Dec 11 2008
Winter Dunes, Gordons Pond, Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware, USA
For this edition of I and the Bird, I’ve imagined that a hardy collection of bird bloggers has all gotten together for a Christmas Bird Count. Now the hard work of the day is done, and we’re all gathered together to share our observations. Pour yourself an eggnog, grab a spot by the fire, and let us tell you all the wonderful things we found.
Christmas Counts, for all their carefully controlled repetition, always produce surprises, which is a big part of what makes them so addictive. Duncan Fraser made a Change of Plan when he was surprised by a Great Egret, which in turn led him to a cornucopia of interesting waterbirds.
Bird Ecology Study Group checks in with a beautiful short photo essay documenting a Black-naped Monarch in display. The angelic poses struck by this bird would serve as fine models for some lovely treetop Christmas ornaments.
Sometimes, the most valuable thing to come out of a Christmas Count is not population data but an experience that sparks a new birder. LoraKim Joyner recounts just such an incident in Tears in the Field.
Painful misses are, unfortunately, as much a part of birding as the surprising finds are. But any data, even negative data, is valuable and birding–like life–is what you make of it. Witness Beth Hunter’s account of a night spent Waiting for Godot’s Owls.
Perhaps you have a covert agenda when birding–maybe you’re also looking to find hot birder love. Hmmm…does that make it an undertail covert agenda? Anyway, if you a birding lonely heart, always scanning the flock for potential mates, you’ll want to read Birdchick’s advice on How to Pick Up a Birder.
In much of North America, winter is considered the worst birding of the year, but in Just Another Amazing Day in AZ Rick Wright reminds us that the worst can be pretty darn good indeed.
Wherever you are, it’s important to note weather conditions, as well as ice and snow cover or the lack thereof–key variables that influence which birds are present and which ones we find. The Ridger reports some cool observations of a heron On Ice.
One of the pleasures of an evening spent in birder company is hearing talented storytellers relate the amazing finds of others, preferably those in far-off, warm lands full of colorful birds. GrrlScientist does a masterful job of telling just such a tale, entitled, The Evolution of Poisonous Birds.
In ornithology, it’s just as important to raise good questions as it is to find answers–and what birder doesn’t love a mystery? Check out finchwench’s exploration of the puzzling Pied Raven, or Hvítravnur.
Stakeout birds–those known to be previously present, inspire both anticipation and anxiety in Christmas Counters. If a rarity has been present in your area, you’ll naturally be excited at the prospect of relocating it and adding it to the count. But what if you’re the first one to miss it? Beverly Robertson successfully avoids this fate by finding a King Eider in Piermont.
The very, very best stakeout bird experiences are those where a search for a known rarity leads you to find one of your own, which is just what happens to N8 in Broad Appeal.
You’ll increase your chances of finding interesting species if you prepare yourself in advance. Shrikes, even where relatively common, are wonderful to find. Beverly from Rural Chatter provides a great primer for would-be shrike finders in Shrike: a Butcher Bird.
David J. Ringer uses just that sort of knowledge in finding a Northern (Great Grey) Shrike in southwest Missouri.
When you’re doing research, there’s nothing like having the right reference. Grant McCreary sings the praises of Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion in Truly Essential. After reading Grant’s review, I think a lot you may hope that Santa will leave a copy under your Christmas tree. Just a little warning, though–you’re gonna need a big tree. (Just kidding, Pete & Lisa!)
Do you like a few big presents, or a whole bunch of cool little ones? John Beetham checks in with a stocking full of interesting Birding Notes.
Just as important as rarities–perhaps more so–are high and low counts of regularly occuring species. Paula Sullivan goes Out on a Limb and estimates 150+ Bald Eagles in a spectacular trip to Eagle City.
On a truly chilly Christmas Count, one gains a new level of appreciation for the hardships faced by birds. How do they survive for weeks on end in conditions that would kill us off in a matter of hours? Seabrooke Leckie explains some of the adaptations and strategies used by American Goldfinches braving harsh conditions in Tarnished Gold.
