Birding Big Day

May 8, 2021 was designated Global Big Day, a day to encourage individuals worldwide to watch birds and report their sightings to eBird. While final statistics have yet to be published, preliminary data indicate that around 51,000 participants submitted over 132,000 checklists with more than 7,200 different avian species.

Prairie Warbler/Rotscheitel-Waldsänger

Assuming that there are about 10,500 species of birds globally (this number is in flux, as gene analysis has resulted in the reclassification of many birds), observers on May 8 found nearly three quarters of this world’s species in a single day. An impressive feat, and a testament to the interest and dedication of bird lovers and advocates.

My first Canada gosling sightings of 2021/Die ersten Kanadagansküken des Jahres 2021

While I participated in the May 8 official spring bird count at Fountain Creek Regional Park, one of my favorite local destinations, and later added individual observations, my actual Birding Big Day happened on the following day. This was not by design, but as luck would have it, my friend and fellow ornithophile, Rebecca, and I had planned to visit Chico Basin Ranch, the top regional birding hotspot.

Birds were definitely on the move, and we saw more than 70 species at Chico Basin alone. When the birding community’s communication network  was aflutter with reports of rare migratory bird sightings at Big Johnson Reservoir, another area birding magnet, we jumped into our cars to continue our observations there.

By the end of the day, Rebecca and I had logged over 100 bird species. Courtesy of a number of birds who have been partaking of the buffet in our back yard, I ended the day with 107 astounding species. Astounding and completely unexpected. Numbers don’t capture the utter joy and magic inherent in this birding pastime of mine, but they provide me with 107 reminders of why we need to do everything possible to protect and preserve the soil, the water, and the air, so that the Age of Birds will never end.

PS: Most of the photos here, which include both resident and migratory birds, were not taken on the official or my actual Big Day, but in the last several weeks in and around Colorado Springs. The featured photo on top shows an Evening Grosbeak (Abendkernbeißer) in a crabapple tree.

I dedicate this post to you, Rebecca: I treasure our friendship and shared love for birds and will miss your company this summer. I wish you safe travels and happy hours among your human and our feathered friends.

Nest of Miracles

When I found the Great Horned Owl in the image above on February 16, 2021, I was happy, as I had been hoping to see one in this particular Colorado Springs park (Bear Creek East) for quite a while. I was especially happy because the owl was sitting on a nest. In order to avoid attracting predators, a nest should be inconspicuous, and I thought the owl couple had chosen their nursery well (they typically appropriate nests built by other birds). Even with Mrs. Owl sitting on what I assumed were eggs, she was barely visible, as some of you noted when I showed this photo in a previous post.

March 23, 2021

I was determined to keep an eye on this nest in hopes of seeing owlets. When I returned on March 23, I saw something white and fluffy next to the adult, but although I waited a while for movement and zoomed in as much as my camera allowed from a distance that did not seem to bother the bird(s), I could not make out if this represented a baby owl or leftover fur from a meal.

April 5, 2021

April 5, 2021

Imagine my delight when, on April 5, there was definitive, big-eyed proof that the egg(s) had hatched. Even then, it wasn’t clear to me if the nestling was an only child, or if it had a sibling. The mound in front of the owlet did not budge, but I had a sneaking suspicion…

April 28, 2021

….which was confirmed on April 28. Hooray! While I always thought the nest was well-camouflaged,  it seemed slightly small, and those two owlets had very little room to move. I sincerely hope they will continue to thrive, become strong fledglings, grow to healthy adulthood, and eventually have offspring of their own. 🦉🦉

Great Horned Owls typically nest in trees. Clutch size varies from 1 to 4 eggs. The incubation period is between 30 and 37 days. Only the female incubates the eggs. The nestling period lasts about 42 days (according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Horned_Owl).

