Friday, February 15, 2013

Day One of the Bird Count Inspired Watching and Walking

The first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count brought a needed break from an excess of mundane concerns. It was a fun day. Kudos to the National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Bird Studies Canada for sponsoring this worldwide event, which helps the cause of conservation.

After filling the feeders, I sat on the patio with a morning cup of coffee and a pair of binoculars. Despite my presence, it didn't take long for hungry birds to appear. The most aggressive was one of the tiniest -- the Field Sparrows, which contended with each other and unsuccessfully tried to discourage other birds from getting their share.

(I should note that my wife and I took great pains to correctly identify every bird we reported to the Bird Count. The new binoculars helped considerably in detecting the subtle markings that distinguish one bird from another. If we couldn't discern the ID of a particular bird, we didn't guess and we refrained from reporting it. That said, I hope the scientists who look at these reports figure the beginning birders might make a few honest mistakes in sorting out (for example) one little yellowish bird from another little yellowish bird. Most of ours sure looked like Pine Warblers to me. Might they be the American Goldfinch instead? I don't think so, but it's possible.

The Carolina Chickadee and the Tufted Titmouse checked in, as they almost always do. A welcome explosion of color came with the Northern Cardinals (who always come early in the morning, and then again at dusk), a House Finch, and, yes, an American Goldfinch.

One of the shy birds -- the Mourning Dove -- came in numbers after Superdawg and I went inside.

After filing online ( an hour's worth of counting, Superdawg and I headed out for a woodsy walk in hopes of seeing enough birds to do a second count. Well, the bottom line is that we came, we heard, we didn't conquer. The woods were alive with the sounds of maybe a dozen different birds. An experienced birder likely could have identified them all by their songs, but the only one I was sure of was a pileated woodpecker. One of these characters used to visit us every morning when we lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It lets loose with a raucous, high-pitched kuk kuk keekeekeekeekeekeekeekeekuh kuk (from "The Sibley Guide to Birds") sound that is unmistakably and uniquely its own.  I look forward to seeing this magnificent bird soon. And I simply must obtain some of the Cornell Lab's tapes of bird songs so I can start identifying by sound alone, when necessary.

As we walked, it was under one of those deep blue ("Carolina blue") skies that is like a gateway to Heaven. There were no clouds in this sky, just the daytime outline of a crescent moon. It was enough to take your breath away.

We will be back at it tomorrow, my eighth re-birthday (as I call it) -- the eighth anniversary of my life-altering heart surgery to replace the aortic valve and root. It will be a great day to enjoy another bird count and dawg walk, Day Two of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

© Robert G. Holland  2013

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