If you think it’s tough surviving in a chilly woods, how about living on a slimy rock at the edge of an icy lake or ocean? Bundle up and read Kenn & Kim Kaufman’s Purple On The Rocks.
Bad economic news got you down? A Christmas Count not only gives you ample return on your investment that day, it can pay dividends months down the road. Check out Larry Jordan’s Red-shouldered Hawks Nesting Atop An Oak Tree for hot tips on midwinter scouting for next spring’s raptor nest sites.
Perhaps you are traveling for the holidays; even so, chances are you can still join a Christmas Count wherever you go. Ecobirder describes the benefits of out of region birding in South Dakota Burrowing Owl.
Artist Vickie Henderson postpones a five hour car trip and is rewarded by an audience with a most charismatic resident in Pileated Woodpecker Pays a Visit.
Christmas is a favorite time for kids, and we always have to keep an eye toward recruiting that next generation of Christens Counters. My lovely wife Liz tells about attending a class designed to help us do just that in Flying Wild…Something to Crow About.
Speaking of that next generation, Neil Gilbert, who isn’t yet old enough to drive but more than makes up for it with amazing birding and biking prowess, is already making wonderful contributions to birding endeavors of all sorts. For our Christmas Count, he brings in the lovely Bark Bird.
One incredibly valuable birding skill I greatly envy in those who have it is the discipline of keeping meticulous records. There is no better tool for turning interesting insights into valuable, valid observations. James Brush makes it look fun and easy in Project FeederWatch Week 3.
Christmas Count birding is undeniably cool. Close encounters with cooperative raptors are even cooler–check out Bill Schmoker’s marvelous Harlan’s Hawk photos in Cooperation is Cool.
As winter closes in, we welcome our old feathered friends back to our feeders. But not everyone settles in for a winter of somber sparrows and blackbirds. If you live in South Florida like Eva does, the arrival of winter means it’s Painted Bunting Season!
And while many of us think of winter bird feeding as a time dominated by suet and sunflower seed, more and more birders are tending winter hummingbird feeders, with increasingly good results. Of course if you live in Southern Arizona like Sheri Williamson, hummingbird feeders are a year-round preoccupation. She offers some fascinating observations on tailoring those feeders to attract the visitors we want in Do we see what bees see?
One of the best ways to get birds to come to your yard is to grow plants that tempt them with their favored winter feasts, as Amber Coakley does in Waxwings flock to habitat megastore.
If you participate in a Christmas count, you may well be tasked with locating and counting rare and restricted-range species. It’s a rather heady assignment– if you miss them, the count may miss them entirely. Fortunately, Carrie is on the case of the Florida Scrub-Jay, as she describes in Black Friday, Part 1: Jay-walking.
What are the quintessential Christmas Count Birds? In North America, I’d say it’s a toss-up between winter finches and winter owls. Fortunately, our blogger CBC luck has been good on both fronts. Join Noflickster as he witnesses a White-winged Crossbill Irruption.
Then, join I and the Bird’s patron saint, Mike Bergin, for Owl’s Well That Ends Well.
Finally, every Christmas count seems to have an all-around triple-threat birder–the the one who not only finds the rarest bird and identifies it correctly, but also writes up immaculate fieldnotes, and submits prize-winning photographs. Ladies and gentlemen, Pete McGregor and The migrants.
By the way, expect my soul to restlessly walk the earth like the ghosts of Christmas Counts past, present, and future combined if I die before I get to see a Wrybill.
Here’s hoping that your end of year birding, whatever traditions and protocols underlie it, is full of good birds, good friends and good blogging. Happy Holidays, everyone!
And don’t forget to submit your New Year’s goodies to Tim at From the Faraway, Nearby by January 8, 2009, for inclusion in I and the Bird #91.