Thursday, January 16, 2014

Learn about birds from the comfort of your home and win binocs from eBird

I have not blogged for quite awhile. Been busy with just "keeping on", then with holidays, and  horribly frigid temperatures and then unfortunately with medical situations mostly with my lovely wife (thankfully all is resolved, understood and fine now!). As I have said before, we are fair weather birders. Is it spring yet?

But throughout it all, I still had time for birding. It is usually as simple as watching my feeders while having morning coffee and watching again as I cook dinner. Sure, I gotta keep the feeders filled, but small effort for a great source of pleasure. Well, usually a small effort! The first few inches of snow I can just push off the deck, but then the snow is piled up at the edges of the deck and I no longer had "pushing room". Add 6 or 8 inches of snow to that and it starts becoming work. Yes, I am a wimp - it happens as I age and hear about all the hospitalizations and occasional deaths  from shoveling snow. But I take my time. I am so thankful that our condo association does all the sidewalk and driveway clearing and all I need to do is make a path to my deck feeders!

And, I record my birds daily. I sporadically add my checklists to eBird. Besides having eBird keep track of all my birding records, I like to do this to give back to the birding community that has been so supportive - and I would almost say loving - to us.

During the winter, I especially like the "winter specials". This year the main specials are American Tree Sparrows (ATS) and Slate-colored Junco. Being more home-bound this year, I have had more of a chance to observe them more carefully. It is interesting to see the color and pattern variations.

For example, the size and darkness of the central breast spot of the ATS varies widely. As do the shades of gray (maybe not 50, but many shades) and patterns of the Juncos.

And who arrives first? Usually the Juncos. Then they are usually the last to leave. In between, they go somewhere so as not to deal with the House Sparrows (HOSP). The ATS come and go all day. While they seem to tolerate HOSP, they prefer not to associate with them.

Another interesting observation is that the male Downy Woodpecker almost always goes to the beef suet bought in the meat department at the local store, while the female prefers the block suet sold as bird food. Interesting! I learned a few years ago that winter birds (mostly Downy WP) prefer beef suet to cakes. One winter - before I started using beef suet -I went through only one "bird cake" until the Starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles attacked it in spring. "Where's the Beef?" as an old ad suggested, and I have used beef suet for the last three years with good success in winter.

Speaking of Red-winged Blackbirds, I now view them as the first birds of spring. Folklore tells us that Robins are the frst sign of spring, but for the last week I have been seeing a flock of about two dozen Robins flying about here. No worms to find in the snow-covered frozen soil, but lots of fruits and berries left over from last year on the trees. With the car in the garage, I cannot vouch that they are eating berries as I could in the fall when they were leaving daily messages for me on the car from the tree above the driveway, but I suspect they have a food source. And with openings in the Clinton River behind our yard, they can at least get fresh water. I always record a few Robins in winter.

And for real fun some days, sometimes we throw out a handful of shelled peanuts for the jays. I am totally convinced that peanuts shout when thrown on the deck! "Oh, nooo Dr. Bob! Not the deck!" They should just remain silent! Invariably the jays descend within two to three minutes. Jays are so much fun to watch with peanuts. They never take the first one they pick up! They try several - pick up drop - pick up drop - pick up ... Often they will go back and pick up the first one they tried. If there are lots of peanuts, and they are the only jay there, they will pick up at least 4 or 5 before selecting one. Even if there are only two peanuts left, they try each one. I am guessing that they are trying to fit more than one into their mouth/throat at a time, but they are rarely able to. Fascinating! During the 5 to 10 minutes where the jays are picking, dropping, picking, dropping,  Judy and I are often left in stitches of laughter! Which tends to remind me of some musical I saw. Thanks to Judy (who knows all these things) for reminding me it was The Music Man!

Anyway, before  I close, I want to note that the trigger for this post was a web page I follow. Nemesis Bird is a great compilation of, and index to, many birding blogs. Good stuff!

It led me to Birding is Fun. Another web site with good stuff!

Which in turn led me to a post about this month's eBird challenge - record an average of one checklist per day for the whole month of January and you might win a pair of Zeiss binoculars. Cool. And they suggested that if you had a blog, you could register with them (Birding is Fun) for this challenge and they would put up a link to your blog. I am going to do that.

And there I found a reference to a blog by my good friend Janet Hug of which I was not aware. It is called Nature's Feather Music. Great title.  Janet is so busy being social administrator to the Oakland County Audubon Society, being a weather spotter, being a contact for local media stations and all sorts of other things, it is a wonder she has a blog at all! I just love this woman.

Geez! We need not go out and about in winter in adverse conditions. With deck feeders and the internet, it is even too much to keep up with as we keep our feeders full and live vicariously thru others. Birding is indeed fun - however we choose to do it!

Now let me see if I know how to post the "badge" for the One-a-day eBird Challenge using copied html...

 eBird Challenge

It worked! I got the badge, but not sure how to link it. I tried. Maybe it worked so that if you click on pic it will work. Else go back and follow other links. Do it! (Hey! Not so bad for an "old fart" working the internet! At least I got us this far...!)  Go bird - without going! Record and post to eBird.

PS: Oh sure I have plenty of pics! But with some on my cell phone, some on the Kodak with which I take daily pics of the yard (hoping to someday make a video of changing seasons), and many more on the three  'bigger cams", the only simple composite pic is in my own mind. Hopefully I will have some time to process and share part of this winter's photographic captures...