Saturday, February 9, 2013

Preparing for the Great Backyard (and Beyond) Bird Count

It is fun looking forward to participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count for the first time ever. Here's hoping that the actual event will be just as much fun as the anticipation. I think it will, because birdwatching and dog walking are natural companions. Both get you off the sofa, away from the television set, and outdoors thinking about the wonders of the natural world.

With Superdawg walks added to feeder watching while seated, our little corner of the event could be called the Great Backyard (Plus Extended Neighborhood) Bird Count.  I plan to watch both at the feeder and out on our walking routes. The rules say you can do both.

The GBBC starts this Friday, February 15, and runs through Monday the 18th. This will be its 16th year, and it helps scientists learn a lot about such things as the migratory patterns of various species, and the differences among birds in urban, suburban, rural, and natural areas. You can watch and count birds for as short a time as 15 minutes on one day, or as long as you like each day of the event.

It is an event that welcomes everyone from beginning bird watchers to experts. Although I have maintained bird feeders in the mountains and at the ocean, I definitely fall in the novice category. My biggest challenge is noticing the very small differences distinguishing one bird species from another. For instance, I thought I had identified as a pine warbler a pretty little yellowish bird that is a regular on my winter feeder, but our bird columnist in the local  paper has been writing about the American goldfinch, which my guest may very well be. ID must be more precise than, "Hey, honey, some pretty little yellow birds just made a quick stop on the feeder, then flew away."

The GBBC website has a Tricky IDs page to help in distinguishing similar-looking species. One example is the chickadee -- the Black-capped Chickadee and the Carolina Chickadee can be easily confused. Maybe I can start sorting them out with the help of this guidance. And there are three kinds of red finches, and who knows how many sparrows? How about all those hawks soaring overhead, and the magnificent shorebirds ready to take flight upon our approach?

Before the count begins, I must acquire a decent set of bird-watching binoculars. That would seem to be a must-have. For those of you interested in taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, details are available at www.birdsource.org  Happy birding, and happy bird walking!

© Robert G. Holland 2013

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