Sunday, April 19, 2009

Counting Birds

House Finch and White-crowned sparrow 4-12-09

Many birders and bird watchers are also listers. Though I had heard of keeping a Life List for all the different species I have seen many years ago, I did not know about the habit of keeping birds lists for every state, town, area, yard or walk until a few years ago. The Great Backyard Bird Count is what got me started with counting birds and actually going out to search for birds in different areas instead of just waiting for them to drop by my feeders or seeing them when I moved to a new state or went on vacation. Participating in Project Feeder Watch honed my skills even more. Then, I read a book called The Big Year. It was the first time I had ever heard of obsessive listers or a competition for bird lists. While I don’t think I am that obsessive, I do like counting birds and keeping lists. Being able to enter my bird counts into eBird or the Great Backyard Bird Count makes me feel like I am contributing to the growing knowledge of birds and bird migration. Knowing what bird species inhabit an area can lead to protection of that habitat and adds to the enjoyment of bird watching.

Santa Rita Mountains 8-25-08

So, when I first moved to Sycamore Canyon at the base of the Santa Rita Mountains two years ago I started listing the birds I had seen here. At that time I was not eBirding or blogging, so the list was only for my own information. When I started my blog, it seemed a natural thing to add the list to my sidebar. When I started eBirding it made it much easier to keep track of my bird lists. When I heard about the possibility of the Rosemount Mine going in right on the other side of the mountain peaks that I can see from my own yard, it became important.

Orange-crowned warbler hiding in Palo Verde tree 3-24-09

Last week I took a walk once again in the Sycamore Canyon Wash. While I have yet to make it to the top of the canyon I have explored the section closer to my house. I often walk there and many of my bird photos have come from this area. However, I had become lax in updating my Sycamore Canyon bird list until I spotted some new birds here this past week. When I went to update the list, I realized I needed to add six new species! The total count of birds that I have personally seen here in Sycamore Canyon is now 76 species! Unfortunately, the birds do not always cooperate with my attempts to photograph them. Very often the birds are in the thickest part of the brush out in the wash, as seen by my attempt to photograph an orange crowned warbler last week in a Palo Verde tree. Our native Palo Verde has tiny leaves on numerous green twigs and branches. The flowering tree attracts a variety of insects that Verdin, vireos, and warblers glean off the leaves and buds. It also makes a perfect cover for birds and horrible conditions for photographing them! Very often trying to get bird photos is just like this. It takes a lot of patience and being in the right place and the right time in the right lighting conditions! Of course, it also helps if you have a good camera and a powerful lens!

On Easter morning, just as the sun rose, I decided to take a look out the back door. To my utter amazement a Hooded Oriole was drinking form the nectar feeder. I was going to go back to bed, but instead I grabbed my camera and watched birds for the next hour. I tried all day to get a shot of this oriole, but this was the best one I got. I show this not to show the bird, but to show what a challenge photographing birds is. However, my early morning bird watching did pay off when I looked out the den window and discovered the bird below.

Hooded oriole hiding 4-12-09

House Wren in my yard 4-12-09

The elusive House Wren I had been watching out in the canyon decided to come to my yard! It was much more cooperative than the oriole and I was able to capture a photo of it in the brittlebush on the north side of the house.

To make counting birds even more interesting, eBird has added a new feature where you can see the Top 100 eBirders in any given area. So, if you log into eBird and click View and Explore Data, you will come to the link for Top 100 eBirders. You have to be a member and sign in, but once you have logged in you can click on that link you can enter an entire state, or search by counties. You can also break your search down into years. (By the way, eBird also covers Canada and Mexico.) I was amazed to find out that I am the top eBirder for Androscoggin County Maine, even though I have not lived there for almost 5 years! While I only lived in Androscoggin County for 18 months, there really wasn’t much else to do besides count birds. I have 3 or 4 notebooks full of bird counts and bird notes from those 18 months. I have barely started to enter these counts into eBird.

