An Amateur Birdwatcher's tally
Did you participate in the Great Backyard Birding count? I did. Two days last weekend I counted birds in the area. It was interesting, though I didn’t come across any unusual birds. I enjoy doing feeder watch and GBBC counts. It makes me feel like a part of a community. Also, I feel I am contributing to science. I am not a scientist, but I can help real professionals with data about birds, where they are, how many and what they are doing.
So, on Saturday, I visited one of my favorite spots near Emerald Downs in Auburn, WA. I’ve spoken of this rural like spot in my blog before. I saw three types of ducks, a Hawk, a blue Heron, a Robin, and a whole bunch of crows. It was about 4:30 in the afternoon and all the crows were settling in for the night. Also, there was a batch of Canada geese surrounded by hundreds of starlings. I wished that there was killdeer but, though I looked hard, I saw none. That was my first count.
Then, on Sunday, I went out to Flaming Geyser Park. Of course, I took my dogs, as usual. Maggie and Katie had not been out to the park for 2 weeks because of the snow. Katie particularly was excited. Flaming geyser park is her favorite place in the world except for home.
We counted five species even before we left home. At the feeders were white crowned sparrow's, house sparrows, juncos, scrub Jays, and chickadees. As we drove through the city streets, we saw pigeons, Seagulls, and crows on lawns and lamp posts. A big red-tailed Hawk also perched on a lamp post off the freeway. That made 9 before we started our birding properly.
Along the way, we saw 2 blue herons, mallard ducks, Canada geese, another Hawk- not sure what kind, and Robins mixed with starlings. The temperature stayed steady at 36 degrees. Much of the water, in ponds and in the fields and in the streams, was iced over.
But Katie and I walked in the park. The songs of 2 Red Wing blackbirds followed us throughout the stroll. The ferns were frozen, disappointing my little dog who absolutely loves those ferns. I thought I saw a wren, but I wasn't sure, so I didn't count it. We wandered for about 30 minutes, more dog walking then bird watching.
A kingfisher hung out over the marsh. A blue heron stood in the icy water undisturbed by the chill. Here in the park, snow still rests on the ground. Little Katie Hops and leaps like a Jack rabbit. She doesn't seem to mind the white stuff. But it is awful chilly. So, we pull back into the car and head home.
For the past several weeks we've witnessed to 2 kestrels on wires but this week they are missing. 17 species of birds aren’t a bad deal. Later, at Walmart, I watched blackbirds and snapped some pictures. But I didn't count those in my Sunday list because it was later. Check out my gallery of pictures on bird paparazzi.
This week, author Pamela Murrey broke her right wrist. She is right handed so some of her posts over the next few weeks maybe delayed.
My birding notebook
It was a snowy weekend. We could not get out of the driveway for much of it. So I filled my feeders and watched for the breakfast crew. Here is the start of my birdwatching experience. Later, I added pigeons, crows, gulls, and starlings. It was a slim week. But the snow is good for all in the long run.
I started updating my bird journal. This year I want to be on the lookout for birds common in King County, WA that I don't see much. I'm using check lists to figure out what I have seen and then check off what to seek. This weekend gave me a chance to start that project on paper. Maybe this next weekend I can get back out with my dogs for some real birding!
As I said last week, I bird watch in a different way that a lot of experts do. Parking lot birding, for example, can entertain me for hours. I use my camera far more than I use binoculars, especially the zoom. Some days I meander through, counting birds. Last week I identified more birds on Saturday than I did in my actual birding journey on Sunday!
On Saturday, I saw 3 types of sparrows, 2 types of chickadees, juncos, scrub jays, stellar jays, mallards, two types of hawks, seagulls, crows, robins, pigeons, a flicker, Canada geese, starlings, an eagle, and a blue heron! Quite a birding day!
In a quick jaunt to Flaming Geyser park on SundayI saw:
Seagulls. House sparrows
Red tail hawk. Pigeons
Blue heron Mallards
2 hawks in a tree. Robins
1 starling - which is very odd in farm country! Starlings can be nuisance birds in the country like pigeons can be in the city. They like a crowd. Did this lone bird not get a memo? Everyone else met on the wires in Kent? We'll never know.
My sister and I have birded together for years. Like the hawk in the picture we are on the look out. We have a system with our birdwatching that doesn’t conform to the books. We like to watch for birds, count them, list them, and do research on our whims. Of course, adding our dogs to the mix has added new spice and fun.
Many of our expeditions are alike – we are comfortable with drive by birding rather than walking miles in the woods. Flaming Geyser park is a base for us – we go almost every week. This week was no exception. The trip is invigorating although very familiar. At this time of year there is usually a lot of fog. The dog walks are amusing. The dogs are in worlds of their own and they aren’t very patient with a picture taking person. Birds don’t seem too alarmed by Maggie. I got a great series of pictures with a blue heron who seemed to be taking little note of us.
