Winter Water Solution: Heated Birdbaths

House Finch_LaVeta-CO_LAH_2316_filteredI’m gazing out my frosted window at the birds in our backyard. In the four hours since sunrise, the thermometer has only climbed from 13 to 15 degrees. Tiny snowflakes waft down onto the deck and bird feeders. The predawn fog has frozen onto every twig and blade of grass, turning the landscape into a fairyland of hoar frost.

The birds—House Finches, Dark-eyed Juncos, a few pigeon—are devouring my black-oil sunflower seeds as fast as their little beaks can crack the shells. A flicker has staked out the suet feeder. (I miss the nuthatches and chickadees from our old house, surrounded by pines.) But as popular as the feeders are, the birds are also flocking to my heated birdbath.


The Early Birder…

American Avocet_AlamosaNWR-CO_LAH_2180… catches the bird. While it’s not wise to be an early worm, being an early birder pays off. You’ll see more birds than those who sleep in and, if you’re a bird photographer, you’ll have better light to capture them by.

I was once again reminded of this during a couple of back-to-back visits to the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, in south-central Colorado.


Birding with Children

winter-bird-count_fcnc_lah_6101My granddaughter, Willow, is only a month old, so it’s a bit too soon to be buying her binos and a field guide. Still, I’m looking forward to our first adventures outside, watching her joy as she discovers grass and flowers and ladybugs and, yes, birds. I hope she’ll be as fascinated with God’s creation as I am.

Since I hope to create a budding birder, I want to make sure I go about this in the right way. You can’t force a kid to love nature. So I’m already reading articles and talking to birding parents and grandparents about what works and what I should avoid.


Sorting Out Sandpipers

semipalmated-sandpipers_chicobasinranchco_20100501_lah_4500Late August is one of my favorite times to go birding. Maybe that’s because I really like shorebirds. I grew up near the beach, and studied marine biology in college—and I still get excited about anything to do with the ocean. The shorebirds here in Colorado are nowhere near a coastline, but they’ll have to do, at least for now.

The calendar may still say summer, but shorebirds consider this time of year to be fall. They’ve finished nesting, and it’s time to head someplace where winters are warmer. Many species breed in the arctic, and Colorado is right on their route south.


Birds—and Butterflies and Blooms, too!

aquilegia-caerulea_blue-columbine_emeraldvalley-co_lah_2992-revSummer birding can be somewhat unproductive, but that doesn’t mean you should stay home in front of the air conditioning. So what if the birds are busy nesting and raising young? Birds aren’t the only attraction in the great outdoors.

I recently took part in a field trip led by several naturalists. Among them, they had combined expertise in birds, butterflies, and blooms. What a great combination. When the birds were busy, we turned our binoculars on the colorful butterflies fluttering around us. When the butterflies were scarce, we  focused on the drifts of wildflowers along the trail. With so many fascinating subjects to examine, there wasn’t a dull moment to be had.


Some Cool Birding Ideas

sunset-grandcanyon-plhSpring migration is over, and the birds are all focused on mating and raising their families. The weather is too darn hot outside to be enjoyable, especially when one is hauling binos, field guide, water, scope with tripod, notebook, lunch, and possibly a camera. Then, to top things off, the sun is coming up at an hour when even birders would prefer to catch a few extra zzz’s. The early birds can have their worms.

Of course, most of us won’t let a few inconveniences like that stop us from birding. Sure, we may have a bit less enthusiasm, but we’ll still traipse around in the hot sun if there is the possibility of seeing some birds. But wait. You don’t have to suffer in the heat. There are a few things we can do to make our excursions more bearable.


Armchair Birding: “Brushed by Feathers,” by Frances L. Wood

brushed_feathers_book_better-229x345It’s 15 degrees outside, the snow is not so much falling as being hurled against the windowpane, and the highway patrol has just closed the interstate. You are itching to go birding. What’s a snowed-in birder to do? One solution is to grab a fuzzy blanket, a nice cup of  hot tea, and hunker down with a copy of Brushed by Feathers, by Frances L. Wood.

Starting in January, Wood chronicles a year of birdwatching from her perspective as a naturalist, artist, speaker and writer. While the material is factual and informative, the true worth of this book is the way in which it is presented. The author comes across as an old friend sharing her birding journal with you.


Winter Birding in Colorado

kettlecreeklakes_2008-11-22_lah_361rOur recent warm spell is lovely, but it’s still January. Temperatures swing back and forth between cool and freezing. Trails are icy, and sometimes blocked by snow. This is traditionally a time to hole up and hunker down. We are attracted to warm firesides, hot chocolate, and snugly quilts. But if you, like me, are passionate about nature, and birds in particular, can we be content to sit by the fire? Just because the temperature outside is in the single digits, are we to ignore our obsession and hibernate like bears?

Of course, some birds have opted for tropical vacations, and I’m sure we would love to do likewise. But if the schedule and budget don’t allow for a trip to Central America, be encouraged. There are plenty of birds to be enjoyed right here. A surprising number of species hang around for the season.