Bird Lady Blog

June 30, 2012

House Birds Part I

Filed under: Grosbeak,Nuthatches,Red-Faced Warbler — Munds Park Birding @ 2:19 pm
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Photo courtesy of David Cree

What birds are showing up at your house?  If you have feeders, the answer to that question will depend on what kind of bird food you are offering.  If you have a bird bath, you may attract a wider variety of birds.  If you have a shallow fountain with trickling or moving water, you will have an even better chance of attracting a variety of species.

So let’s start with the type of bird seed you might use and narrow down the obvious choices.  Even if you are only a beginning birder and your bird watching is focused on your own property, you should be able to identify the common birds with a minimal amount of effort.

With a nyger seed feeder (plastic or sock tube) you will attract Lesser Goldfinches and Pine Siskins.  The male Lesser Goldfinch has a bright yellow breast, olive back, and a black head.  Females and immature are duller, lack the black cap, and have olive backs and breasts.  Often at the same time the Goldfinches are feeding you will see Pine Siskins.  These birds are just a little bigger than the Goldfinches, and they are mostly brown with definite brown striping on a light colored breast.  The wings have a small patch of yellow and two white wing bars.

If you have a feeder with sunflowers seeds, millet, and milo, you will attract a nice variety of birds.  Look for the Black-Headed Grosbeak, Mountain Chickadee, and two types of Nuthatches:  Pygmy and White-Breasted.  The Black-Headed Grosbeak is stunning with a mix of black, orange, and white.  The Mountain Chickadee is mostly black and white with a black cap; it is a small, busy bird, also easily identified by its call, which sounds just like its name: “chick a dee dee dee”.  Nuthatches are small birds with almost no necks.  They creep up and down trees, head first, jamming nuts into tree crevices and then “hatching” them apart with their large bills to get to the seeds.  With this type of seed, you will also get Band-Tailed Pigeons, and if seeds fall to the ground, you will be visited by Mourning Doves.

When you add a feeder with peanuts, you should see Acorn Woodpeckers and Steller’s Jays.  The Steller’s Jay has a black and crested head, iridescent dark blue body, and loud call.  You may also attract the American Crow.  While sitting on our deck and writing this article, an American Crow came to our bird bath and dunked unshelled peanuts in the water, and then either opened and ate them here or flew off to eat them in the woods.  I don’t know from where the Crow got the peanuts, but our bird bath was the next stop for the Crow’s meal preparation.

Fresh water is a thrifty way to attract birds, especially dripping or spraying water.  I am thrilled to report that while taking a break from writing this article and turning on our front yard sprinklers in the late afternoon, I spotted a Red-Faced Warbler flitting from tree to tree.  I have been trying to see this bird for six years. There it was: a small, mostly-gray bird with a brilliant red head and neck, showing up at the start of a phone call with my mother in Illinois as I was sitting on the front deck and monitoring the sprinklers.  It stayed around for over 15 minutes, giving me great looks with and without binoculars, while my patient mother heard about this “lifer” during the phone call.  This bird is very rare in the United States – only found in the high mountains of Arizona and New Mexico.  As I’ve stated in past articles, you never know when you may run across that special bird, so always keep your eyes and ears open.

June 14, 2012

Birding Heaven


I describe birdwatching in Munds Park as heavenly.  We sometimes spot the very rare Red-Faced Warbler, we enjoy the beautiful blue Steller’s Jay of the mountains at our feeders, and we can catch a view of a soaring Bald Eagle over Lake Odell while golfing.  That is exactly what Andy and Gary did during the Pinewood Country Club Stockholder Golf Tournament on May 20th as they were hitting their shots on Hole 12 – they spotted a Bald Eagle right here in Munds Park.

But I have to report that I encountered another birders’ heaven when I participated in the Horicon Bird Festival in Wisconsin over Mother’s Day weekend.  This was the first bird festival I have attended, and I was not disappointed.  That weekend I saw 26 species of birds I had never seen or heard before – “lifers” in birding terms.

The whole idea of attending the Festival originated with my sister Liz and sister-in-law Sally.  Sally and my brother live on 40 acres of farmland just 20 minutes from Horicon Marsh.  We women periodically take a ladies-only trip – like renting an RV and fly-fishing in Colorado or rafting down the Colorado River and hiking out of the Grand Canyon.  This year we chose Horicon Marsh in southern Wisconsin to focus on family and birding.  I flew to Chicago, picked up my mother and my high-school birding friend, Thelma, and off we drove to Wisconsin.

Liz, Sally, Thelma, and I signed up for two guided tours and left the rest of Saturday and Sunday open to attend workshops or presentations.  Saturday morning’s tour started at 6 a.m., meaning I had to rise at 4:45 a.m. (2:45 AZ time!).  We drove to the south visitor center for our first tour.  Thirty-five of us birders got on a school bus with two birding guides and headed to various stops to primarily find song-birds.  We hit the jackpot.   We saw and/or heard 97 species of birds in those six hours.  Highlights for me were Baltimore Oriole, Orchard Oriole, Bobolink, Barred Owl, Magnolia Warbler, Northern Parula, and the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.  The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is the only hummingbird found regularly east of the Mississippi and one I had really wanted to finally see.   The Barred Owl was amazing – it flew right over us about 9 a.m. and then stayed and called to its mate for a few minutes.

After that tour, my brother and mother met us all for lunch at the visitor center, watching Purple Martins and American Robins and Barn Swallows.  Then we attended a humorous talk by Al Batt, who has many bird-related activities and honors, writes columns for Bird Watcher Digest, and has a radio show about birding.  After that we attended a presentation on how to select and get the most out of our binoculars and spotting scopes.  Then we headed back and took naps!  At dinner time on the farm, we could hear Sandhill Cranes, Pheasant, and Common Nighthawks.  To cap off the day, we all stayed up to 11 p.m. and watched “The Big Year”, a 2011 movie starring Steve Martin and Jack Black about a real-life contest among birders who can spot the most species of birds in North America during a single calendar year.

Sunday was Mother’s Day, so after a lovely restaurant breakfast we headed to the Bird Festival again.  Then it was more exhibits and tours, joined again with many others from the age of 10 to people in their 80’s.  It was not crowded, the weather was perfect, the sky was clear blue, and not a mosquito or black fly was in sight.  We were very lucky to have such ideal conditions among the birds, family, and friends.

I have hired birding guides before but had never been to a bird festival.  Now I would like to attend at least one a year.  If you wish to learn more about Bird Festivals, go to www.birdwatchersdigest.com and click on the Festival Finder.  You will be amazed at how many heavenly birding festivals there are throughout the country and throughout the year.

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