Then I found the woodpecker. He ignored us as he checked out a tree right by the road. Maggie found an interesting section of leaves to inspect so I was free to snap pictures.
This week we saw 5 less birds than the week before – but we saw a hairy woodpecker. There weren’t as many types of ducks out in the park this week. Here is a list of what we saw, from home to home.
House sparrows Scrub jays
Red tailed hawk golden eagle
Robins red wing blackbirds
Starlings mallard ducks
Seagulls hairy woodpecker.
blue herons (3 in the course of the trip!)
Check out my gallery of pictures at myyarncraftsplus.weebly.com/birding-gallery.html !
A Successful Birding day is not always measured by adventures. Sometimes the peace and relaxation makes it a good experience.
The temps were in the 40s and the skies were a mix of clear and cloudy. We worried about the fog as we turned towards Flaming Geyser Park. But the fog remained distant.
It’s usually going to be a good birding day when we count 5 birds before we leave the yard. Sparrows, juncos, chickadees, starlings, and scrub jays are excited about the food that I set out and flock to the feeders. As we pull out we quickly see crows, sea gulls, and pigeons. Soon we pull onto the highway.
A red tail hawk rests on a light pole but I don’t have a chance to get a picture of him. We turn onto Green River road and the expedition really begins. A blue heron is in the river. Ducks- mallards are in a field. We cross the bridge and miss getting a picture of a kingfisher. Twelve birds already!
Then I see the gulls flying over the field and get a beautiful picture. They are mysterious and elegant in the fog. Blackbirds line up on a wire.
A stellar jay races across the street. A flock of robins’ land in a field. By the time we get to the park we have seen 15 birds.
Katie and I march – that’s her joy. Katie is a walker and a brisk walker at that. We don’t get to see many birds. Red wing blackbirds are over the marsh. We can hear them before we see them. The females look like sparrows. It takes a while to sort them out.
As we walk along, Katie sniffing to her hearts desire, my eyes scan the trees. Is there a woodpecker on one? Or an eagle at the top of one? Not today. Crows caw and little birds warble. I can't pick out their tunes.
Mergansers and widgeons in the marsh add two ducks to the count. A blue heron stands nearby. This makes for eighteen birds. We wonder If we will make it to twenty as we pile into the car and travel toward home.
A kestrel makes nineteen– an exciting nineteen at that. Kestrels aren’t hawks, as we thought. They are Falcons. What is the difference? Falcons are smaller and their beaks are different. I have often mixed up kestrels as a hawk. Now I know better. He doesn't photograph too well, at least not for me. His red stomach seems to play havoc with the camera. But I am interested that small birds are in the tree behind him. They do not seem concerned.
A small wren in our own yard makes number twenty- quite a number for us. We are very jubilant as we end our birdwatching on week three of 2019!
chickadees scrub jays
pigeons red tail hawk
blue heron starlings
brewers blackbirds kingfisher
stellar jay red wing blackbirds
This weeks’ birding experience was fraught with more cold than danger. There were no downed power lines, no standing water over the road. But the walk was icy. The temperatures were 32 degrees at around 9 in the morning.
We were excited about getting out for various reasons. My sister and I were looking forward to bird watching. Also, we like the chance to walk with the dogs outside the neighborhood. Katie always knows when we’re going to the park and she dances in excitement. Maggie could do without the car ride but she likes being with her peeps and sister. She is getting more comfortable on our drives, and will even poke her head out the window for the breeze in her ears, like Katie. Katie would dangle out the window if she could. Car rides are great in her book.
Of course crows, seagulls, and pigeons dot the light poles and lawns at this time of day so they made our first three bird sightings. My yard birds are late risers and will be out later, when the sunshine has warmed the air.
We’re heading to the Flaming Geyser state park this morning. The trip is along rural, country style roads that are interesting in their own right. There are a variety of environments and they all contain their own promise of birds.
Several small environmental areas are along the way. The Green River runs the length of the road. A couple of bridges cross our path, with the river racing below. These are wonderful places for kingfishers, herons, and raptor birds. We added all three into our count today.
Natural and manmade ponds also are in abundance in this journey. A lovely little stream lines part of the trip. All these water features attract a variety of birds. We saw robins in the fields, as well as a stellar jay jetting across the road toward a very tall pine tree. Finally, Katie’s excitement rose and she barked with enthusiasm. We turned into the park.
We were alone in the cold right now. So we drove down the middle of the road and watched the rushing river on one side, and fields and a marshy area on the other. The car heater was on and all the windows were down. Some folk would say we are nuts.
We parked near the dog station and got the dogs out of the car. It was my turn to walk Maggie. We saw red winged black birds in the marsh and a wren perched on a cattail. Our walk was about 1200 steps according to my Fitbit watch, and crossed the meadows over by the marsh. Maggie likes bushes and poles to sniff so we wandered about in different directions to reach the scrub areas and trees.
