“Safer at Home” Birds

American Avocet_ShorelinePark-MtnView-CA_LAH_8894r

While some states are beginning to open up, Colorado just instituted a new rule—we have to “recreate” within ten miles of our homes. No hiking in the mountains, unless we already live there. No driving out on the plains to look for raptors. No chasing rarities in other parts of the state. If the bird isn’t in my immediate area, I’m simply out of luck.  I can’t even walk the trails at our county’s nature centers, as they’re at the other end of town, far past my ten-mile radius.

While I chafe under the restrictions (and try to understand how I can spread a virus while alone in a car miles from anywhere), I’m attempting to be patient. So what if I missed the Philadelphia Vireo in Jefferson County, or the Hooded Warbler in Kiowa? There will be other chances, other migrations.

Meanwhile, I’ve topped off my feeders* and filled the birdbath in hopes that the birds will come to me. Perhaps this is my opportunity to improve my birding ID skills, not because I’m seeing unfamiliar birds, but because instant recognition of common birds helps us to spot the uncommon ones when they appear.

As is typical in suburban Colorado—especially in brand new neighborhoods such as ours, without mature landscaping or large trees—the vast majority of birds in my yard are House Finches. So I’ve gotten very familiar with House Finches. I know the shape of their beak, the subtleties of tan and gray striping on the breasts of the young and females, or the shades of red (or orange or yellow) on the males. I can visualize the precise shape of their heads, both on cold, windy days and in the warm sunshine. Never again will I hesitate in distinguishing them from other reddish finches, such as Cassin’s Finch or Purple Finch—even though I have yet to actually see a Purple Finch.

I’ve finally (!) learned the songs of the ubiquitous American Robin. That one has stumped me for years, as I have virtually no musical memory. But yesterday, on yet another walk around the neighborhood, I heard the bird before I saw the bird, and I got it right. Now when I read that a Black-headed Grosbeak sounds like a robin, I’ll know what they mean. (If I only had the grosbeaks in my yard here as I did at our last house, I’d also learn to tell them apart.)

I’m hauling my camera equipment around the yard, trying to find an angle where I can capture an image of a bird with no houses in the background. When we lived on five acres, it was easy. I even set up perches with food to encourage my subjects to land exactly where I wanted them. Now that we’re in a neighborhood again, I have to get creative. It will be much easier when my flowers bloom (I’m still aiming for that perfect shot of a hummingbird on the Bee Balm—sure I can do better than these!), but at least I’m taking pictures. I don’t want my skills to get rusty.

When I’m not staring out the window (and I’m doing far too much of that lately) or going for walks, I’m finally catching up on all the photo organizing I’ve put off. My files are getting labeled, tagged, and sorted into their proper folders. I’m processing some of my favorite shots (like the American Avocet at the top of this page) while the extras are getting deleted—a huge project in itself. Field guide in hand, I’m assigning IDs to mystery photos, and adding an occasional species to my life list in the process, such as this Rufous-crowned Sparrow I photographed in Ramsey Canyon, AZ back in 2012.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow_RamseyCyn-AZ_LAH_7918

If I look hard enough, there are a few benefits to being “safer at home.” Right?

* I’m actually defying our HOA (gasp), which ordered all feeders to be taken down in a (futile) attempt to discourage house-damaging Northern Flickers. I did remove the one block of suet they could reach, and I’m monitoring my feeding station. I have yet to see a single flicker at my sunflower seeds or sugar water (although they’re banging on our roof). The HOA will have to be satisfied with that; I have my limits.

The answer to last week’s quiz is a female Lark Bunting.

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