Feb 19

The Great Backyard Bird Count

This weekend in my part of the world we experienced some unseasonably mild temperatures and a couple of exceptionally sunny, warm and pleasant days. Daytime highs hit 60F (15.5C) with a light breeze and full sunshine it is my favorite type of weather. Not too hot and not too cold. In this region of the United States, February can often bring some of the most severe winter weather. The weather can have something like a temper tantrum as the fading days of winter melt into spring. Not so this year.

With the weather so inviting I did a bit of poking around in the garden to assess the handful of young saplings I will transplant just as soon as the frozen ground thaws. Three years ago, I dedicated a small section of garden space inside the fence for young seedling trees. In my first few years here I planted many 3 – 5 year old trees of varying specie and the attrition rate was awful due to the roaming deer population. The docile and seemingly harmless white-tail deer are abundant here and they come through my yard almost every night. They graze on anything young and tender. The quick growing tops of the young saplings are highly desirable for this type of foraging. When a young tree’s top shoot is nipped away by the deer the tree is stunted and will never grow to the height of a proper shade tree. Now that the trees inside the fence are almost 6 feet tall, I think it is safe to transplant them to where they will reach maturity. This small bunch of trees can provide a privacy barrier in the back yard and they are a good windbreaks and shade providers.

There is another reason to plant trees in the yard. They can attract songbirds. The songbirds are colorful and and vocal, but not so much in the month of February. Many of the birds that frequent my place are still somewhere far south of here and will return in the coming 2 or 3 months. The Great Backyard Bird Count occurs this weekend. You can read more here, but essentially more than 160,000 people from 130 countries participate in this count of birds. You can join them and do your own bird spotting and report if you sign up at the link. Signing up is free. The project, sponsored by the Cornell University Ornithology lab, has been running for nearly 20 years as a way to help scientists monitor bird populations and their migration habits. In my time outside today and yesterday I heard a few crows across the field, but other than that my back yard birds didn’t get the memo. No one showed up!

It is not like I don’t have birds here. I saw several mourning doves yesterday. They were sitting on a wire between two telephone poles down the road. And on the way to the grocery store today I spotted two red tail hawks hunting prey in a hay field where the snow had all melted. As the fields thaw and the little mouse dens get flooded, the hawks can have good hunting. It is a bit early for the red robin to go bobbin’ along. They show up in another month or so, but today the birds that usually frequent my place were not to be seen. I often spot a cardinal or nutcracker or finch, but not this weekend.

In previous posts, I have written about the swans down the road and the very cool birds of prey sanctuary not far away in Carbon County. I have taken several visitors there. Let’s not forget the wild turkeys that flock these parts. Songbirds have also been a topic for posting too, but today, none of the usual birds seemed to be around…and that got me to thinking about recent cat tracks I have observed in the snow. I am aware of at least 3 and possibly more feral cats and I wonder if they are decimating the local bird population. I will need to keep an eye out this spring to determine if local birds are being killed off by feral cats.

One final note I like to point out about wood ducks. For people living in the eastern U.S. it is almost time to have wood duck houses installed before the males return to begin the mating season. Here’s a link from the conservation group – Ducks Unlimited, with instructions on how to build one and why they are important.



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    • Judy Zhao on February 28, 2017 at 9:00 pm
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    China has the saying: The whole year’s work depends on a good start in spring. Spring is the sunshine. Spring is the young saplings. Spring is the songbirds. Spring is the hope of everyone. How beautiful the scenery, how beautiful the country life, how I envy you!
    Haha! I wish you happiness every day!

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Judy. I like the Chinese saying you shared and I think there is a lot of truth in it.

    • Summer on March 5, 2017 at 8:48 am
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    One day, on the way to work, I heard the birds singing. Suddenly I felt so happy and I began to understand why the poet William Wordsworth saying: “The birds around me hopped and played, Their thoughts I cannot measure, but the least motion which they made, it seemed a thrill of pleasure.”

    Yes, hearing the birds singing puts us into a sweet mood. Planting trees can attract the birds. It seems we pay more attention on how to build tall buildings. I hope I can some day live in the environment that you live.

    1. Nice quote from Wordsworth, Summer!
      Springtime is full of birds returning and singing their songs. The sound of songbirds is one of my earliest memories from childhood. There were many great old oak trees outside my bedroom window and they were always populated by songbirds. I have transplanted only a couple of trees so far. We had unusually warm weather last week, but this weekend there was a bitter cold front that reminded me winter is not quite finished. In fact, it was so cold I decided not to go out all weekend. Hopefully, temperatures will warm up a little bit and I can finish transplanting the rest of my trees this week.

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