In a quick moment I snapped a shot of a frozen mushroom. Wonder if mushrooms are annual or perennial? I’ll have to keep an eye on it over time.
The marsh had several ducks – Mallards, common female Mergansers, and Widgeons. I took a few pictures of them. Ducks are great photo subjects – they’re big and not very fast when they’re floating on the water and they aren’t alarmed if you stay your distance.
One of my best tips about photographing birds – pick big ones to start with. They’re beautiful, noble, and easy to get pictures of. Little birds move fast and are hard to catch.
Our drive home was non eventful. We warmed up and didn’t see any new species of birds until we got home. As we pulled into the driveway a host of sparrows danced in our bushes, enjoying the food I had put out earlier. When we listed our count we were pleased – 15 birds species identified.
Red winged blackbirds
Here in King County we had a very strong windstorm over the 2nd weekend of January 2019. There were plenty of downed trees. Now we inspect the toppled posts and the thick wires strewn across the road. “It's not worth it." I declare. My sister agrees. So we turn away and head to our second choice of bird watching sites. It's a rural like street not far from Emerald Downs, a large horse racing facility.
As we drive by, a bald eagle takes flight before I can catch it with my camera. He causes all the other birds to flutter upwards and circle the lake in the meadow where he had rested.
We plan to walk our dogs and look for birds. It is my turn to walk Katie, who likes to march along smartly. To our right is a dairy farm. The fields are swampy and full of fowl. They float and bob along in about three inch Water. They strut on the semi dry ground in twos and threes. In many ways it is like observing school children at recess. While strolling along with Katie, I add Northern Shovelers, Wigeons, and Mallards to my list of crows, seagulls, hawk, and Canada Geese. I love the reflections on the shallow lakes. Suddenly I realize that Katie has slipped her front paws out of her harness and is wearing it like a diaper. I am in immediate danger of having a loose dog on my hands. She is skittish, as well. In one smooth motion I scoop her up and carry to my sister, her mama and the only human being that she trusts completely. Sarah hands off a still fully dressed Maggie and gently redresses her dog. Maggie and I head back to the car. My calm natured chihuahua pug calmly scoots forward, barely noticing the change in walking companions.
I take a ten second video of a stand of trees just for fun. Then I buckle Maggie in, and climb back into the car.
We decide to traverse the standing water down the street and look for blue herons. It is an adventure. Will we get stuck? Will we sink? We do neither. We also don’t find any herons. So we plow back through with bated breath. Toward the end of our country trip we run into a road block of a different nature. Did they forget their signs? The pigeons scatter in annoyance when we pull up.
These pigeons are common city birds. That makes them no less beautiful. I love their communities -they cheer up many bridges and light poles. Simple creatures with slender heads and necks, they brighten the dark days of winter. They are members of the Columbiformes family. This group was all band tails. Rock doves and mourning doves are also familiar in this area, though not as common.
Old birds in a new year
Old birds started off the new year for me. By 7am crows are filling the skies, as they travel from their sleepy time trees to the streets and parking lots of the city. They wake in lots of company. I wonder how they decide where to go? Maybe it’s pre-determined. Do they go to the same places for the same routines? One day I plan to study that. Just because the answers would be interesting.
Seagulls land on the light posts and join their crow buddies for a few hours of calling, playing, munching, and more in the parking lots. I was up on an errand but took a few moments to enjoy their games.
Later in the morning I went out with my dog Maggie (who often joins me in my birdwatching) and we played in the yard. We weren’t the only ones. Three black capped chickadees played at my birdfeeder. I took some fun pictures of them. These are not tame – but I call them mine because they reside in my yard and feed quite often at my feeders.
Chickadees are in the passerine family – perching birds. They only briefly perch, however, being busy little creatures. They dance from tree to tree in groups. My birds call me – dee dee dee. When I hear that I know the feeder is empty. A few years ago I read an article describing how nuthatches learn the language of chickadees and respond to their alarms. The more dees involved the more serious the situation. A couple of dee -dees are just conversational.
In my neighborhood the chickadees hang out with sparrows and juncos. It’s a lively crowd, but well behaved. Starlings hang out around them as well, in separate groups. This set of chickadees is on its own, though. They are very cute stars.
After about 5 minutes of posing for the paparazzi the chickadees move on. It is time for me and Maggie to head inside. But later, we go to a rural street in our city and find lots of ducks – mallards, wigeons, and pintails swimming in the swampy fields. Canada Geese stroll in their family units and a blue heron flies up out of the water. There has been a hawk, which I have been watching, on this street for weeks. She is probably a female, a dark morph, but I don’t think she is a red tail. She poses for her picture calmly. The tree I usually find her in doesn’t have a nest and I wonder if one is nearby. I haven’t identified it yet.
