Saturday, March 4, 2017

Finding Joy in the Great Bird Count

The 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) has ended, and the good folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon Society, and Canada Bird Studies report it was the biggest yet. Almost 215,000 birdwatchers worldwide (I was one!) logged 5,940 species. No, I did not see any of the rare birds, such as the Great Gray Owl spotted in Massena, NY., or the flock of 40 Bohemian Waxwings (wow!) in New Hampshire, or the Pink-Footed Goose in Newfoundland, or the Jungle Owlet in Kerala, India. I can relate, however, to the excitement of the second-grader in Memphis who told her teachers, "This is the best day of my life! I got to see a Downy Woodpecker!"

The Great Gray Owl

Woodpeckers are regulars in my backyard, so just about every day is the best day of my life. Many of the other birds I observed were on the Top 10 list worldwide: Northern Cardinal, American Crow, Mourning Dove, Dark-Eyed Junco, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-Capped Chickadee, House Finch, House Sparrow, White-Breasted Nuthatch. My most exciting discovery was the presence of bluebirds that inhabit a swampy area beyond local ballfields because of the existence of many dead trees to serve as housing for them. Of particular note from the GBBC sponsors was the bounce-back of Crows from the bottom of the Top 10 to No. 2 this year. They take this as a good sign, perhaps, that Crows are rebounding after being hard-hit by the West Nile Virus. I see a lot of Crows around here, and respect them as perhaps the savviest birds around.

I also saw plenty of my good friends the Double-Crested Cormorants, Canada Snow Geese, and Snowy Egrets. Oh, and not on a bird count day, but I spotted two Mute Swans on a local lake last week. We used to see a pair of these gorgeous creatures virtually every day for years, but then they disappeared. Sure hope they are back -- or a new couple is. (Swans, of course, mate for life, a trait not necessarily shared by humans.)

"Our" Swans

All this is a big yawn to my incredible walking dawg, Miss Ellie Mae, who thinks birds are prey, along with pretty much anything else that moves. (Thank God she hasn't caught one yet.) Today, this part-Chesapeake Bay Retriever stopped suddenly, went into her pointer stance, and barked loudly and steadily at a heavily vegetated pond we were passing. I wouldn't be surprised if a gator lurked in there somewhere. They do pop up around these parts occasionally.

Anyway, the next Great Backyard Bird Count will not start 'til February 17, 2018. Ah, but you can keep in touch and report the birds you have seen year-round. Just check out birdcount.org for details.

Happy birding -- and dawgwalking! Or birdwalking, if you will.

                                             © Robert Gray Holland  2017

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