by Margret Mueller
Back in January, Hope and I planned an adventure on the land to count birds. Some of you may be familiar with the annual Great Backyard Bird Count (read more about it here: audubon.org/conservation/about-great-backyard-bird-count). This is a terrific citizen-science-type activity that takes place all over the world for four days every February. Our best available day was February 15, the last day of the official count.
As it happened, February 15 dawned…well…it barely dawned at all. After about three days of almost non-stop rain, the earth seemed to be drowning, gasping for breath beneath a layer of slurry. The air was thick with moisture, the sky was gray, we were surrounded by fog, and it was cold. But I was ecstatic! I had logged an unprecedented number of hours inside for a few days but now was without a doubt immersed (in all senses) in the great outdoors.
We met at the barn at 9:30am and started to look and listen. There went a bluebird, straight to a small clump of leafless persimmon tree. We had barely gotten our binoculars focused when his mate appeared. Then, unbelievably, the branches filled in rapid succession with more bluebirds, a small flock of juncos, a pair of cardinals, and a pine warbler. Talk about instant gratification! As I beheld this flock of the three primary colors, plus black-and-white, I wished my binoculars had been a camera.
Energized by our early success, we quietly passed through the pines and circled the left side of the far field, where we saw crows and heard a blue jay and a red-shouldered hawk. We entered the woods at the McGowan Creek Trail and headed into an otherworldly silence, the damp path absorbing the sound of our footsteps. We are both avid botanizers, so no, we did not stay on the trail. We wandered and paused for putty-root, interesting leaves, spectacular mosses and lichens, winter fungi, gnarly tree trunks…
From a rise beside McGowan Creek, we stared in wonder at the new waterways carved by the recent rains. Suddenly we heard the peculiar whistling sound of ducks in flight. More fortuitous timing—four of our resident wood ducks did a fly-over, followed by a couple of Canada geese!
As we passed through different habitats, the species changed. The brushy thickets on the South side of the far field were alive with sparrows; we eventually identified three different kinds. Just when I thought our bird count was winding down, and we were headed toward the hartery Trail, I spied an extremely rare specimen perched on the footbridge by the treehouse—a Multicolored Bobble-bird! Take that, Mr. Audubon!
All in all, Hope and I identified thirteen varieties of birds, totaling more than 85 individuals in four hours. Over the years, and in different seasons, I’ve seen and heard many other varieties which sadly were not in evidence this day, including pileated woodpeckers, phoebes, hummingbirds, yellow-billed cuckoos, yellow bellied sapsuckers, yellow shafted flickers, indigo buntings, and summer tanagers. Care to join us this summer for our very own CGEV bird count?
And the grandmother oak saw it all…