Friday, April 17, 2015

Anything But Gross

Despite the turmoil of the past few months, I've had some minor opportunities to procure major lifers. The first was in late January, when on a local tip, I was able to finally see a bird I've coveted for years - the elusive evening grosbeak.

I say elusive because these are heavily nomadic birds that travel between food sources, but because they travel, it can be hit-or-miss to see them. Apparently, however, they are regular winter visitors at Evergreen Cemetery in Springville, a short drive away - and well worth it for the views. The healthy, hearty stand of mature juniper trees in the cemetery provide abundant fruit for these large finches, and they're easily viewable there, when they do visit.

I was at the cemetery twice, and managed sightings both times. The first was adequate, though less than satisfying - the day was overcast so the birds' colorful plumage was not as readily visible in all its flourescent glory, and the flock of 15-20 birds was only present for a few minutes after I arrived. The next day, however, was sunny and fair, and when I returned the birds were there as well - many more (a rough estimate of likely 50 birds or more). Not only was their plumage practically glowing in the sunlight, but the combined sounds of their voracious appetites munching on juniper berries sounded like a rain shower sprinkling through dense foliage, an amazing and unexpected experience.

On that second day, the birds were more than cooperative, and were much more interested in their berries than in the attentions of an enthralled birder. I was also able to meander around the property a bit, and saw mountain chickadees, a juniper titmouse, white-breasted nuthatches, and Eurasian collared-doves. Quite the day!

The evening grosbeak gets its name from its plumage coloration evocative of sunset, as well as its heavy, thick bill. For me, however, the experience was more akin to an enlightening dawn and the delicate thrill of discovering more of nature's beauty - an experience I look forward to repeating many times to come. After all, there are 10,000 bird species in the world, and I've only seen 381. That leaves me 9,619 beautiful birds to enjoy that same discovery with.

Sounds like a challenge.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Defining the Yard

The past few weeks have been filled with challenges - death and deadlines, decisions and demands, doubts and dithering. But through it all, when a loved one passes, when work piles up, when changes must be made... The birds are here. Even in the new yard, the birds are here.

The yard list is growing. I've added a few favorite species, including one spring visitor, the Cassin's finch, to the list, and I'm thrilled with that visitation; multiple males and several females stopped by for a few days, and while I haven't seen them regularly, they know where the feeder is an are always welcome to return. Old favorites - the California quail and American robin - have also finally made their appearances.

The hardest part of growing a yard list is defining just what that yard should encompass. Some birders define their yard by whatever birds they can see from the boundaries of that yard. Others include airspace above the yard, or may include an entire neighborhood. It's a personal choice, but I'm far more restrictive in my definition. My "yard" is just my property and the bordering fence, and while I might admire adjacent yards and the birds they host, I don't personally count a bird in my yard until it has actually and unequivocally visited MY yard - my turf, my feeders, my habitat. With such a restrictive definition, I never doubt the veracity of my yard list - there's no question the bird has been in my yard, by any definition.

While I'm thrilled with my little patch, it lacks trees and varied plantings that birds need; instead, I often see birds visiting the neighbor's yard, which I can easily see from my elevated office window. The birds perch and forage in nearby mature fruit trees, and eschew my feeders for those natural treats. Of course, I plan to add fruit trees to my own yard to tempt the birds across that fence border, but it will be some time before any new additions would be mature enough to interest more birds. I also intend to add evergreens to the yard for year-round shelter, as well as berry bushes, seed-bearing flowers and more bird-friendly foliage, along with a dust patch and plenty of sunning space.

All things in time. Just as it will take weeks, months, or years for me to adjust to a range of changing circumstances, it takes weeks, months, or years for a yard to become a new, more wildlife-friendly habitat. One thing I've learned in the past weeks, however, is that time is more finite than we may realize, so it's better to take advantage of every minute you have.

It's time I take advantage of more minutes.