Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Winter Birding

The bright sunlight streams through the dirty windows unimpeded by the leafy canopy in my yard, casting long shadows on my equally dirty hardwood floors. Winter mornings, though hardly winter weather lately, include a routine of taking the dogs to the backyard while also filling the bird feeders, cleaning and refilling the bird bath, and restocking the suet cakes in the feeders hanging from the trees around the laundry line. The winter bird season was off to a great start last month with high numbers of dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows but the warm weather (or better feed elsewhere) has resulted in lackluster backyard birding. But it's winter bird survey and Christmas Bird Count week, so I'm getting my fill of seeing interesting birds in their natural habitat, in the woodlands and glades and streambanks of the Ozarks.

I take particular delight in finding the Missouri winter residents who spend their breeding season in the Boreal forests of Canada. Not only do we regularly see signs of yellow-bellied sapsuckers, the regular drumming in concentric circles around lots of different trees, but we know that we will regularly see these charismatic woodpeckers in a certain area. Like clockwork, we added them to our species list, lovely males showing up in the same area every year. We actually found them in more areas this year than in years past, this year serving as the 12th annual winter bird survey in one of my favorite places in the Western Ozarks.

With the weather patterns shifting to warmer temperatures, and birds able to find insects even in December, our total numbers were down this year. We documented 42 species with a notable lack of waterfowl in a freshwater spring which usually supports bufflehead, mallards, wood ducks, and blue-winged teal. No ducks this year, no cormorants basking in the warmth, and no kinglets flitting about from high to low branch. It wasn't the best birding week, but we kept with our protocol, our regular dates, our regular route, and were pleased to see that the Eastern bluebirds were still out on the south-facing slopes at 8am on a sunny morning. There is little in the world more beautiful than an Eastern bluebird couple in a post oak on a bluebird sky bright winter morning.

Maybe because I've run this winter bird survey route for 12 years, I predicted when we would see our hermit thrush. The only place I've seen the hermit thrush, Missouri's primary winter thrush besides the American Robin, is on a crummy cedar-filled trail through a bottomland woodland. The characteristic tail-bobbing of the hermit thrush was easier to spot than the breast and coloration. For 12 years running, we've seen the hermit thrush in the same area. Surely it's not the same bird, but there must be something in this landscape, this little patch of crummy cedars surrounded by fire-mediated awesome post oak-white oak-black oak woodlands that attracts hermit thrush. Check! We got it. We never found our kinglets, neither of them, actually, but picked up a suite of sparrows at a crummy fencerow with cedars and brush. A big part of me hates that some of the best birding is in crummy anthropogenic landscapes, but I also appreciate that even in our most damaged landscapes birds can still exist and thrive, at least during winter months.

1 comment:

Patricia A. Laster said...

Your advice to me (central Arkansas) to keep the birdbaths full has resulted in delightful scenery outside my dining room window. Robins always, sparrows, a juvy cardinal, and now and then, a pair of bluebirds (though I have no "house" for them except in the shed, unused). Yesterday, a flock of blackbirds flew in and occupied the birdbath for a spell. They flew off and the robins returned. Later, the blackbirds came back for another drink.
I love reading your posts. Merry Christmas.