Tuesday, February 12, 2013

This weather is for the birds!

As Nemo emptied the skies and filled my world with white, I watched in amazement as my bird feeders got emptied twice a day. Could it be that I’m the only person in the neighborhood with feeders up, or does my mixture of cracked peanuts and hulled sunflower seeds really rate just that much better than any other joint in the neighborhood?

I get all my birdseed from Wild Bird Crossings in the mall in Bridgehampton because they have great feeders (and have repaired mine for me for free endlessly) and because they have excellent quality feed. They also do a frequent buyers clubs which I need since I go through bags and bags of the stuff, especially this week.

Normally one of my neighbors has her feeders out, but from the action at my feeders, I think I’m a lone outpost in the snow and as soon as I can handle slogging through the mess that is my back yard (lots of broken limbs and destroyed trees that I can not even begin to face) I’ll let you know. I love feeding the birds, and although I’ve made big strides with planting lots of edibles for my feathered friends, there is nothing to compare with the dazzle of 7, yes you count them, 7 adult male cardinals all vying for time and space at my two front porch feeders. Dancing between the huge flakes blurring my view from the window, these electric shots of scarlet give me a joy that is almost not legal. It also makes my cats think they’ve died and gone to heaven.

It’s called Kitty TV, when the windows are so filled with birds that as a feline you are compelled to let your jaws drop and proceed to talk/meow compulsively as if any of the human or canine home occupants could follow along with the Superbowl worthy play by play you are speaking in Cat-oneses. We had a roaring fire, plenty of reading material, a couple of movies that had been dropped off on DVD for judging before the Academy Awards still to watch and I, like my cats, am transfixed by the variety of visitors to my feeders and their acrobatics.
Goldfinch, Junco, Chickadee, House Finch, Blue Jay, Starling, Nuthatch, Titmouse, Sparrow, Dove, Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, the list goes on and on. I also enticed a Sharp Shinned Hawk and a Red Tail but that’s because the hubbub at my feeders created a raptor calling card that just could not be ignored. Luckily I didn’t see anyone get eaten, but I did see some close calls and those big guys are hungry too.

If you’re reading my list and thinking, hmm, she hasn’t classified the specific sparrows she saw, I want to confess that I am a lapsed birder.

There was a time when I spent every free moment following my then boyfriend deep into the woods or the marshes or up stranger’s driveways with my binoculars and a life list. I’ve been on a pelagic trip to spot seabirds off the coast of Seattle where every single person on board threw up except me (which they all attributed to my talking nonstop the entire way out and back FYI.) I’ve spent hours in the dead of winter with a spotting scope on the beach estimating ducks be the hundreds with the best of them. I traveled for a day and a half with a total stranger as he recounted to me the events that led to his watching his girlfriend get mauled and killed by a bear just so I could checked off thirteen harder then usual to find species in Western Washington.

I was hardcore, but now I’m lapsed. I still keep my binoculars in my car, but I’m no longer an obsessive birder, although my husband can tell you a funny/hideous story from our last trip to the DR about going birding with me that involves vultures, burning garbage and a road that really wasn’t that’ll guarantee you’ll never want to travel with me.

I’m now crazy about plants instead, so I’ve settled into being a back yard birder and I am no longer obsessing over which LBJ (Little Brown Job) was that flit of brown out of the corner of my eye. So now when the Boat tailed Grackles crowd my feeders like a pileup of debutante escorts (although their pigginess does force me to switch to millet) I’m able to enjoy their show, and not be concerned with the birds that I’m missing instead. I don’t keep an official list, but I am excited about a new species showing up in the yard, and I’ve adopted the rules of bird feeding, I don’t intentional let my cats out, I’ve said I have planted oodles of plants to help feed and shelter all my native friends, and I’m fairly good about cleaning my feeders at least once a month with a solution of one part bleach to 9 parts water.

I like being a backyard birder so much that this weekend I’m going to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). It’s easy peasy compared to hanging out at the beach freezing my toes off trying to tell through frozen eyeballs which Scoter flew by way out past the breakers in the midst of all that sea mist. I can spend a minimum of just 15 minutes one day watching at my feeders, or I can participate on all four days and keep a running tab of each species I see. Then I’ll go online and report my totals at www.BirdCount.org.

The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon where amateur naturalists like myself help scientists help the birds. By having so many people contribute information from so many different locations over such a short time period they can learn a great deal about our fluctuating bird populations. Things like are there migration changes, are populations rising or falling, are various species ranges changing, is the weather effecting bird populations or migrations, are there interruptive species this year and more are all questions my info will help to answer.

I like the idea that from my living room I, and other armchair naturalists like myself, can help scientists with their pursuits. To be honest, I’ll probably spend more then 15 minutes doing it, I might even get a little avianly obsessed again, having already downloaded the special eBirds data entry app (on sale for only .99 until the last day of the GBBC.) It might be fun to be carried away again for weekend and it will certainly help me ignore the damage that this mass of snow has wrought in the back yard.

Paige Patterson has also attracted some mammals with her bird feeders, not all of which have fluffy tails, much to her husbands dismay.