Except for last year, I have spent every President's Day weekend since 2009 at my kitchen door counting birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count—open worldwide for the first time ever. Don't let the bright sunny pictures and winter-blooming camellias in the pictures fool you. Every morning that I counted (Saturday through Monday), water in the bird bath iced over in the wee hours of the night. While the birds might have shivered on the chilly, windy days of the count (relatively speaking, my friends up North), I stayed warm. I set up my station so that I watch from inside and get some chores done when my eyes tire. Since we are doing so much science this year, I opted to do this count solo.
During the count, I sighted many old friends. The most exciting moment was today when I spotted a red-breasted nuthatch—a winter visitor to the Carolinas. I have not seen one since we moved from Colorado in 2001. Imagine my delight!
Another delightful moment was making a new friend. Today, I identified a ruby-crowned kinglet for the first time in my life. This teeny, tiny bird is another winter visitor to the Carolinas. Discovering unfamiliar birds makes bird-watching addictive. Talk about awe and wonder!
While some homeschools have children memorize the state this and the state that, I prefer to know these things by getting to know them in real life. Meet the South Carolina state bird, the Carolina wren. Its favorite food at our feeding station is suet, and I enjoy watching it hang upside-down on the suet cage. Relationships are vital and nourishing.
Two birds I find difficult to shoot with my camera are friendly Carolina chickadees and the tufted titmouse pictured below. These related species behave in the same way at the feeder. They hide in the safety of the camellia and do a hit and run on birds, fleeing back to their camouflaged position. What I love the most about the titmouse is its round face with a black button-eye. Relationships allow you to make connections.
The Baltimore oriole first caught my attention a few years back. First, I caught it taking a bath. Late, I figure out that, when an isolated spot in a camellia waved wildly back and forth, an oriole was feasting on camellia flowers. I never knew the bird enjoyed dining at our feeders until today! Relationships allow you to refine your observations.
SQUIRREL! When attention wanes, it helps to change your thoughts to something completely different!
Some things require closer attention. These birds—a mourning dove, Northern cardinal, and chipping sparrow—may appear friendly to you. They are not! In the past three days, I have seen them shove each other off feeders and defend their turf with fancy aerial acrobatics.
Forget about that cute little mockingbird song. The northern mockingbird is one of the biggest bullies on the block. I once watched one aggressively defends its crepe myrtle tree against a flock of migrating American robins. They think nothing of thunking a squirrel on the head. The mockingbird belongs behind bars!
Bird-watching invites curiosity! I catch myself tilting my head like this American goldfinch all the time!
Speaking of finches, I just love this shot of a house finch surrounded by camellias!
Only a few species of female songbirds in North America sing. The female Northern Cardinal is one of them. I did not know that! My next line of investigation will be to catch one in action.
As Valentine's Day was the day before the backyard count started, here are a few shots of my favorite couples!