Beth, of Beth Stories is on the list of top 100 eBirders in Androscoggin County also, though I bet she doesn’t even know this. Beth is a beginning Birder and she has already made a difference. I am writing about this to encourage any of you to become an eBirder. It is really very simple and the information you provide can really help the birds. There are some areas of the country, like central Maine or the mountain west that are really under reported. Idaho, Wyoming, parts of Montana and both North and South Dakota could use some new eBirders. I haven’t lived in Idaho for over 20 years and I am still in the Top 100 eBirders in Butte County. I like to bird where others don’t. I feel like I am filling in the gaps. You don’t have to live where you eBird. You can eBird your lists from vacations and trips. eBird, Project Feeder Watch and The Great Backyard Bird Count are all administered by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology which is located in Upstate New York.

Cassin's Vireo in Sycamore Canyon 3-24-09

eBird has excellent information on how to do your counts. They have recently published some new articles to help you even more.
So, even if you are only a beginning birder, you can help the birds by eBirding and you can even get into a little friendly competition if that interests you. For me, I like to think that even when I am dead and gone that my bird list will help the birds and the scientists who study them.

These are the most recent additions to the Sycamore Canyon Bird list with the dates the birds were first seen by me. To view the complete list, please see the sidebar.

71. Violet-green Swallow 10-12-08
72. Ruby-crowned kinglet 1-29-09
73. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2-16-09
74. Cassin’s Vireo 3-24-09
75. House wren 3-24-09
76. Gray flycatcher 4-9-09

The Path Home-one of my favorite views of Sycamore Canyon 8-8-08


Kim said...

I have to start counting birds. I always say I am going to do it, but then never do. Great pictures! You get so many cool birds we don't get there this far east.

Unknown said...

Excellent photos. Really nicely done
Thank you for sharing, great photoblog :)

Anonymous said...

A good argument, Kathie. I used to feeder watch, but haven't so much recently. I need to get back to it.

Deborah Godin said...

Ooooo, that little house wren is not going to let you get away with a thing!! I wrote out a life list for years, but I haven't added to it in a while, so it's out of date. In fact, I don't even know where it is. Now I just check new birds off in the field guide beside their names. Works until I upgrade to a new edition; then it gets a bit tedious!

Kathie Brown said...

KAllen, I hope you start eBirding. You do not have to know every bird you see and hear. Just report what you know. It is all helpful information to the Scientists! Good luck!

Ilan, thanks for stopping by!

Wren, I actually haven't Feeder Watched in a long time, but Larry of the Brownstone Birding Blog is the one who got me to start eBirding and now I am hooked.

Deborah, I kept my life list in my bird guide also. Thankfully I wrote down dates and locations for my first sightings. I can now enter that info into eBird. I just do a little at a time. I add historical records when I can and try to keep current on my newest lists. The Top 100 thing was just further incentive to keep it up! I feel good about helping science and feel like I can be good at least SOMETHING!

denapple said...

Kathie, you would enjoy reading Pete Dunne's book "The Feather Quest." He writes stories of various birding trips he took all over the country over a year's time, including the Patagonia Rest Stop. His story about the World Series of Birding is a hoot!

Gaelyn said...

Kathie, another outstanding post. Guess I should be counting as I'm always watching the birds. Sabino Canyon is so beautiful. A place I need to visit. Maybe next winter.
Thanks for sharing all this good birder info.

Kathryn said...

Kathie, love the pic of the house finch and white crowned sparrow! Great post. I have noticed a few changes here in Mountain Green, UT, actually heard a broadtail hummingbird in my yard yesterday! Set out feeders immediately, but have not seen one yet. K

SandyCarlson said...

I admire the loving attention you give these birds.

Heather said...

Thanks for this post Kathie. I've never tried eBird, but I'm all about Project Feederwatch, and I really got into GBBC this year. I'll try eBird sometime.