Monday, December 15, 2014

A Holiday Tradition For Birders

 It's that time of year when the annual Christmas bird counts are taking place all around the northeast.  Prior to 1900 it was tradition to shoot as many birds as possible. Counting them seems to be much more in the Christmas spirit. I participated in a local count over the weekend. 

The day before the count I started out early in the morning crossing the train tracks and heading down toward the river to start a dry run through the count circle territory.
I found a Merlin on top of a wooden post out on the water.  I believe it was just outside the count circle so I tried to signaling it to fly up river.
While Santa decides who's naughty or nice I'm searching for ponds free of ice.
On the day of the count some people are curious as they see us wandering through the neighborhood in search of birds. Some stop by to say hello or wish us luck. Others fill their bird feeders to help our efforts.Even the deer are curious about what we're doing.
For me the Christmas count is not just about collecting data. It is a way for birders to participate in a fun tradition around the holidays.  It is also a reminder that all birds big and small are of great importance to us all. That includes Song Sparrows.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Eagles Offer A Gateway To Birding

There are many times when I'm out birdwatching that I here the question-"Have you seen any eagles?". Sometimes I'm just asked if I've seen any with the assumption that I must be looking for eagles. Every winter people in Connecticut who have little interest in birds beyond what they see at their feeders venture out on the weekends with their binoculars in search of Bald Eagles.
It was over 10 years ago that I was doing the same thing. I was amazed by how many eagles could be found right here in Connecticut as they traveled down from the northern states in search of open water. Now they regularly nest here and can be found along the Connecticut River year round. Once I saw my share of eagles I started to point my binoculars in the direction of other birds. That was the turning point when I went from someone who looks at birds to someone who actively seeks them out-(aka-a birder). 

For some it may have been the sight of their first bluebird, oriole, owl, or Great Blue Heron that first lured them away from their backyard birdfeeder and into the local farm field with their binoculars but the eagle has got to be near the top of the list of birds that have served as a gateway to the world of birding.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rating My Interest In Random Birding Topics

(morning Scene from Wangunk Meadows in Portland)
( adult male Northern Harrier (gray ghost) which I saw at the meadows last weekend)

 While I'm out birding at various places I often run into other people who strike up conversations with me (or vice versa) about birds or other aspects of nature. While we may not always share the same views, I can still appreciate listening to someone who is passionate about their interests. 

 The following topics have some up over the years on more than one occasion. I've added a few personal thoughts and assigned a rating of 1-10 based on my level of interest in each topic.The higher the number the greater the interest.

Preserved Land- 9 : I've probably spent hundreds of hours exploring Wangunk Meadows Wildlife Management Area (above) and get really fired up when I discover a new place that has land which has been set aside for preservation. What stops it from scoring a 10? Some of these protected lands turn out to be duds when it comes to birding action.

Rare Birds-6 : I don't get overly excited about sightings of rare birds unless they are super rare, super interesting to look at, or  I've never seen one before. My favorite part of driving out to see a reported rarity is that it is like a concert event for birders. It's fun to be a part of the scene.

Native Plants- 5: I believe its a good idea to use native plants when  landscape you backyard but I don't think the birds are always impressed. I visited one field on several occasions that has been cleaned out and replanted with a variety of native grasses. I've never seen any of the birds there that they were hoping to attract.Also, I've noticed that birds seem to eat the berries off of non-native plants just as much as the native ones. They don't care-they just want food! Unfortunately, birds eating everything also leads to the spreading of  invasive plants.

Invasive plants-7 : There's some nasty invasive plants out there that like to wrap their vines around trees or choke out other plants. I hate the chore of having to pull them up out of my backyard. it seems like a lost cause but I give thanks to those who go to park and preserves to try to clean them out.

Introduced Birds-9: I don't understand why people get so worked up about species of birds that were brought here by us against without their consent. House Sparrows, European Starlings, Mute Swans etc. are here to stay unless nature decides otherwise so why stress about it? I guess the melting pot mentality does not extend to birds. I wonder if there would be a campaign to destroy House Sparrows if they looked and acted like bluebirds? Something to think about.
Have you Seen Any Eagles?-7: This has been one of the most common questions that others ask me when they notice I'm carrying  binoculars. Sometimes I get a little tired of the question. Then I remember a time when I rarely saw them so I am thankful that I can now see Bald Eagles almost every time I'm out birding in my area.There are a lot of people who aren't into birding that think eagles are cool so it's a good conversation starter.

Species that are difficult to identify-4: I never liked piecing together the blue sky section of a puzzle and in the same way I don't like the challenge of scrutinizing tiny details in birds. I prefer species that are easy to identify and have very distinct markings of their own. I get bored with picking out a difficult to identify gull or trying to tell the difference between a Western and Eastern whatever look-a-like. However, if there are other birders around who are into that stuff then I'll be glad to listen to their identification pointers and let them do the work for me.

Brand of binoculars-3: I used to hear a lot about top of the line binoculars but the cheaper binoculars have gotten better so I don't hear much talk about this binocular versus that binocular much anymore.

Reporting Rare Birds-4:  I generally only report a bird it if I think it is truly rare or uncommon in a specific area. If I don't have a photo of it or feel that it's unlikely to be relocated I might just let it go because I don't want to be bothered with the scrutiny. Sometimes I just use e-bird.

Bird photography-7 : I don't know how to properly use the settings on a camera and don't  like the challenge of using one. I just want results. When I see photographers I sometimes ask them for advice. If it weren't for the fact that I need bird photos for this blog then I don't know if I would bother using one. 

Elitist Birders-5: On many occasions I've heard complaints about elitist birders. I don't really know who they are or really care but I'm sometimes amused by some of the stories I hear.

Dishonest Birders-2 : Obviously it's wrong to make false reports about bird sightings and it makes me curious as to why someone would do such a thing. I don't really get fired up about the topic. The idea that those who are suspected of such an act are shunned from the birding community for life is more interesting than the act itself.

 So there you have it. My ratings of random birding topics. Are any of these hot button topics for you or do you have one of your own?