January 01, 2006

Birds on the Brain

Yesterday, New Year's Eve, was the 2005 Portland Christmas Bird Count. The day dawned overcast, but not drippy. The weather was quite temperate for the day, easily the warmest CBC date that I've experienced, and the rain held off until around 11am. After a very wet Friday, the period of dryness was very good at bringing out the birds who are looking for the break in the weather to find food before that next downpour. The afternoon was mostly rain, with much briefer periods of clearing, yet even that was enough to provide us a window to see an American Kestrel fly in the center of Southeast Portland to survey the neighborhood. Despite the rain, we racked up 40 species and found that crows seem to be the most weatherproof birds we found. All in all, a satisfactory CBC day.

red-breasted sapsucker
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Paul Bannick
This morning Weekend Edition had a piece on project feeder watch. If you are even mildly interested in birds, a great way to get in on the action is to put out feeders to attract them to your yard. And if you have a feeder, you too can provide data that will help the scientists track trends and populations in the United States. It turns out that one bird that has been coming on strong is my latest yard bird, the Red-breasted Sapsucker. These guy were very rarely seen even a decade ago. So the question is, why is that? Are they becoming more common or have they moved from the forests into our backyards or are we just doing a better job of seeing them because more of us are looking? With the data collected via the feeder watch, we can start to get some answers.

Finally, a couple of book recommendations. The first book is one I got for a Christmas present this year: Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. This book is beautifully written and bound to enhance one's sense that even ordinary birds are extraordinary creatures, well worth paying attention to.

The other book is for those who have succumbed to the lure of birding and want to know how to become a better birder. The Ardent Birder: On the Craft of Birdwatching by Todd Newberry and Gene Holtan can teach you a lot on what to do to improve your birding skills. Todd Newberry is a Santa Cruz birder and has been practicing his craft for over 50 years. As this review notes, he has recommendations about what binoculars and scopes are good and even where you should consider going to find birds:

He also lists some non-intuitive places that new birders might consider when looking for birds: cemeteries, pocket parks, trash heaps, sewage ponds, highway rest stops, construction sites, vacant lots and "seedy public picnic spots."

It's a very birdy world when you know how to look properly.

Indeed it is. And some of the best birding I've experienced was in cemeteries and at sewage ponds.

If you are in the Santa Cruz area, you can sign up for a field trip led by Todd through the Friends of Pajaro Dunes.

May your 2006 be filled with some good books and joy in simple things.

Posted by Mary at January 1, 2006 11:30 PM | Recommended Reading | Technorati links |

I went down to my favorite birding haunts, Cook Park in Tigard but the wetlands had become a part of the Tualatin River because of the high water so I had little luck. I did get a great picture of a squirrel though.

Posted by: Ron Beasley at January 2, 2006 09:39 AM

I live fairly near some sizeable grain elevators, which are absolute wildlife magnets. Rats, pigeons, birds of all descriptions -- with the added attraction of raptors feeding from this live buffet.

Posted by: Scorpio at January 2, 2006 09:46 AM

Tuesday afternoon, I saw one of Portland's yellow-streaked finches/wrens(?) on NW Everett and 21st. Not so commonly seen, those birds. I've seen small groups of them (full yellow head and breast) near OMSI. And, a neighbor had a feeder that kept a large group of really beautiful (full yellow with black spots) species in North Portland. Amazing. Makes me miss my cockatiels, Fifi and Godzilla.

Posted by: Art at January 3, 2006 08:26 PM

Two books I read during the last year I would highly recommend. One is Kenn Kaufman's Kingbird Highway, the story of one of the first attempts at a "big year." Absolutely fascinating, particularly when compared to "The Big Year," which occurs much later (Kaufman's big year was 1973). The people in The Big Year spend MANY thousands of dollars and fly all over the country at the ring of a phone call; Kaufman hitchhiked tens of thousands of miles (I can't find the number right now, but I remember it averaged to hundreds of miles per day), and spent less than a thousand dollars all year!

The second book, quite different, is "The Verb 'To Bird'" by Peter Cashwell. It doesn't have that same overriding theme of a big year, but it's a really well-written book about what it means to be a birder.

Posted by: Eli Stephens at January 3, 2006 10:30 PM