Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: great backyard bird count


Ladder-backed Woodpecker

A Ladder-backed Woodpecker, which did not show up in these counts

Since finishing my small year, I’ve enjoyed going back to not counting birds quite so much. I’m still participating in Project FeederWatch and I did the Great Backyard Bird Count the weekend before last, but it’s good to just enjoy the birds for what they are instead of as checks on a list.

Still, I do like participating in these citizen science projects and so I’m list blogging, which seems hardly worthy of the Kreativ Blogger Award kindly bestowed on my by Angie at woman, ask the question.

For the GBBC, I counted along the pond trail after work on Friday and then stuck with my backyard on Saturday and Sunday, which are my Project FeederWatch count days anyway. I didn’t do a GBBC count on Monday.

This year’s count yielded no surprises. I haven’t seen anything new in the neighborhood or in my yard this year, and I haven’t seen any American Goldfinches. Maybe the Lesser Goldfinches have claimed the yard, but last year I regularly saw both species.

And here are the counts. The numbers in parentheses indicate the greatest number of individuals seen at one time…

GBBC Day 1 (2.12.10): Pond Trail:

  1. White-winged Dove (4)
  2. Northern Mockingbird (1)
  3. Carolina Wren (1)
  4. Eastern Phoebe (1)
  5. American Crow (4)
  6. American Coot (1)
  7. Ring-necked Duck (3)
  8. Gadwall (30)
  9. American Widgeon (9)
  10. Pied-billed Grebe (1)
  11. Yellow-rumped Warbler (1)
  12. Blue-winged Teal (3)

GBBC Day 2 (2.13.10): Backyard:

  1. Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  2. Chipping Sparrow (13)
  3. House Sparrow (3)
  4. Carolina Wren (2)
  5. Bewick’s Wren (1)
  6. White-winged Dove (10)
  7. Lesser Goldfinch (3)
  8. Blue Jay (1)

GBBC Day 3 (2.14.10): Backyard:

  1. Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  2. Blue Jay (2)
  3. Northern Mockingbird (1)
  4. Mourning Dove (1)
  5. White-winged Dove (9)
  6. Carolina Wren (2)
  7. Lesser Goldfinch (5)
  8. Chipping Sparrow (23)
  9. House Sparrow (1)

Project FeederWatch – Month 3 (a running total):

  1. White-winged Dove (23)
  2. Mourning Dove (1)
  3. Blue Jay (3)
  4. Carolina Chickadee (2)
  5. Black-crested Titmouse (2)
  6. Carolina Wren (2)
  7. Bewick’s Wren (1)
  8. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1)
  9. Northern Mockingbird (1)
  10. European Starling (1)
  11. Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  12. Chipping Sparrow (24)
  13. Northern Cardinal (1)
  14. HOuse Finch (2)
  15. Lesser Goldfinch (7)
  16. House Sparrow (17)

Be sure to check out the latest edition of I and the Bird (#119) hosted at Somewhere in NJ, which includes my poem “Hummingbird Heading Out to Sea.”

Great Backyard Bird Count – Day 4

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yesterday was grey and cool, the sky wanting to rain, but I walked down to the pond anyway for Day 4 of The Great Backyard Bird Count and managed to avoid the intermittent rain. It’s not my backyard, but it doesn’t have to be. I also brought the camera this time and got some decent pictures including some of my best of this Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

A Ladder-backed Woodpecker strikes a classic pose

A Ladder-backed Woodpecker strikes a classic pose

The trail didn’t yield many birds. I searched for the bluebird and goldfinches I had seen on Friday, but they weren’t around, though I did get to watch a single Lesser Goldfinch sing from the top of a leafless tree. Most of the action was down on the pond.

Ring-necked Ducks and Gadwalls

Ring-necked Ducks and Gadwalls

I really enjoy watching the ducks paddle around the small pond. It’s especially amusing to watch the Gadwalls dabble like the one in the picture with his rear end in the air. They’ll bob like that for a short time before righting themselves.



I counted more Gadwalls than anything else, but I know I undercounted them. It’s hard to count ducks when they’re always moving around so I tend to err on the side of undercounting. Still, I didn’t realize how many there were.

