Listing Addiction

Facdscf0365-1e it, you’re hooked. You didn’t think it would happen to you. All you wanted was to know the name of one bird. You naively picked up that field guide. Was that bird at the feeder a Black-headed Grosbeak? Or perhaps it’s a Spotted Towhee? Hmmm… there are so many birds in here. And they all look so interesting! You’re familiar with a few—Robins and Pigeons, House Finches and House Sparrows. But wait! Is that really a House Sparrow? Perhaps it’s a Black-throated Sparrow instead! And there are two kinds of goldfinches at your feeder? Better look more closely.

Then you realize that lots of those birds in the field guide never come to your backyard feeder. Where are they all? Maybe it would be fun to plan an outing to the local nature center. Better bring those binos, just in case.

One day you wake up and realize that what all began so innocently is now a full-fledged addiction. You’re a birder. Now what?

Once you have started finding and identifying birds, the natural next step is to want to keep a record of what you have seen. While not all birders keep lists, most do. Many keep more than one list. It all depends on your personality.

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Support Sustainable Forests

Migration has died down. The birds have arrived at their destinations, and are spending their time and energy raising a new generation. But where were all those birds headed, anyway? Most went north, far north.  The Boreal Forest in the Northern U.S. and Canada is essential breeding territory for many species of birds.

evening-grosbeak-home-2008jun05-lah-033cOne familiar bird impacted by the fate of our forests is the Evening Grosbeak. Evening Grosbeaks are birds of boreal and montane forests and are therefore susceptible to all the incursions into those habitats. Chemical control of spruce budworm and other tree pests lowers this species’ food supply and may also cause secondary poisoning. Competition and the spread of disease among house finches, goldfinches, and other feeder birds may also be playing a role in the decline. Finally, populations are affected by fluctuations in insect populations and the frequency and intensity of forest fires.

Federal and state legislations promoting sustainable forest management will help fight habitat loss from inappropriate logging, mining, and drilling. Become educated about the issues and write those legislators who are most likely to make critical decisions. The informative article in the Sept./Oct.,2008 issue of Aikorns is a good place to start.

A Delightful Read

a-guide-to-the-birds-of-east-africaI recently read a book that I just have to recommend. A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, by Nicholas Drayson, is a delightful read about love and birding.

Combine un-confessed love, complicated by a long-standing rivalry, with detailed descriptions of life and politics in Kenya. Add a generous helping of Kenyan birds. Stir with charm. It’s the perfect recipe for a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

Mr. Malik is short, round, and brown. He has a classic comb-over. At 61, he has been widowed for 8 years. Burying himself in his  family-owned manufacturing company only led to a heart attack. To relieve stress, he has taken on several other pursuits, including birdwatching. Although he has never let on, he is in love with…

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New Photo Galleries

paradise-tanager-denverzoo-20090527-lah-236rI’d like to highlight my two new photo galleries, featuring my favorite photographic subjects: birds and flowers.

Instead of writing an article this time, I’ll let my pictures speak for me.

You will find them in the list of  links to the right side of this page. I expect to be adding more photos as I get chances to go take them, so check back every so often.

House Sparrows

You see them everywhere… singing outside your bedroom window, eating squashed bugs off your car windshield, cleaning up spilled crumbs at sidewalk cafes. They mob bird feeders full of millet and take up space in nest boxes intended for other species. I’ve even found them in a tiny town in the middle of the Utah desert, miles from anything wet or green. One would think that House Sparrows are one of the most successful species ever to populate planet Earth.

house-sparrow-denverzoo-20090527-lah-093
Male House Sparrow

Not closely related to North American sparrows, House Sparrows are relative newcomers to the Western Hemisphere. They were deliberately introduced during the latter half of the 19th century in repeated attempts to establish a breeding population in the U.S.

While the story is a bit foggy, apparently the birds were imported to eat insects that were damaging crops. If so, it was an egregious error. House Sparrows are primarily seed eaters, and according to one study, 78% of those seeds come from agricultural crops intended for livestock or human consumption.

