Friday, February 11, 2011

Adventures of the ornithologist wanna-be

I'm having a field day.

It's my day off and I'm sitting outside on the steps of my back porch watching birds. I decided that sitting indoors by the kitchen window is infinitely more comfortable, but frankly will not do for proper birdwatching. Not to mention missing out on the birdsongs and sounds that sitting outdoors would provide. So I decked myself out in warm winter gear and prepared myself for a long uncomfortable sitting. Also, learning from past experiences - gloves are a necessity, along with a camera and a pair of binoculars.

I had previously identified a few of the birds flying around in the yard, and to date I am able to easily spot the chickadees, the tufted titmice, the finches, cardinals, plus the occasional woodpecker and visiting blue jay. That said, to my amateurish disappointment, I am unable to figure out if the chickadees i see are black-capped chickadees or carolina chickadees. I would think that since I'm in NC, it would probably be a Carolina chickadee, but I do not want to make any assumptions. A good birdwatcher does not assume. :p

And then there are the finches. Now, are they cassin's finches or house finches? Or purple finches??? Even when armed with the online Cornell Lab guide, a chunky Smithsonian Field Guidebook from the library and after a million googled images i am left with so much doubt. I'm going to have to read up more about these darn birds!

Although today has been a very productive and exciting day. Not only did i see the usual suspects, but i spotted 3 birds that I am still unable to identify. One chirps like the red-bellied woodpecker and scales down trees, pecking at them, and the other looks most definitely like a downy woodpecker, or a hairy woodpecker. ARGH! See what i mean?

And there is a blue bird with an orange breast and white belly. J said it looked like a robin, but according to the Smithsonian, i think it's most likely the Eastern Bluebird. The most exciting bit is that it's checking out the birdbox nailed to the post on our porch. Are we gonna have bluebird babies soon?????

Pretty bluebird via Music of Nature

Birdwatching can be taxing. Especially when you want to get close to the birdies. You sit in one position, not moving, and wait in silence to gain their trust. The chickadees are the first to try their luck. They dart in and out, making quick moves at the bird feeder, never staying very long in a single spot, which I guess makes them so daring. Then come the titmice, who are equally quick but stay a little longer on the feeders as if proof of their bravado.

After the chickadees and the titmice have lingered around long enough, you get the finches. And they come in a swarm. At one point I counted 12 goldfinches pecking diligently on the ground. And then a couple of female house/purple (whichever type they are) flit in, before their male counterpart joins them.

You know you've made progress when you finally see the cardinals. They wait patiently on the branches watching the smaller birds before swooping in when they figure the coast is clear. However, like a brute, it swoops down to the feeder, only to squawk at the smaller birds to make way for its arrival. The male cardinals, bright red ones, look like rare red blooms on the bare trees.

And then, right about this time, you start to feel your sitbones, i mean really FEEL them. Then you practice complete muscle isolation and control to shift into a new position in slow motion, in order not to make any abrupt movements that will scare the birds away. Otherwise, you start the whole process from square one.

So that basically summed up my not-so early morning bird watching experience. I have tomorrow and Monday to try again and hopefully I wake up early enough to catch some different new birds.

White-throated sparrow via Wallpaper Academy

post script:

As i was finishing up this post at 4 in the afternoon, I spotted a new bird! I had originally thought it was a female house/purple finch, but because i had the binoculars, i'd seen splotches of yellow on its face. After a careful search, I'm proud to say I may have spotted a white-throated sparrow! Wheeeeeeee!!!

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