You’re out in the yard enjoying the garden, or lying in bed in the stillness of the night, when you hear them. It’s a unique sound, a resonant, nasal honking, sounding much like a high flying traffic jam. I may be challenged when it comes to distinguishing warblers or sparrows by their calls, but Sandhill Cranes are so distinctive, even I recognize them as they fly by. Summer is over, and the cranes are heading south. Since I’m in Colorado, their destination is likely Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, in central New Mexico, although they range as far south as Mexico and Cuba, and as far west as Siberia.
House Sparrows are frequently despised by North American birders. An invasive species, they commandeer nest cavities needed by native birds, hog feeders, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Agricultural pests, they’re the target of various, and usually unsuccessful, “control” strategies, yet I have to admire this species. In spite of all our attempts at thwarting them, House Sparrows continue to thrive.
The neighborhood seemed quiet this morning. Was it the overcast skies and drizzle muting all sound? Was it that the kids are back in school instead of riding bikes around our cul-de-sac? It took me a bit of thinking before I realized what was missing.
Have you ever been on a snipe hunt? These nocturnal adventures are a classic part of summer camp. After explaining that a snipe is a small, furry creature, your counselor hands you and your cabin mates each a pillowcase and a flashlight. Then you’re turned loose in the dark and spooky woods (illustrated at right) to practice your “snipe call.” At various times, your counselor may ask, “Did you hear that?” or “I just got a glimpse—it went that way!” Of course, this sort of snipe is a mythical beast, and you are the butt of a practical joke that the counselors will find hilarious.
On a trip to Washington this past February, it seemed strange to see (Anna’s) hummingbirds coming to the feeders. Here in Colorado, we aren’t so lucky. The species we enjoy here depart in the fall and don’t return until the end of April—or even later. Still, I’ll be brewing up some sugar water soon. I typically hang my feeders around April 25, just in case some early arrivals show up in the backyard. (When temperatures dip below freezing, I take the feeders in for the night, then warm them a bit for the birds’ breakfast.)
Last month, I explained how to ID a Northern Shoveler. This time, I thought I would write more about their ducky lifestyles.
I just added bird #19 to my yard list. That may not sound like very many, but we only moved into our new house in May, and we had no landscaping until August. Birds are rarely attracted to bare dirt!
Not surprisingly, #19 was a Dark-eyed Junco. Vertical migrants, Juncos spend the summer up in the mountains, nesting in the conifers, and descend to lower elevations for the winter. At 7,100 feet , our house barely qualifies as a lower elevation; the park up the road, a mere 200 feet higher, hosts juncos all year.