Like many of you, I found myself rather bored and tired of staring my own walls at some point this summer. And like many of you, I decided it was a perfect time to familiarize myself with birds. After all, birds are everywhere! Here was a new hobby I could enjoy from the relative comfort of my kitchen during Covid lockdown.
In theory, that is.
Whether due to bad timing, or because the birds had no particular reason to visit my yard, or a bit of both, my first few weeks of birding were rather uneventful.
Is it Birding, or Bird-Watching?
This seems like a good time to talk about “bird watching” vs “birding.” Personally, I think Matt Kracht summed it up very well in his hilarious book, The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America, when he said, “Today, in reality, the two terms are for the most part used interchangeably by laypeople, and the only substantive difference between a “birder” and a “bird watcher” is the degree of pretentious erudition versus competitive prick-ness.”
Being rather uncompetitive, I suppose that makes me a bird watcher, not a birder. So be it.
Where was I?
Oh, yes. I was telling you how it turns out that the heat of summer in Colorado is apparently a bad time to become a bird watcher. To begin my bird-watching, I hung out several different types of feeders. I then perched with some anticipation next to my sliding glass door. And I waited.
In those first few weeks, I fed a whole lot of squirrels, but little else. I was thrilled the morning I looked out and found a house finch using one of my feeders, and even more excited a few days later when I spotted two red-breasted nuthatches. Success at last! At least, a bit of it.
During this time, I also ran all over town to our various natural areas, trying to find more birds to add to my very sad little “life list.” Where in the world were they? Why were they all gone, now that I was looking for them?
The one place in my area that was sure to be lousy with birds was the reservoir/natural area a few miles from my house. Here, barn swallows were abundant, as were pelicans and red-tailed hawks. (And Canadian geese, of course. Those fuckers are everywhere. To quote Matt Kracht again, “Thanks a lot, Canada.”) And so I went back on a pretty regular basis, usually in the morning. I spotted a pair of collared doves building a nest and watched anxiously through my binoculars (that’s “bins,” for those serious birders out there) for their eggs to hatch. Alas, a predator must have found my doves and their eggs because one morning, they were there, and the next morning, they were gone.
And then I had foot surgery, which eliminated my trips to the reservoir for a few weeks. But through all of this, things were changing. Many birds, after all, are migratory, and so the beginning of fall meant a change in avian visitors. Suddenly, my back yard is abuzz. There are black-capped chickadees and my two red-breasted nuthatches, of course. There are the occasional woodpeckers. The biggest tree in my yard rustles with the flitting about of little warblers and sparrows, most of which I can’t yet identify. And the newest arrival, a hermit thrush who stays near the safety of the fence. There are also the blue jays, rather loud and rude, but so handsome, I forgive them.
My daughter and I sat watching the birds through her lunch break today (her school is still 100% remote), and we marveled at the constant flutter of wings back and forth over our yard.
And suddenly I thought, if there are this many birds here, there must be tons of them at the reservoir!
So I jumped in my car, and off I went. But to my great disappointment, the reservoir was practically deserted. Gone are the mobs and mobs of swooping barn sparrows, and the scores of pelicans. A large flock of floating birds bobbed about on the water, too far offshore for me to get a good ID on (although I think mostly plebes and gulls of some kind). And there are still geese. Tons and tons of geese, but that’s about it. I’m not sure what I expected, but not this.
Now, I know that unfortunately, there was recently a huge die-off of migratory birds in this part of the country. You can read about it here, and here, and here. (And many, many other places.) It’s heartbreaking. But being an utter newbie at this, I have no idea how much or how little this plays into the lack of birds at my reservoir. If nothing else, I know the bald eagles will be back in the next month or two. They can frequently be seen circling over the reservoir in the winter. In the meantime, I’ll go check out some of those other natural areas and see if there are more birds there.
But I still have this…
My trip to the reservoir wasn’t a total loss today though. On the way home, I spotted this guy sitting on a fence post right next to the road. Red-tailed hawks are incredibly common around here, but in my mind, that doesn’t make them any less impressive. He was even nice enough to wait while I pulled to the side of the road and took a picture.