a much longer tail. This bird was quite similar in size to my Eurasian collared-doves, and while they're on the large size for doves, that's amazing tiny for a hawk.

He watched me for several minutes as I stayed deep inside the kitchen snapping photos; it wasn't until I moved closer to the window that he decided enough was enough and moved along. He didn't move all that far, however, just to my nearby sumac tree, where he stayed for quite some time, watching over the yard. I could occasionally hear chatter from my other backyard residents, but while the hawk was nearby they elected to stay hidden.

I do hope Tiny returns (not, perhaps, the name he'd have chosen, but still). We have a nesting pair of sharp-shinned hawks in the neighborhood and while I don't know if he's the patriarch of that particular nest or a still-growing offspring, he's always welcome to visit. It's amazing how one "small" bird can make any day seem bigger and brighter.

And it helped that the snow didn't last, too.