Sunday, February 20, 2011

Great Backyard Bird Count

Tomorrow is the last day for the four day Great Backyard Bird Count. It's the easiest of the counts and surveys that I do. Anyone can participate. Just count birds for at least 15 minutes wherever you are. More info here:

I count the birds in front of the barn while I'm milking goats. I always watch the birds that come to the grain I throw out daily but on these count days I actually write down what I see. And I write down whatever other birds I see during the course of doing chores. On the first day of the count, Friday, I saw five bluebirds behind the barn while I was filling water buckets for the goats. These are the first bluebirds I've seen here in over a year. Two years ago a pair nested in our bluebird boxes, but something happened to the male and the female was left to raise one surviving nestling on her own. That baby fledged successfully and mama and baby left without returning. I keep hoping for a new pair to take up housekeeping here.

Mostly what I've seen the last few days is one or two Cooper's Hawks keeping all the birds in an uproar. The California Quail that have come to feed every day for the last year have quit coming at all, thanks to the predatory hawks. This fellow, after chasing everyone off yesterday, was himself harassed by an angry crow until a second Cooper's, much bigger so must be the female, arrived to chase off the crow. This guy is what birders call a "sub-adult", meaning he's changing from his juvenile, first year, plumage into his adult plumage.

Today the resident pair of mallards were joined by a pair of Canada Geese. These are the "neighborhood" geese: they seem to wander between our neighbor Vicki's much larger pond and neighbor Paul's pond. Nothing bothers them... not our dog walking by nor a tractor going noisily past nor even my riding lawn mower backfiring right next to the pond. These geese have nerves of steel.

A suet feeder hangs near the house so I count the Black-capped Chickadees hanging from it as I walk from house to barn or vice versa. The feeder can only be accessed from below. I was tired of feeding jays expensive suet. They could go through one block in about 30 minutes. Dark-eyed Juncos feed on whatever they find in the lichen hanging from the tree, and sometimes sit above the suet feeder keeping the chickadees away, but the juncos have not figured out how to hang upside down and eat suet.

Although not countable, the prettiest bird of all is our peacock, who patrols the area where I throw grain, intimidating the smaller Golden-crowned, Song and Fox Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, Juncos and even the brassy Steller's and Scrub Jays. They don't seem to realize they are probably safest when the peacock is nearby. No Cooper's or any other hawk messes with him.

No matter how often I watch birds, I always learn something new. On this count, I learned, by prowling through one of my raptor books, that a Cooper's Hawk can be identified by the bands on the underside of its tail: they do not match up. Check out that photo above and see. But I also learned that the books are not always right about everything. All my books say that Accipiters (of which a Cooper's Hawk is one) are silent except at their nest site. Wrong. My Cooper's hawks talk every day when sitting around. They make a mewing sound. When annoyed, they make a scolding sound (the same sound the books say is made only near a nest). And just recently, I've heard them make a tiny cheeping noise, like a baby bird, when I approach very closely to their hiding place. Soon after I hear that little cheep, I can expect a Cooper's to burst out of the area. One did so yesterday and managed to dunk himself in the creek on his way through the brush. He landed nearby and shook himself free of water drops, looking rather annoyed. I tried to get his photograph but he demurred, taking off in what I imagined to be a fit of pique.

I look forward to one more day of having a good excuse to take time out from chores to watch birds.

No comments:

Post a Comment