Official GBBC Day 4 Tally:

  1. Turkey Vulture (2)
  2. American Crow (1)
  3. Lesser Goldfinch (1)
  4. Ring-necked Duck (20)
  5. Eastern Phoebe (1)
  6. Ladder-backed Woodpecker (1)
  7. Yellow-rumped Warbler (2)
  8. Gadwall (74)
  9. American Wigeon (3)
  10. Pied-billed Grebe (3)
  11. Carolina Chickadee (1)
  12. House Finch (1)

All in all this was a good Great Backyard Bird Count for me. Hopefully next year I’ll be better at this and will see even more birds.

Check out these other Great Backyard Bird Counters: Heather of the Hills and Austin birder Mikael at Birding on Broademead who got an awesome shot of an Osprey.

Project FeederWatch Week 14/Great Backyard Bird Count Days 2-3

The birds and I pulled double duty this weekend as we were counting and being counted for both Project FeederWatch and The Great Backyard Bird Count. The two projects have slightly different rules, mainly in that PFW requires 1 count for 2 days while GBBC has separate counts for each day. Also, PFW counts should only include birds that come to the yard for things I provided (food, shelter, water, landscaping), whereas GBBC includes any birds seen in the count area, so I included the robins and crow I saw hanging out in the neighbors’ trees.

Mainly, I saw the usual suspects, although a raptor did fly low over the feeders on Saturday. It’s the second time I’ve seen one in the yard since December, but unless he’s eating House Sparrows, he’s not having much success as my counts haven’t changed much lately.

What kind of raptor? He moved faster than any bird I’ve ever seen so I didn’t get a great look at his markings. His wings were sharply pointed, his long tail wasn’t fanned out, and when he reached the neighbor’s house he did an abrupt rolling turn and was gone. Speed and pointed wings.

I immediately assumed him to be an accipiter, either a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-shinned. These two are hard to distinguish, but I went to the guidebooks and searched online to see if I could do it. None of the pictures really looked like the bird I had seen. The wings were too pointed for one thing and the brief glimpse I got of his underside just didn’t look like the pictures. After flipping through to the falcon section, I saw a picture of a Merlin. That was my bird.

I read up on Merlins and found they do occasionally visit bird feeders, flying low and fast to grab prey on the wing. I also found this chart showing shapes of raptors in flight.

This brings up another issue. While I don’t begrudge birds of prey their meals, I don’t like the idea of my feeders becoming a buffet for all the local raptors. I’ll have to keep watch and see if the Merlin becomes a regular visitor. If so, I’ll bring the feeders in for a while.

Other than that, the only interesting thing about the weekend was the moment when I looked out an hour or so before the Merlin flyby and saw the feeders full of birds, each one holding perfectly still like little statues as if time had stopped in the backyard. I guess they saw the Merlin before I did.

I’m happy to report that American Goldfinches are continuing to bring friends and a few of them are starting to show traces of their gold breeding plumage.

Project FeederWatch Week 14:

  • American Goldfinch (7)
  • Black-crested Titmouse(2)
  • Carolina Chickadee (2)
  • House Finch (2)
  • Chipping Sparrow (20)
  • Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  • House Sparrow (2)
  • White-winged Dove (9)
  • Carolina Wren (2)
  • Bewick’s Wren (2)
  • Mourning Dove (1)
  • Lesser Goldfinch (1)
  • Merlin (1)
  • Northern Cardinal (2)

Great Backyard Bird Count Day 2 (Saturday):

  • American Goldfinch (6)
  • Black-crested Titmouse(1)
  • Carolina Chickadee (2)
  • House Finch (2)
  • Chipping Sparrow (18)
  • Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  • House Sparrow (2)
  • White-winged Dove (6)
  • Carolina Wren (2)
  • Bewick’s Wren (1)
  • Mourning Dove (1)
  • Lesser Goldfinch (1)
  • Merlin (1)
  • Northern Cardinal (2)

Great Backyard Bird Count Day 3 (Sunday):

  • American Goldfinch (7)
  • Black-crested Titmouse(2)
  • Carolina Chickadee (1)
  • House Finch (2)
  • Chipping Sparrow (20)
  • Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
  • House Sparrow (4)
  • White-winged Dove (9)
  • Carolina Wren (2)
  • Bewick’s Wren (2)
  • Mourning Dove (1)
  • Lesser Goldfinch (1)
  • Northern Cardinal (1)
  • Blue Jay (1)
  • American Crow (1)
  • American Robin (2)

Great Backyard Bird Count – Day 1

It’s time again for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, which doesn’t actually have to be done in a backyard. I’ll be birding all four days and submitting this weekend’s Project FeederWatch counts to the GBBC as well.

