Sunday, May 26, 2013

Birding in the Neighbor's Yard

May has been a busy month - not that there isn't always a lot of work, but prepping for travel has kept me in my office more than I'd care to be. Still, it's worthwhile, because the travel itself brings me closer to birds.

The first trip, just last weekend, was to a neighboring birding hotspot - Fallon, Nevada. I was part of a group of talented and diverse journalists invited to explore the Spring Wings Festival, and a delightful exploration it was. I've visited the area before, but despite the similarities of northern Nevada to my own northern Utah backyard, it's always a treat to visit such a diverse area and reacquaint myself with all my western favorites. Just a few species highlights of the visit include...
And not to forget the western rattlesnake; my first encounter with a rattlesnake, and though he was just a little one, he was far less than pleased with the attention of a bunch of journalists. I suppose you have to be a bird to want the fame...

Fallon is rich in avifauna and its birding experiences can change on a daily basis depending on the water levels of the various lakes and rivers, as well as the time of year, temperatures, and weather patterns. Just as rich, however, are the experiences of the Spring Wings Festival, and our itinerary included a detailed lecture about falconry (complete with avian ambassadors), birding by kayak (the birding was easy, the kayaking wasn't - at least at first), a daytime owl prowl (visiting daytime roosts and nest boxes), and a tour around Carson Lake Wetlands, one of my favorite birding spots in the area.

As birders, of course, we tend to focus on the feathered attractions of a region, but a word of caution - every community you visit, whether just to twitch a rare species, to join in a festival, or as part of a larger birding trip - had a greater history and culture beyond its birds. In Fallon, we had delicious pizza at the rustic Pizza Barn, toured amazing historic homes at the Douglass House and Williams House, examined intriguing artwork at the Barkley Theater, and enjoyed local dishes and exquisite cuisine at The Slanted Porch. But why should this matter? Because birding is big business - that's why press trips are available and festivals are planned. When you go to an area birding, whether it's a neighboring city, an adjacent state, or a far-flung country, you're helping raise awareness of just how valuable their local birds are. That can encourage businesses to support local bird conservation and habitat preservation, creating a cycle that will allow you to return again to see even more wonderful birds. So get out there and explore your "neighbor's" backyard!

Want to learn more about birding in Fallon? Check out what 10,000 Birds, Nevada Magazine, and National Geographic have to say about the festival!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Crowning Glory

The juncos have finally departed, but spring birds are continuing to arrive and bring more color to the yard and feeders. One I've been happy to see, one that may seem common to many, is the newly-arrived white-crowned sparrow.

The bold stripes on the head, the yellow bill tipped with black, and the perky behavior characterize this sparrow, but to me it's more than that. These sparrows are not unusual in Utah, and in fact are year-round residents in this part of the state. To me, however, this is one more sparrow species that enjoys the mature shrubbery around the house and the ground-feeding areas I've established. Indeed, this bird was content scouting around for spilled sunflower seeds, millet, and cracked corn on the deck, and I also spotted it outside my ground-eye-level office window, happily scratching in the dirt for more seeds and early spring insects.

Attracting any new bird is always an achievement. A new species is a testament to a healthy backyard ecosystem that meets birds' needs, and welcomes them to a safe, comfortable environment. For some backyard birders, the appearance of a rare bird or passing migrant may be an exciting moment - and it is to me as well - but even more exciting is knowing that a resident bird has come to prefer my yard. This means that my landscaping, my feeders, and my water sources have become more attractive than other yards and natural features, and each new bird is a promise that what one bird discovers, others will as well.

This white-crowned sparrow truly is a crowning glory.