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Birds on the brain

This past weekend I participated for the first time in the Audubon Society's Great Backyard Bird Count, in which ordinary folks spend at least 15 minutes observing birds in their own yards. Turns out you can also observe in other sites, but I opted to watch birds from my back deck. As my house backs up to a more or less wild arroyo, I decided to count the entire canyon as my backyard. I'm neither clever nor coordinated enough to take photos while trying to identify birds, so I have no pictures to share with you. I do, however, have data!

Saturday 13 February 2016, 16:51-17:18

Saw and was able to identify:

  • American robin (Turdus migratorius)
  • Dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis)
  • Oak titmouse (Baeolophus wollweberi)
  • Golden-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)
  • Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) - nesting in a eucalyptus tree across the canyon!
  • Fox sparrow (Passerella iliaca)
  • California towhee (Melozone crissalis)
  • House finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
  • Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
  • Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna)

Heard and was able to ID:

  • Western scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica)
  • California quail (Callipepla californica)
  • Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus)
  • American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

Sunday 14 February 2016, 12:14-12:33

Saw and was able to ID:

  • Northern mockingbird
  • Red-tailed hawk (the same nesting pair)
  • Wrentit (Chamaea fasciata)
  • Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)
  • Anna's hummingbird

Heard and was able to ID:

  • Chestnut-backed chickadee (Poecile rufescens)
  • Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus)

Monday 15 February 2016, 16:57-17:27

Saw and was able to ID:

  • Red-tailed hawk (in nest)
  • Anna's hummer
  • Purple finch (Carpodacus purpureus)
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Chestnut-backed chickadee
  • American crow
  • American robins
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • Wrentit
  • Fox sparrow
  • Western scrub jay

Heard and was able to ID:

  • Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)
  • Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus)

All told, in the three observation periods I identified a total of 20 birds from my backyard. Granted, what I'm calling my "backyard" is a lot bigger and more wild than most, which is why I love living where I do: I get to look down to watch birds in flight. I have no idea if 20 is a lot or a few bird species to see at one time in a single location. There are at least that many other species I see commonly or occasionally but that didn't show up this weekend.

This little project helped me validate my intuition by demonstrating that the middle of the day is not the best time to watch birds if your goal is to see lots of different birds. Clearly, more birds are active in the early evening than during midday. I intended to have a sunrise observation period but never managed to get my act together enough to pull it off. I would expect perhaps as many species as in the early evening, but not necessarily all of the same species. As I write this I can hear the hooting of a pair of great horned owls, audible even over the din of the chorus frogs. The owls hoot back and forth to each other, sometimes all night and into the hour or so before sunrise. Even though I've never seen one, it makes me happy to know that they're in my backyard, along with the raccoons, skunks, opossums, nesting hawks, deer, and the occasional bobcat (and who knows, maybe even a mountain lion every once in a great while). I am fortunate to have all of this nature literally right outside the back door. I do indeed live in paradise.

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