A kestrel is further down, on a fence post – not doing nutting, as my cat Alex would say. He moves along as though the ducks were not tempting him to dinner. His flight sets off another blue heron who soars away despite his bulk. We walk along, snapping pictures and sniffing the interesting smells (that’s the dogs). Water rises up over the road, but not too deep. One of the farms, as well as nearby Emerald Downs, is reflected in the water, as well as Mount Rainier. It is a pleasant New Year’s Day, walking my dogs and enjoying the birds. Stay tuned for another adventure on Thursday 01/10/19! Check out myyarncraftsplus.weebly.com/birding-gallery.html for more bird pictures. Happy birding!
He was a sweet faced greeter, though a raptor bird. The sign was perfect for him to rest on. I loved him immediately.
The rough legged hawk posed well. We took multiple pictures of him. Then we went on through. It wasn’t surprising that there were no other birds hanging out at that end of the park. Near the main parking area, however, we saw a single Mallard duck, a contradiction of normalcy. Mallard males almost always have company. His ladies must have been off on a girls morning out. There were no red winged blackbirds among the reeds. But we did see a robin.
Maggie and I wandered in one direction, Katie and her mom wandered toward the river. As we approached the swamp I got excited. A bird! On the cat tails sticking out of the marsh!
Maggie and I did our usual wrestle over stopping and pointing the camera. I won, and snapped a shot. Then I had a thought. The bird had not moved at all. Was it actually a bird? Or a fake? My enthusiasm dimmed. What I thought was a bird was actually a cattail. “Maggie, we tussled over a fool’s errand.” In her favor, my dog was not smug.
The sound of the kingfisher carried over from the river. I did not see him, but I heard him. Then the rain came. It was a real downpour. In less than 400 steps we were both sopping wet. The birding walk ended early. Katie and her mom rushed along as we climbed into the car. As we left the park, the rain stopped.
On the way home we saw an odd duck in a field. It was so interesting we turned around and went back for a better look. An oncoming car caused us to pull over to a rare stopping point for us. In a period of 5 minutes we saw blue jays, flickers, chickadees, juncos, and sparrows! All of them were in one yard! When we reluctantly pulled back into the street (before the residents could come out and start charging rent!) we slowly passed the spot where the duck was. It was a mallard, as far as we could determine. But he gave us a chance to view a lot of birds!
Our weekend birding jaunt ended happily as we pulled into our yard filled with juncos and sparrows and our very loud scrub jays. As usual, our bird watching took about 2 hours, filled with a lot of fun. Days like this keep me coming back for more.
Fall spurs more bird watching for me than any other season. Spring is second. But now, when the air is cooling, the wind is sometimes wild, greenery has sprung to life after some rain, now is a busy season.
At home I am cleaning all the bird stuff – feeders, feed container, and fountain. I also clean up around the feeders. Birds are appreciative guests but not neat eaters. They charm me with their daintiness and cheerfulness but not with their manners. My cleanup is basic but thorough. I scrub each bird feeder and suet holder with bleach water, then rinse them fanatically. Then I let them air dry before putting them out.
I took a long weekend of birding to celebrate the season. There were the regular errands to do. But they were not my focus. At Walmart I found brewers’ blackbirds mixed with starlings and crows. At Safeway gulls mixed with crows. I was glad to see the gulls. They seemed to have vanished most of the summer. Now they are back.
A hawk was on a light pole on highway 18. But my favorite Saturday bird was the hummer outside of PetSmart! There was a pair, but one of them flew away. The other gave us a show. It closed the day on a sweet note.
Sunday was a regular bird watching day. I filled the feeders and the suet so when we returned the yard would be full of chickadees, sparrows, and juncos. The dogs were excited about going to the park. Just as exciting was after we got off the highway when the windows came down. After Katie’s adventure of throwing herself out the window we only lower them partially. Maggie doesn’t mind that. Katie pouts a bit.
Rolling fog has started coming through in the mornings. This isn’t something we like in our drive by birding. But we travel through a valley so we have to deal with it. For a while the sun looks like the moon behind the thick fog. Then it burns our eyes as it pierces through the soupy atmosphere.
The term “early bird” is not as accurate as I would expect. Pigeons aren’t often up until we return from our birding. This becomes more common as winter progresses and light struggles to overtake darkness. But we saw three hawks on this trip. No blue herons. We saw red winged blackbirds but no kingfisher. Katie and I saw a solitary robin as we strolled along, but birding was light this morning.
Upon coming home, we found juncos, chickadees, and sparrows happily ignoring the scrub jay who seemed to be giving directions of some kind. It was a good bird watching weekend.
I love birdwatching. It's relaxing and fun. Even though I've been birding for over 10 years I classify myself as an amateur birder. I plan to write a blog a week about my experiences. Hope you enjoy them!