New Year, New Birds

As you know, I keep a list of every bird species I’ve seen in my life, my Lifelist (duh). I’ve not made a great effort to compete with other birders for annual records, but I don’t rule out a little competition in the future. In fact, I might have some birding mojo working for me already in 2013, as I got a new life bird on each of the first two days of the year without really even trying hard! Hmm, might this be my year to keep up with the power birders?

Horned Lark photo from last June

Horned Lark photo from last June

On January 1, someone posted a note on our southeast Michigan birding list about a big flock of Snow Buntings and Horned Larks in a certain area. Snow Buntings would be a new bird for me. Eric had gone to the gym and I was getting ready to go out for a walk anyway, so I decided to go looking for the flock. I didn’t really have much hope that I’d find them, as the note said they were keeping far back from the road on private property. I slowly drove along the 1-mile stretch of road, scanning both sides for any movement. All I saw on my first pass was a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos, which seem to be everywhere at this time of year.

I turned around and started to go back for a second pass, and suddenly I spotted birds flying in a field about 100 yards away, behind a house. And it was a big flock too. Through my binoculars I could see lots of white, so I felt sure I’d found them. I snapped a few photos with my 400mm lens and that clinched it — yep, Snow Buntings and Horned Larks! It was hard to count them because they kept flying low to the ground and landing in a small depression of tall grasses, but using my photos I estimated at least 100 birds in the mixed flock. What a thrill to get a life bird on New Year’s Day! Totally unexpected and a great bird. (This particular photo shows mostly Snow Buntings, but the overall flock was about half Horned Larks.)

Mixed flock of Snow Buntings and Horned Larks

Mixed flock of Snow Buntings and Horned Larks

Cute little Fox Sparrow

Chubby little Fox Sparrow                                         (click to enlarge the cuteness)

And then when a Fox Sparrow showed up in our yard yesterday I was even more encouraged about the possibilities for this year. He’s a life bird for me too. He was here for the last two hours of daylight yesterday and is still here today, foraging on the ground with the Mourning Doves and Juncos. Dexter the cat is at his usual post at the window below the feeders, occasionally lunging at a squirrel who enjoys taunting him face to face. Bad squirrel. I have fantasies of letting Dexie go outside to take his revenge on that squirrel….

This female Red-bellied Woodpecker crashed down on top of the Fox Sparrow and posed for me

This female Red-bellied Woodpecker crashed down on top of the Fox Sparrow and posed for me

I’ve got things to do and places to go today, but I’m finding it hard to pull myself away from the fascinating natural world at my windows. I see our resident male cardinal defending his thicket from the invading juncos. I watch the little American Tree Sparrows flitting around back in the woods, coming back and forth to the tray feeder, trying to beat the aggressive Blue Jays to the best morsels. The adorable little Red-breasted Nuthatch spends as much time as he dares on the suet cakes, only a foot from the window. And several times I’ve grabbed the binocs to see if that was really a Carolina Wren I just saw. Nope, it’s always a Tree Sparrow again. But you never know who might show up today.  After all, it is Day 3!

And before I go, here are my eBird rankings for the two Michigan counties I report from — not bad for a relative rookie, huh? I’m number 25 in my home county of Oakland (91 species), and number 24 in the next-door county, Macomb (97 species). I’ve got a long way to go, but that’s the fun of it all, isn’t it?

And congrats to my friend Kevin for tying with Paul P. at the top of the Macomb list this year!

My home county

And the adjacent county, Macomb

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10 Responses to New Year, New Birds

  1. Sorry for my delay in thanking you for the list of birds and bird food–I am still drained from the holidays from a house full of houseguests. I especially love the tip about the whole peanuts just outside the patio window–and I love seeing bluejays! I’ve got my binoculars ready! Thanks again my friend!

  2. littlesundog says:

    I’m impressed with your knowledge of birding and birds. I became interested in birds after we raised our first mourning dove, Harold (who later we discovered was a SHE). Now I participate in the Winter Birds of Oklahoma survey each year and have discovered more than 50 species of bird here… and I’m still learning!

    The 400mm zoom is an awesome lens. I use mine more than any other lens. I thought at the time we purchased it that it would be all the lens I’d ever need. Wrong… with birds, I think one could spend some mighty big bucks to get just the right lens!!

    I too, agree with you and Roxanne… a meeting with any wildlife is a spiritual moment! The Universe always provides what we need!

    • Kim says:

      Lori, your bird knowledge isn’t too shabby either! Those annual bird count events are great. Have you ever participated in the North American Migration Count, or Project Feederwatch? I report the birds in our yard for Project Feederwatch every week through the winter and have such a blast doing it. It’s always exciting when an unusual bird shows up on one of my designated count days.

