Monday, February 08, 2010

Mark Your Calendars!

It's that time of year again . . . next weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count! Rather than repeat what I have blogged before, here are some posts to give you some perspective and advice:

The Value of Nature Study
Scaffolding Kids in the Bird Count
Day One of GBBC 2009
Final Day of GBBC 2009

At first, you might find it hard to identify birds. This one completely mystified me last year, and I kept thinking it was an American goldfinch. Every day, I watched it sample camellia fruit from a neighbor's yard. I could always tell the bird was there by the way one cluster of leaves would wave wildly and then I would see a flash of gold, followed by another cluster dancing around. One day I caught him (the flashy color gives his gender away) taking a bath. I snapped a photograph and emailed an Audobon Society representative in our area. It turned out my "finch" was really a juvenile Baltimore oriole. The drab orange made him look finch like from a distance. This year, he is sporting bold orange colors, leaving no doubt of his identity!

Bird-watching feels like a treasure hunt sometimes. This morning, I walked outside and heard the sweetest music imaginable. Perched in the three pecan and two oak trees in our yard were hundreds, maybe thousands of robins, making me believe that Punxsutawney Phil got it wrong this year, ignoring the Facebook photos of my friends in the D.C. area attacked by Snowzilla.

Last year, the kids and I startled at a huge thud against the window of the television room and had a rare opportunity to photograph and record our first headbanger bird. Last year, we spotted a gorgeous painted bunting, even during a rare snowfall. Even if we don't meet any new friends this year, we will enjoy seeing our faithful ones.

You don't need much to get started. Birds need food and water. We have the bird bath stationed right next to the food supplies: suet in a suet cage, seeds in a feeder, and a bag of thistle. Some birds use both, but others feed on what's wild in the yard: robins and their worms, chipping sparrows and their pecans, orioles and their fruit.

We also have bird books and a notebook with clear pictures of birds we typically see in our yard. I usually take pictures first and then look things up because cropping and zooming in on specific features helps me nail an identification.

Really, other than the set up, it doesn't take much time. You only need to spend fifteen minutes, counting, and a few more of entering data. It is really cool to be part of a nation-wide scientific study! Join us!

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