Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Neighborhood Small Year 2009

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

During the second week of January 2009, while walking along the trail that runs down to the little pond in our neighborhood, I decided to make it a point to come out at least once a week and count birds to try to get a sense of what birds are in the neighborhood, when they’re here and how many I could see.

I jokingly called it my Pond Trail Big Year, mainly because I didn’t expect to see all that many birds on our little stretch of trail. It turned out to be more of a medium or even small-sized year, but still worth every moment. Keeping counts and lists is cool, but for me it’s more of a memory tool since I’ve never been terribly competitive about such things.

I managed to keep my commitment to birding the trail at least once per week, expect for a week in May when we were in Missouri and a week in August when we were working at Camp Periwinkle. In all, I counted 61 species on the pond trail and if I also include the birds I saw at my house and the birds I saw on the regional trail (with which the pond trail connects) leading to the lake where Double-crested Cormorants, Ring-billed Gulls and Greater Roadrunners can be seen, the number jumps to 67 birds seen on foot, which is a decent number, I think, for someone still learning to find birds.

Ring-billed Gull

It wasn’t long before I started paying attention to more than just the birds. There are trees, wildflowers, rabbits, turtles, deer, butterflies, snakes, and frogs out there. I started to try to pay more attention to those things as well, and it wasn’t long before I went beyond just birding to a different kind of seeing that seemed more a witnessing the little patch of nature just beyond my yard.

Blotched Water Snake

Some of my most memorable days include the day after one of our hailstorms when I saw an Osprey and a Black-and-white Warbler on the same day; the day I discovered the Blotched Water Snakes that live under the bridge; or the time I watched a Yellow-crowned Night Heron catch and kill a crawfish (which made me realize that being boiled alive is probably the easy way out for a crawfish compared to the hard way administered by the night heron).

American Robin

There were times, particularly during last summer’s especially brutal drought-ridden days of infernal heat, on which I had to force myself to get out, knowing I would see only grackles and vultures, but even that was fun since I really do like those birds quite a bit.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

I learned a lot about the seasonal migration patterns of my local birds. Things like when the different duck species come and go from the pond, which ones just pass through and which ones stay. I learned where to look for different kinds of birds and what to listen for and how to let my ears guide my eyes when trying to find something.

Ring-necked Ducks and Gadwalls

In addition to learning a lot about birding, I realized some things about the kind of birder I am. I rarely drive to go birding and when I do, it’s usually just to go somewhere else in Austin like Hornsby Bend. There’s something immensely satisfying about walking out one’s door and seeing the birds that live nearby. Considering the toll taken on all wildlife by cars and roads, birding by foot just seems a bit greener, and getting to know an area inspires a deeper understanding of a place that goes beyond the superficial. I think I’d rather know every bird in my neighborhood than see every bird in the state (which isn’t to say I don’t try to see as many birds as I can; rather, I’m just not going to kill myself—or anything else—to do it).

Other people joined me on these walks: my wife (quite frequently), my parents, my father-in-law, various houseguests. It was fun to be able to share some of the discoveries I’ve made, and those were some of my favorite walks.

Here’s the final 2009 Neighborhood Small Year list with stars next to the ones that were life birds:

  1. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck *
  2. Gadwall
  3. American Wigeon *
  4. Blue-winged Teal *
  5. Northern Shoveler
  6. Northern Pintail *
  7. Ring-necked Duck *
  8. Pied-billed Grebe *
  9. Double-crested Cormorant
  10. Great Blue Heron
  11. Great Egret
  12. Little Blue Heron
  13. Green Heron
  14. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
  15. Black Vulture
  16. Turkey Vulture
  17. Osprey
  18. Accipiter sp. *
  19. Red-shouldered Hawk
  20. American Coot
  21. Killdeer
  22. Ring-billed Gull
  23. White-winged Dove
  24. Mourning Dove
  25. Greater Roadrunner
  26. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  27. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  28. Belted Kingfisher *
  29. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  30. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  31. Downy Woodpecker
  32. Eastern Phoebe
  33. Ash-throated Flycatcher *
  34. Western Kingbird
  35. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  36. Blue Jay
  37. American Crow
  38. Purple Martin
  39. Barn Swallow
  40. swallow sp.
  41. Carolina Chickadee
  42. Black-crested Titmouse
  43. Carolina Wren
  44. Bewick’s Wren
  45. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  46. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  47. Eastern Bluebird
  48. American Robin
  49. Northern Mockingbird
  50. European Starling
  51. Cedar Waxwing
  52. Orange-crowned Warbler *
  53. Yellow-rumped Warbler *
  54. Black-and-white Warbler *
  55. Common Yellowthroat *
  56. Chipping Sparrow
  57. Song Sparrow *
  58. Northern Cardinal
  59. Red-winged Blackbird
  60. Common Grackle
  61. Great-tailed Grackle
  62. Brown-headed Cowbird *
  63. Baltimore Oriole *
  64. House Finch
  65. Lesser Goldfinch *
  66. American Goldfinch
  67. House Sparrow

I’m looking forward to my next walk. I’ll probably keep walking the trail weekly since I did that anyway, but if I don’t feel like it, I won’t. It will also be nice to enjoy walking without listing and counting, though I’ll still list occasionally and continue posting those numbers to ebird for whatever scientific value it may serve.

This was a good exercise for me, but I’m glad to be able to just get back to walking and enjoying the birds, which is what it’s supposed to be about anyway.

Update: This post was included in I and the Bird #118 at Ben Cruchan – Natural History.

4 Comments

  1. This is a great post. I wish I had the patience and consistency for such an undertaking. I do have a favorite place I go walking, though, and it’s full of birds. Probably snakes, too, but I don’t like to think about that.

    • Thanks, Dana. I didn’t know if I would be able to pull it off, so I didn’t actually mention I was doing it on my blog until February by which time, I was pretty committed.

      I used to try to avoid thinking about the snakes, but then I convinced myself that they aren’t all rattlesnakes. I still keep a respectful distance, though.

  2. It is great to get out walking and even more fun to check out all the birds while you are out there. I enjoyed your post.

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