Monday, February 18, 2013

Old Friends and a New Friend

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!


Mary Baker said...

I enjoyed this so much, especially with the RDI comments! Please identify the last couple for me.skleye 502

walking said...

You make me laugh, Mary! As I was writing, I had the ideas of Charlotte Mason in mind, which shows how seamlessly they fit with RDI!!!

The lovely couples are mourning doves, house finches, and American goldfinches. (I mentioned them and the links are in the text above.)

Megan said...

How do you get these great pictures? I only have a cell phone camera, and it never zooms in enough. Sadly. I need to save up for a good camera. I'm so jealous! These are absolutely gorgeous.

Susan said...

LOVE the pics! As one of your northern friends, all of our bird watching has been through our window from inside our warm house. The birds aren't too friendly in the dead of winter here and are very hard to spot but they've been letting their presence be known again now. Spring is coming! But I might wait until Victoria Day in May to try a bird count, LOL! What a wonderful way to spend the weekend!

walking said...

Megan, I am so hard on cameras that I did not want to buy something expensive and break it. I embedded a link in the words "my camera" to what my Christmas present (a Panasonic lumix DMC-FH25). It's a point and shoot (idiot proof) camera, and I paid $125 for it. I bought a camera case and I have been making a point to wear the strap on my wrist, even when pulling out the disk or battery, or keep it stored in its case.

Bright Side of Life said...

I have so enjoyed catching up on all of your posts. I can see that your nature studies are WAY different from mine!! :-)

walking said...

Except for the occasional venomous snake and potential for being invaded by wild boars where we walk once a week, mine are far less dangerous than yours, Di!

I'm glad Canada picks a bird count day with more temperate weather, Susan.