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The Birds and the Bears

Grizzly Bear_DenverZoo_LAH_1488Last week’s news story about a local woman’s encounter with a bear while out walking prompted me to consider the responsibility we have in preventing this sort of event, which resulted in the death of the bear.

In most cases, bears approach humans because they associate us with food. As one who delights in feeding birds, I’m very aware that what I intend for the birds may also be relished by bears. While bear sightings in my neighborhood are very rare, many neighborhoods along the Front Range extend into bear habitat. We would do well to take precautions.

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A Garden for the Birds

The following article was first published by the Colorado Springs Gazette on March 21, 2009:

broadtail-hummingbird-keystone-20may07-lah-837rA brightly colored hummingbird zooms past on its way to a feeder. A finch fills the air with music. Birds provide us with hours of entertainment. How can you welcome more wild birds into your yard?

Like other animals, birds have a basic need for five essential elements: water, food, shelter, safety from predators, and a place to raise their young. While it’s fun to provide bird houses and feeders full of seed, you can design your landscape to offer these necessities and truly give yourself a yard for the birds.

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Foiling Flickers

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM! My story about flickers was fictionalized, but based on personal experience. Last spring, flickers really did invade our home.

By August, my husband and I realized we’d nailed scraps of wood across 15 large flicker-sized holes. Piles of fluffy insulation littered the ground beneath each one. That fall we replaced much of the cedar siding on our house, to the tune of over a thousand dollars. The question became critical: What could we do to prevent the birds from drilling into our new wood?

A lot of people must be having the same problem. A quick web search turned up plenty of suggestions, but not much in the way of success stories. Inflatable owls don’t work—the birds are smarter than that. Flickers quickly become accustomed to hanging strips of aluminum, Mylar balloons, and small colored windmills. What else could we do?

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What’s that bird that’s driving me crazy?

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM. I was awakened early this morning by insistently loud hammering on the metal chimney guard on our roof. Yup, it’s that time again. Our resident Northern Flicker is announcing his ownership of our property. This year we’re ready. But last year we had a major issue with these woodpeckers. They drove my husband crazy, and inspired me to write the following story:

Not even the cat is awake before 5 am. Soft snoring comes from the bedroom, darkened by shades against the early appearance of the sun this time of year. It’s a lazy Saturday morning in mid-March. Nothing important is scheduled for hours. Later there will be errands to run, chores to catch up on, phones ringing and dishes. Right now, all is peaceful, all is calm.

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM

Like a staccato burst of machine gun fire, the noise reverberates off the metal gutters directly outside our bedroom window.

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A Memorable Owling Trip

I went camping last weekend.

Why would anyone even partly sane choose to go camping in February? This was no trip for sissies. We set up camp at 9,500 ft., on top of a mountain in Colorado. It was definitely cold. One weather website claimed a low of 8º F, much lower than the predicted 16º. While I am a die-hard camper, this was pushing even my limits. So why did I do it? One word: owls.

owling-camp-rampartrangerd-2009-02-28-lah-541

As I’m sure you know, owls are active at night. Therefore, if you want to see one, you must become a night-owl too. And, if you’re going to be up that late, you might as well spend the night. At least, that was the theory.

Why this time of year? Owls are early nesters. They are currently flirting with one another, pairing up (sometimes with last year’s mate), claiming territories, and in general, going about the business of making baby owls. (Ornithologists explain that the predilection for winter nests produces hatchlings just when most rodents are having their litters, ensuring plenty of small, newborn prey for the owlets.)

A birding friend is doing a survey (part of Colorado’s Breeding Bird Atlas II project) to determine which bird species are breeding on her assigned quadrant at, you guessed it, 9,500 ft. elevation in the Pike National Forest of Colorado. She needed to go count owls. Well, we couldn’t let her go all by herself, could we? So we packed our hot cocoa and hand warmers and set off. (more…)