Last year, I had this to say by way of explaining the GBBC:

The Audubon Society and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology are sponsoring The Great Backyard Bird Count running from today through Feb 16. Anyone can participate. All you have to do is count birds over a span of at least 15 minutes and record the number of individuals you see. This helps the Audubon Society “create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent.” You don’t even have to do it in your backyard.

Today, I started out by going down to the pond since I’ve got my pond trail big year going. It’s also where I birded on Day 1 of the GBBC last year. I’m happy to report that I was able to ID substantially more birds this year. I guess I am getting better at this. I even saw an Eastern Bluebird, which while not a new bird is a new one for this trail.

I also finally got a really good look at the Least Grebes in the pond. Turns out they’re actually Pied-billed Grebes, the crafty devils. I’ll need to go back and change my ebird data for the past few weeks, but the upside is that I get a new life bird.

Still, a fine list for an hour’s stroll:

  • Turkey Vulture (3)
  • Northern Mockingbird (2)
  • House Finch (4)
  • Eastern Bluebird (1)
  • White-winged Dove (4)
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker (2)
  • Gadwall (57)
  • Ring-necked Duck (41)
  • Pied-billed Grebe (3)
  • American Wigeon (2)
  • Black-crested Titmouse (2)
  • Chipping Sparrow (2)
  • Eastern Phoebe (1)
  • Mourning Dove (2)
  • Blue Jay (1)
  • American Crow (1)
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler (1)

No pictures today. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll bring the camera along on my GBBC adventures.

Great Backyard Bird Count – Day 4

Yesterday, I decided to count birds at the small lake at the end of the trail that runs through our neighborhood. I ride my bike along there all the time, but I’ve never walked around and really tried to check out the birds.

When I arrived, I was greeted by a chickadee who immediately hopped into a tree that seemed filled with singing birds. I listened for a few minutes and then headed down to the water to see what birds were hanging around. In the summer, it’s mostly egrets and herons, but yesterday it was filled with birds wintering over.

I ate my sandwich at a bench on the lakefront where I was joined by a couple of coots who eyed me suspiciously. What really surprised me were the fishing buoys hanging in all the trees. Careless casters had decorated the trees as for an angler’s Christmas.

After lunch, I walked along the lake, which was filled with ring-billed gulls and more American coots. I easily forget that some gulls like lakes and so I’m always pleasantly surprised to see them floating on an inland lake. A few soared overhead, the sun shining behind their wings in a way that made them glow brilliant against the crisp blue sky. Gulls have always been favorites of mine, despite that incident back in ’90.

Other ducks bobbed along the far shore, but even with binoculars, I couldn’t make out what kind of ducks they were. Probably northern shovelers or mallards, but too far to tell for sure.

I did get a good look at a new bird for my life list, the double-crested cormorant. They bobbed along beyond the gulls, looking down their sharp-looking beaks at the world. The only picture I got was this, very blurry, of one flying by.

Double-crested Cormorant

After the lake, I walked back up to the woods and wandered among the cedar and oak. In a clearing I found a labyrinth trail and walked through it, winding toward the center and back out again. Along the way, I caught a glimpse of another blue jay.

Before returning to the car, I saw a small flock of chipping sparrows and even got a shot of this guy:

Chipping Sparrow

My favorite, though, was this shot of a black-crested titmouse, seed in mouth:

Black-crested Titmouse

I love watching these little guys hop around in my backyard. I think it’s those huge black eyes or maybe that pointy head, but somehow, the black-crested titmouse has become my favorite backyard bird.

