Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Birder's Blog Meme

This week John (of New Jersey) of A DC Birding Blog tagged me with a birder's meme (originated by Cogresha of Earth House Hold, a new blog to me, and worth checking out). The form is simple, just seven easy birder questions:

1. What is the coolest bird you have seen from your home?

This is the question that grabbed me. Not so easy when I started to think about it. The coolest bird. When I'd been in Thomasburg for just a short while, before I'd gotten involved in the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas Project, and got serious about the birds, I was sitting on the front porch when an Indigo Bunting flew in to perch briefly on a house plant on the porch with me, not much more than a metre away. I'd never seen such a stunning bird at such close range. The sun was hitting it just right--the blue of it was amazing. The coolest?

During the Great Gray Owl irruption of 2005 I got to see crows roust one of these magnificent birds out of a dead tree at the back of the yard. Not a great look at the bird (I did get a good look that winter, described here) but what a sight to see that impossibly tall owl lift off and fly away. Pretty darn cool.

But what about the Northern Shrike that came and landed in the snowball bush at the front of the house one winter afternoon--to the great consternation of the feeder birds? The Northern Harrier that perched in a dead tree at the back and let me walk up to within about 20 feet? The annual late-summer flyover of the Nighthawks?

Then there was the visit by a flock of Pine Grosbeaks, never before seen here by me, never before seen so far south by me. Very cool.

But no, the very coolest bird is none of these. It's the Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus). Vireos of all kinds pass through here regularly in the spring, and the fall often brings one or two to the yard, but this year was different. I noticed in the spring that I was hearing a Red-eyed sing rather more than I was used to, day after day, on and on. And call too, that strange scree. (There were days that I thought I'd go mad.) Gradually I realized that there was a nesting pair here. And then I noticed that there was another pair--two nesting pairs where I'd never seen even one before. The Red-eyed vireo is a very common denizen of mixed and deciduous forests (in this range), but what was it doing here, in this yard?

I've been here ten years now, and in that time the trees in the yard, some mature when I came, some just babies, and the shrubs, have all grown, until finally this year I realized, with the help of the vireos, it is quite a different place. It's a forest now. Sure, there are a couple of fields around that are mowed, but the yard, and the hamlet itself is much more forest than not compared to what it was when I first saw it. And the far field? I'll have to start capitalizing that: Far Field, a place name, no longer a description of that place that used to be a field with a partial cover of a planting of young conifers. Now its a young forest, as willows and poplars (for the most part) have filled in between the conifers, and grown into real trees. This year I finally noticed that when I stand in the spot now where I stood six years ago at the north end of the far field and watched a bear bound into the cedar bush at the south end, all I see is green, a screen of trees, no distant vista at all.

So, gradually this place has been turning into a very different kind of place, and the Red-eyed Vireo made me see it. What could be cooler than that?

2. If you compose lists of bird species seen, what is your favorite list and why?

The only real listing I've done is data collection for the Breeding Atlas and Christmas Bird Counts. Of those the Breeding Atlas is my favourite, because it was an accumulation of breeding evidence over five years, a growing picture of the area. I do wish I kept a yard list though--I just can't seem to make myself really do it.

3. What sparked your interest in birds?

My first interest in the natural world, one of my earliest interests, was fostered by my mother and my paternal grandfather, laying the groundwork for a life-long study. The attention it's received has waxed and waned depending on where I was living, and what I else I was doing. Why birds? Birds are the vertebrates that are most accessible, which is why I enjoy them so much. Unlike mammals, most of them they live much of their lives in daylight, right out where you can watch. The Breeding Atlas experience gave me the structure I needed to take my knowledge of the birds to a whole new level.

4. If you could only bird in one place for the rest of your life where would it be and why?

It would be right here. There is so much more to learn. And now that I have a heightened sense of habitat change, thanks to the vireo, even more than I used to appreciate. I like birding places I know well. I like birding the breeding season, the season when one can return to a good spot and be reasonably assured that one will learn something more about birds already noted. I like birding successive seasons in the same spot, so I can ask myself questions such as, "Why no Kingbirds nesting here this year?" And come up with an answer: "Because it's not a field anymore."

5. Do you have a jinx bird? What is it and why is it jinxed?

The Snowy Owl jumps to mind, but really if I were willing to go to it (i.e., travel roughly 75 km to the known good spot some winter day), I'd probably have seen one by now. I want one to come to me. (See answer to question 4) If I'd been asked before this summer I might have said the Ovenbird, so often heard, and yet never seen, by me. But this season one popped up very kindly and let me have a good look. I guess I'll have to get a new one.

6. Who is your favorite birder? and why?

Not sure how to answer this. Like John I usually go out alone, but I have enjoyed the people I went out with on all the Christmas Bird Counts I've done. And I was helped a great deal by some very experienced birders I met through the Breeding Atlas, particularly John Blaney, with whom I spent a very productive morning in Vanderwater Conservation Area a few years ago. Then there's Terry Sprague; I haven't been out with him, but have gotten lots of help from him over the years in narrowing down identifications, etc.

7. Do you tell non-birders you are a birder? What do they say to you when they find out?

I don't know that I've said to anyone that I am a birder. But lots of people know, one way and another, at least that I watch the birds. When it comes up, they either say little or nothing, "Oh, yes?" Or they ask me about a bird they've seen.

Thanks, John (and Cogresha). Good questions--got me to try to articulate some of the things I've been thinking about lately. So now to tag: Crafty Gardener, Duncan, and Granny J. I really want to know what the coolest bird you've ever seen from home is, and why.

Earth House Hold is keeping a list of links to everyone who catches this meme.

But also, be sure to check out the 56th Edition of I and the Bird, over at Big Spring Birds for more birder talk, bird stories, and to get ready for summer's end.

I and the Bird


John B. said...

I'm always impressed by the birds you can see from your yard!

Granny J said...

Hi -- I did my best -- answered the first question, but had to let the others go by, since I'm not really a birder!

Linda said...

I just saw this post, so will do my best to answer the questions. I'm not sure I'm a true birder, but I certainly enjoy all the feathered friends in and around our gardens.