Friday, February 15, 2008

Great Backyard Bird Count

Today is the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count. Don't worry if you missed today . . . there's always tomorrow . . . or next year. Don't worry if you cannot tell the difference between a robin and a cardinal! Back in 1999, when I first got interested in Charlotte Mason, I had no clue about bird identification. Slowly, over time, figuring out birds became easier and easier--although, I do not think I will ever be able to tell the little brown blobs (sparrows and finches) apart!

If you are a sequential thinker like me, the first step is preparation. I gathered my bird books, watercolor pencils, nature notebooks, cameras, etc. I took a quick walk before we started to see what kind of birds I could look up in advance (uh, we have not done much birdwatching in our new old house). I decided to spend 15 minutes with each child so that I could devote my full attention to Pamela. We filmed each walk: one person was the spotter and the other one shot footage. Even when we did not capture a bird digitally, we could hear the running dialog of what we observed. After the walk, we recorded our observations in the nature notebooks.

Things did not go as smoothly as we would have liked. David complained about the sun in his eyes, so next time we will wear ball caps. The camera disc wigged out on me and I cannot transfer the recording to the computer! We did watch the recording on television, which allowed us to pause and get a more accurate count. Maybe tomorrow I can share some footage. Here is David recording his observations and drawing a northern mockingbird.

If you have never identified birds, here are some tips:
  • Rule out birds that are out of season.
  • Rule out birds that are not in your habitat: no waterfowl or marsh birds in my backyard.
  • Enjoy what you see and mark the ones you do not recognize as "unidentified."
  • Look for behaviors: some birds forage on the ground, some birds travel in flocks, some fly in a choppy manner.
  • Study the silhouette.
  • Listen to their calls: the camera was a great tool in recognizing birds by their call.
  • If you see something soaring, try to get the flight profile and pay attention to numbers (a group versus lone rangers).
  • Try to be declarative in taking turns telling what you see.
  • Don't fret if your autistic child stims on the word Mufasa and says, "Let's get outta here" near the end.
Tammy's Crow

If you are new to drawing, here are some tips:
  • You are recording a memory: perfection is optional.
  • If you mess up, try to add in something to cover it (that branch in my picture was a black blob that escaped from the crow's tail).
  • Use 80 lb. watercolor paper if you are doing water colors.
  • Outline the item in yellow before painting it.
  • Never use the greens provided--make your own greens and layer different shades of it.
  • Paint with a very dry brush with the hairs smoothed to a point.
  • Keep it as dry as possible.
  • Don't worry if you make a mess of things. I always flub something!

David's Walk: 11:41 AM to 11:56 AM
The first thing David and I spied was a northern mockingbird foraging on the ground. We saw the silhouette of an American robin in a tree. We spotted about twenty common grackles also foraging on the ground. We think we heard two common grackles, hidden in two trees across the street from each other, calling back and forth. David and I saw a lone black thing soaring way off in the distance behind the house and thought it might be a turkey vulture because of the solitary nature of that species. Later, we saw seven black vultures soaring high above the house. The elegant swirling flight of these birds fascinated David. We did not identify thirteen birds in flight or sitting high up in trees.

David's Northern Mockingbird

Pamela's Walk 11:58 AM to 12:13 PM
Pamela and I saw about six unidentified birds. We hit the jackpot when we spotted a huge flock of common grackles in a tree in my parents' backyard. Pamela estimated thousands of them in her count, but I think there were fifty maximum. I recognized this very noisy gang by their loud squeaky gate hinge squawks. We walked to the back porch and sat down to draw when two American crows landed in the pecan tree near the carport. Their classic "caw-caw" gave them away. Crows are much larger than grackles, but not as large as the ravens we watched in Alaska and Colorado.

Pamela's Crows


MasterpieceMom said...

Tammy, I finally love birds! LOL It took me a while too, for sight identification. I can identify the brown blobs now. LOL (and i've learned to appreciate their sublt yet beautiful markings) But, now i'm trying to learn the calls. That's going to be difficult for me. I have the cd's of Birds in the Carolinas playing in my van now when we go out. Hoping that will help.

Way to go today! We don't have the grackles yet and the robins have just today started visiting. You can visit my blog for our pitiful finding for today. Why wasn't this Great Count two weeks ago when i identified 17 species and in bunches?!?

walking said...


17 species--that is what I call hitting the jackpot!

I borrowed your idea to place a Great Backyard Bird Count button in my sidebar! Neat!

Another possibility is to film your bird walk. Then go to the online Bird Guide and compare calls with what you have on your bird walk recording.

Prince Andrew and the Queen Mum said...

I am just starting on our Nature Study and not a nature gal at heart...but I have to say that this has been a kick in the butt! and it is fun! I am hoping that my enthusiasm will lead to Andrew's interest. I'd love to get him interested in something other than his cartoon characters!!!! We did the watch yesterday.... and a brief time today at the picture window. (We are putting on Andrew's blog and I will link to mine eventually.)

I am laughing because I am not sure what the test showed but I am random for sure. I just opened the blinds, saw a bird and thought...let's start our watch now. Oh wait, where is the camera?? and where are those binnoccular??. Thankfully I have a 'place' for those 2 things and grabbed them in no time. Oh wait- Andrew..go get a piece of paper and a pencil!

I'm getting better because both Andrew and I are random...not a good combo we are putting all our illustrating / drawing things in one area. Thanks for the hints and tips. We are at the very beginning of being able to draw what we see- but I think this is great fun!

if anyone else wants to track our watch (done on random days)..

Prince Andrew and the Queen Mum said...

Where did you find the logo thing on the website? trying, unsuccessfully, to find it...

LAA and Family said...

We're just starting nature study too as we transition into a more Charlotte Mason method of doing school work at home. What a great project to start with, though I think we'll have a scaled back version of what you do. Thanks for the suggestions ,especially the one about not fretting when one's autistic child starts stimming ! :)

walking said...

Queen Mum, I found the buttons at the GBBC blog!

LAA, An interesting sidenote is that some CM researchers are very interested in the parallels between CM and Vygotsky, which are striking. Some of RDI is based upon the work of Vygotsky (whose work is covered in Awakening Children's Minds).

You might find some of the files at ChildLightUSA helpful, too. They have three online magazines for free and are uploading free audio files from last year's conference.