And, speaking of backyards, here are my official numbers for Day 4 of The Great Backyard Bird Count:

  • 2 Northern shovelers
  • 4 Double-crested cormorants
  • 15 American coots
  • 19 Ring-billed gulls
  • 1 Blue jay
  • 1 Carolina Chickadee
  • 1 Black-crested titmouse
  • 1 Bewick’s wren
  • 6 Chipping Sparrows

Great Backyard Bird Count – Day 3

Yesterday, I decided to do my Great Backyard Bird Count counting along the trail in our neighborhood. I left at 3:15. The weather was early-spring perfect, and a welcome treat after the previous day’s drizzle and rain.

I spotted a few mockingbirds, including this one:

Northern Mockingbird

I love listening to them sing; it’s like having all the other birds wrapped up in one. I guess they’re like the ipod of birds, set on permanent shuffle.

Often, I’ll follow a bird’s song only to find a mockingbird, but this time, there was a little chickadee bouncing in the tree. The number of dee’s in their call gives their assessment of any threat. I only rated one dee.

Carolina Chickadee

As I walked down the trail, I saw both turkey and black vultures spiraling overhead. I saw two hawks, but even with the binoculars, I couldn’t ID them as they were too far away. I suspect they were red-tails, though, since most of the hawks around here are.

At the bottom of the hill, the trail opens up into a kind of grassy meadow along the creek. A crow sat on the highest tree calling out to anyone who would listen. While studying the trees around the meadow, I saw a great blue heron glide past, slowly flapping its great wings.

Walking back up the hill, I heard a number of other birds chirping in the trees. I caught glimpses of chipping sparrows and even a blue jay, the first one I’ve seen since August.

Up near the trailhead, I ventured into a meadow where a small creek runs narrow and quiet beneath thick undergrowth. Looking up, I noticed a woodpecker clinging to the tree and apparently feeding or depositing something in a hole. He was either a golden-fronted or a red-bellied woodpecker, but he hopped into the hole before I could get close enough (even with binoculars) to figure out what he was.

I did get this shot of his head, as he sat there surveying the woods around him.

Mystery Woodpecker

It’s not enough to ID him for sure, though.

And, here are my “official” counts for the birds I could ID:

  • 2 Northern mockingbirds
  • 2 Turkey Vultures
  • 1 Carolina chickadee
  • 1 American crow
  • 1 Great blue heron
  • 1 Black-crested titmouse
  • 3 Black vultures
  • 2 Chipping sparrows
  • 1 Blue jay

Great Backyard Bird Count – Day 2

For Day 2 of The Great Backyard Bird Count, I actually did count birds in my backyard, plus a few in the front.

It was one of those cold gray drizzly days that become a perfect reason for not going anywhere and instead staying in making French onion soup. Over the course of the day from about 7:30 to 4:00, I watched for birds. Here’s what I saw and reported:

  • 2 Bewick’s wrens
  • 2 Mourning doves
  • 6 White-winged doves
  • 1 Ladder-backed woodpecker
  • 13 House sparrows
  • 12 Chipping sparrows
  • 1 Carolina chickadee

That’s most of the usual suspects for this time of year, except for the black-crested titmouse who must have had better things to do than eat soggy seed in the rain.

I actually saw more birds, but you’re only supposed to count the greatest number of individuals seen together at one time. If I kept count of every time I saw a house sparrow or a white-winged dove sitting around by himself, the counts would be much higher. And I’d be watching for Hitchcock to show up.

Great Backyard Bird Count – Day 1

No, that’s not my backyard.

The Audubon Society and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology are sponsoring The Great Backyard Bird Count running from today through Feb 18. Anyone can participate. All you have to do is count birds over a span of at least 15 minutes and record the number of individuals you see. This helps the Audubon Society “create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent.” You don’t even have to do it in your backyard.

I walked down to the pond by the house and watched birds from 4:05-4:35 pm. Overcast, breezy, mid-60’s. Here’s what I saw:

  • 3 American crows
  • 3 Northern shovelers
  • 1 White-winged dove
  • 2 Mourning doves
  • 1 Lesser scaup
  • 1 Great blue heron
  • 4 Black vultures
  • 1 Eastern phoebe

The phoebe and the scaup are ones I had not seen before, so I get to add a few to my life list.

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