Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Spring Fever

Spring has been a long time in coming this year, but in just a few days it has made its mark and is truly here to stay. I've been eagerly awaiting migrants at the feeders, and over the weekend only just put up the hummingbird feeders - barely in time, it seems. Two days ago the first of the migrants arrived - the male of my black-headed grosbeak family, and yesterday his lady also appeared. Today has been wild with migrants just in the not-yet-as-bird-friendly-as-it-could-be backyard, with a rainbow of visitors arriving for the first time:
To be truthful, the white-crowned sparrow is a year-round resident in this part of Utah, but not one that has graced my feeders and yard before now. I hope he has felt welcome enough to continue returning! In fact, of the five new migrants today, four of them are also new records for my yard, and I can barely tear myself away from the window as I watch for more.

I don't know what the next few days of frantic migration may bring, but I'll continue to refill the feeders, refresh the bird bath, and otherwise keep my binoculars and camera poised for more seasonal sweetness. As the weather heats up the fever for spring birding sets in, and I'm burning with it bad!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Nothing Lesser About It

Far too often we overlook the most common of our backyard birds, always seeking a new lifer, a rare bird or an unusual visitor. On a dreary day that was more winter than spring last week, however, one wonderful bird perched so pretty to remind me that there's nothing common about a bird.

It was a lesser goldfinch - lesser in size than its goldfinch cousins, perhaps, and lesser in the extent of its range, lesser even in its notoriety with regards to state birds and symbolism, but not at all lesser in itself. Though the day was drab and gray, this guest was brilliant yellow and black in his breeding plumage. Despite cold temperatures and a biting breeze, he was beautifully fluffed to show off his vitality and the chill didn't bother him a bit. His delicate talons had a strong grip on a twig barely swelling with spring sap, and he was alert and vibrant.

In just a minute or two, this one "lesser" bird reminded me that all birds are beautiful, no matter how often we see them or how frequently we enjoy their company. As birders, we need to take the time to pause and admire our most familiar feathered friends - not only their physical beauty, but their liveliness and adaptability to be so comfortable around us. For if we become too comfortable around them, we may forget to clean the feeders or refill the bird baths, and once we neglect our most familiar birds, it becomes too easy to neglect all birds. Do that, and soon we might be wondering where our backyard birds have gone, why the mornings are quiet, and what happened to the rich birdlife we used to enjoy.

I refilled my feeders today; have you?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Undecided Spring

Spring weather can never seem to make up its mind in Utah; a couple of weeks ago we had as balmy and sunny a day as any ideal spring, yet a week later we woke up to two inches of heavy, wet snow on lawns that should have needed mowing. One day the sunny warmth encourages singing birds and blooming flowers, the next a bitter wind is racing down the canyons and encouraging warm comfort foods and blazing fireplaces.

Still, spring is clearly on the way, and the birds know it. Up early each morning, I hear the dawn chorus in fully harmony, and everywhere I look in the neighborhood American robins are busy seeking worms and chasing away intruders. The local killdeer are bobbing in their usual field and calling agitatedly as they fly over the neighborhood, and the black-capped chickadees are sounding off from every tree. But I'm undecided myself - great changes are coming, I hope, but change is frightening. In that, birds are both lucky and unlucky - they adapt well to the seasonal changes, but they adapt because their very survival depends on it and they have no other choice. When we choose the changes in our lives, we are beset with indecision, fear, anxiety, and second-guessing. Yet, like the birds, our very survival depends on change and adaptation.

Embrace the spring, the highs and lows it brings to you, and the life you'd never live without it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Jaunty Juncos

Dark-eyed juncos have been a favorite winter backyard bird of mine for years; their perky behavior and energetic movements make icy winter days a bit warmer. This spring has been surprising, however, as the juncos have remained in the backyard for much longer than typical, and in fact, I startled one that was foraging under the deck just yesterday.

Some areas are privileged to be home to juncos year-round, but my backyard is not one of them. While the gray-headed subspecies will stay in the area all year, I've never yet had one of them in my yard - my typical visitors are Oregon juncos, and once or twice a rare (for this area) slate-colored junco. But with their continual flitting around my yard even weeks after the snow has gone and the temperatures are rising, I am wondering just how long they may stay around.

Thus far, despite the first signs of spring appearing - I'm especially thrilled at the hint of flowers forming on my new lilac bush - other spring migrants have not yet arrived. I eagerly await the lazuli buntings and black-headed grosbeaks, and I know that in just a few weeks I need to put out feeders for the black-chinned and broad-tailed hummingbirds. For the time being, however, every day I see a dark-eyed junco is another day at the end of winter to enjoy.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Breaking Even

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park
Another spring, another trip to Las Vegas... It's a trip we take just about every year, generally more in winter than spring, yet still a lovely getaway and opportunity to see things that aren't the norm in Utah. For me, that means a variety of lovely birds that just don't appreciate the cooler, more mountainous terrain I call home, or at least not my vicinity of it. Among the species I was able to appreciate on this trip...
All told, there were more than 40 species I saw during roughly four hours of casual, primarily urban birding. Many of these will stretch further toward my home range as spring advances, but it was pleasant to get a preview of their breeding beauty. Others will never venture so far north, and it is up to me to strike into their range to become reacquainted. No new lifers on this trip, unfortunately, but not for lack of trying - I especially enjoyed the newest place I visited, Spring Mountain Ranch State Park - a lovely facility with an extensive picnic area with plentiful trees as well as scrub desert to explore. I had hoped that hiking through the Mojave Desert on this trip would have yielded a new desert species or two, but now I just have more reason to return.

For now, back home and back to work, I wait for spring to return to me for the next birding adventure.