      As for bird photography lenses, yeah, they’re pricey. I met a guy on a birding field trip last summer who had just bought a lens for $14,000. He could barely carry it around, but I’m sure he got some fantastic pictures. I’m finding my 400mm a bit limiting because it’s so heavy, and am looking at other possibilities right now. Maybe a 100-300mm zoom with 1.4x extender…not sure yet. But I’ve got to get something before the warblers start migrating in April/May — that’s my favorite time of year to take bird pics.

      • littlesundog says:

        I am familiar with Project Feederwatch, but not the NAMC. The problem for me is I don’t make the time to do projects like that on a daily or weekly basis. Perhaps sometime down the road I’ll be more disciplined. Right now I’m busy walking the woodlands and taking in what this area has to offer… and of course there’s the other projects around here. I’m always busy!

        You are correct about the weight of some of these lenses. The 400mm is heavy. I can’t imagine lugging anything heavier around. I will say my Canon Rebel has a lightweight body so that helps.

  3. Wow Kim, you are such a pro with your vast knowledge and experience with birds–I can see how you grew into this passion with so many beauties in your vicinity! When I see birds and any animal in nature (I am in the suburbs so it’s rare… but I do have a pond I can see out my back window so I get some blue herons, ducks, and geese which I love to see) I always feel it is a spiritual sign of some sort–usually a validation that I am on the right path and to keep trusting my intuition. I believe your special finds may indicate that you are going to have a great year coming up. Finding special rare birds is special to you and so in finding them so soon I believe the Universe is sending you love and comfort and encouragement for all of your dreams to come true including with your writing. Congratulations on your wonderful birding success and wishing you an amazing 2013! Yay for you!

    • Kim says:

      I agree with you, Roxanne. Any wildlife sighting is a spiritual moment for me too. And it’s about time the Universe sent me some encouragement. I’ve been waiting a long time for it, LOL!

      As I did for the other person who commented, I checked eBird sightings for your area for 2012. You’ll be interested to know that there were 146 species of birds reported just in your county last year. Isn’t that a fun little tidbit to know? I get a thrill from helping people become more aware of their bird neighbors. I just wish my eyes had been opened to the wonder of their amazing lives a long time ago. They have changed my world in a wonderful way.

      Thanks for stopping by, my friend. Have a wonderful day!

      Kim

      • Thanks Kim! 146 hmmm…are some of them extremely rare and beautiful that would be special and amazing to find in my backyard? Can you give me just a couple names and I will look up pictures of them and be on the look out? Fun! And please tell me what kind of bird food might attract some special ones in my one and only bird feeder. I don’t know if I will do more than this however… until now I have been attracting the birds with bird food on the patio just so my 2 housebound elderly cats will be entertained by them–they want to eat them…and we (the cats and I) get just as excited when a cute squirrel comes up to eat the bird food! ha ha–I think it is hopeless that I will ever be a real birder like you… but you never know. 🙂

      • Kim says:

        Well, you never know if a rare bird might show up, and I can’t predict that. But at this time of year you should be able to get all of these beautiful birds at your feeder:Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Cardinal, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Junco, and American Goldfinch. And probably some Mourning Doves on the ground below the feeder.

        As for what type of seed…with just one feeder I’d just pick any mixed seed blend. If you add a suet cake you’ll get more woodpeckers and nuthatches. A thistle seed feeder can bring the finches in droves, both American Goldfinches and House Finches at this time of year. And whole peanuts in the shell are favorites of the Blue Jays, and they’re fun to watch too. You can put a pile of peanuts outside the window to bring the jays close to your kitties. My cats love that too.

        Have fun, and let me know if I can ever answer any bird questions for you. By the way, if you keep a pair of binoculars handy so you can see the close up details of the birds while they’re eating, you’ll find it fascinating!

        Kim

  4. mindofshoo says:

    Wow….the variety you get to see there! I dream of that much diversity. Oh well. We do have the roadrunner here in NM. 🙂 Congrats on the great start birding wise. Perhaps that will spread to all aspects of life.

    • Kim says:

      I agree, I hope it’s an indicator of how my whole life will go this year too! Just out of curiosity, I checked eBird to see how many bird species were reported in New Mexico last year. Would you believe 438? And 224 of them were reported just in January of 2012! So they’re out there if you tune in to them. That’s part of what amazes me about birding — there are so many beautiful species all around us every day, but we can go an entire lifetime without ever *really *noticing them. It’s such a rewarding thing to sit and watch a small bird flit around in the trees, while humans run around below them completely unaware of their tiny lives. Thanks for visiting and commenting, and I hope you get to see more than just Roadrunners this year!

      Kim

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