Monday, February 20, 2012

The Great Backyard Bird Count in Review

Today is the last day of the four day Great Backyard Bird Count. Mostly I just count the birds that I see while doing my daily chores, like those above, but yesterday, the only rain free day of the count, I hiked through our woods to Agency Creek. The creek was no longer muddy, but still running full from all our rain.

As I sat and waited for birds to appear, the lone Red-tailed Hawk that lost its mate to a power pole electrocution last month (see January's "A Raptor-Centric Week") appeared carrying a stick and landed on last year's nest. Perhaps, I thought, the widowed bird was refurbishing the nest in hopes of attracting a mate. That made me sad. Wanting to get a photo next time the bird brought nest material, I sat and waited. But the bird did not return to the nest (below left). Instead I saw it soaring, alone as it has been since the tragic death of its partner, around and around: a small, lonely figure high in a vast sky.

But after many minutes, a second hawk appeared! I watched as the two hawks circled together and occasionally made courtship dives. Oh happy day! "Our" Red-tail appears to have a new mate and will nest here again. Life is good.

This morning, another serendipitous sighting came while cleaning the horse shelter. The resident Bewick's Wren came out of its usual brushy lair and flew into an apple tree screaming its head off. I looked around to see what was the cause of the hysteria, but could see nothing... until I looked up and watched a Bald Eagle fly overhead. I can't imagine that a brush inhabitant like a Bewick's would worry about an eagle, but maybe the little wren's job is to alert everyone in the neighborhood to Look Out! Danger Above! The eagle was paying no attention to anything below and quickly flew out of sight... after adding another species to my GBBC list.

Although the rain is back today, I hiked through the woods before lunch anyway, hoping to add to my rather short bird list for the count. By chance, a small flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees came by with several kinglets of both varieties in tow. I made a valiant effort to get photos but failed. As soon as I focused on one spot, the tiny bird moved to another. While chasing wee birds around with my camera, I noticed one hiking itself up a trunk. A Brown Creeper! I haven't seen any here for several years. And today, miracle of miracles, there were two traveling together with the kinglets and chickadees. I was determined to get a photograph but they were more determined to move out of range as soon as I clicked the shutter. You will have to take my word for it that the lump on the right side of the trunk (in photo below left) is the back end of a Brown Creeper moving out of sight. I didn't do much better with the Chickadees. Mostly, I got lovely lichen and moss covered branches where a bird had been a millisecond earlier.

Unless something else appears out of the rain (that I can see from my window because I'm not going back out), my species total for the four days stands at a paltry 28. At least, bird species. There were also chipmunks and rabbits to be seen... and, of course, flowers... flowers that hold still for the camera much better than birds. Yesterday's clouds had their own beauty, too, framed by blue (or at least not completely gray) sky.

The Great Backyard Bird Count provides a wonderful excuse to get outside, even on gray and drippy days, and notice the world that I too often just walk past on my way to do chores.

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