Hoping for Spring, Hoping for Earth

April’s reputation as a changeable, capricious month is well established, but it seems to have been particularly fickle this year. Each suggestion of spring was followed by a wintry interlude. Our early garden bloomers—hyacinths and daffodils—spent more time weighed down by snow or encrusted by frost than with their cheerful heads held high. After admiring our neighbors’ crocuses from the distance for years, last autumn I finally remembered to buy and plant some bulbs around our house. A number of them produced beautiful blossoms, only to wilt before their time because of late freezes.

Living along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains at 6,000 feet, we know that winter doesn’t technically end until mid-May. Despite that knowledge, my memory is short-lived and each spring the weather surprises me anew. My gratitude for the moisture brought by recent rains and snow notwithstanding, I am happy that we seem to have rounded a corner, with more mellow temperatures prevailing both at nighttime and during the day. I sincerely hope that the lupines and columbines poised to flower soon will be spared winter’s chill grip.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

The floral awakening is a lovely reminder of the welcome change of the seasons, and the no less anticipated return of migratory birds confirms that a page has been turned in the yearbook of Mother Earth. While shorebirds and wading birds en route from their wintering grounds in the Southern United States, Mexico, Central or South America to their breeding grounds in more northern climes have been showing up on time, the arrival of many songbirds has been delayed this spring. If we needed a reminder of how tenuous the lives of wild animals are, the deep freeze that assailed Texas and other states in February confirmed that countless creatures depend on finely tuned rhythms, killing some and impeding others. Birds whose survival depends on plants and insects to sustain them during their journey were adversely affected by the storm.

The prospect of more frequent and severe recurrences of similarly calamitous events is disconcerting to the core. For eons, humans living close to nature and its cycles have known about the interconnectedness of all things. Our modern societies, increasingly removed and distant from nature’s finely tuned ways, have lost that understanding and wisdom, not only at our own peril, but to the detriment of myriad fellow species. We need to find that understanding and wisdom again. There is no alternative.

This is my slightly belated post in honor of Earth Day, which we celebrated on April 22. Every day is Earth Day, should be Earth Day, needs to be Earth Day. Without Earth, there is no future.

Barn Art

I’m always touched by “random acts of art,” never more so than when they are committed in out-of-the-way places. I happened across such an artistic act in the eastern reaches of El Paso County in February. While driving along a little-traveled county road (the Peyton Highway just north of the town of Hanover, for those familiar with local geography), I noticed a bright red barn on the opposite side of my lane, but by the time I realized that it had been transformed into a canvas, I was already past it.

No problem. A quick glance into my mirrors convinced me that I was alone on the road so I stepped on the brake, put the car in reverse, pulled onto the shoulder, and stepped out of the vehicle. I’m a sucker for cute animals and seeing so many endearing furred and feathered faces immediately made me smile.

The barn mural faces the property’s driveway and road so that the owners only have occasion to enjoy it when leaving or returning to their home. It stands to reason that one of their motivations for creating these charming country scenes was the edification of their neighbors and other passers-by, at least as much as their own.

I, for one, am grateful for this gratuitous gift of delightful creatures and am extending a warm thank you to the unknown benefactors.

A Weaselly Surprise

When I noticed something bright in my peripheral field of vision and my eyes afterward focused on this sleek creature, I felt slightly disoriented. The animal seemed out of its element, at least in my mind. It was October 2020 and I was birding along a paved path in a well-developed suburban subdivision. A weasel was not what I expected here.

Back at home I confirmed that I had indeed seen a Long-tailed Weasel. A member of the mustelid family (Mustelidae), which also includes badgers, wolverines, and skunks, it is considered the most widespread carnivore in the Western Hemisphere (according to our 1997 National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals). Considering this fact it’s remarkable that I only recall a handful of weasel encounters in my life, all of which happened in natural, undeveloped areas—until this one broke the mold.

This individual was sunning itself in someone’s back yard and it soon became evident that it had tunneled underneath the stone steps, where it disappeared for periods of time. I did not see a water source in the yard but not far from the property was a little pond, which likely proved attractive to this water-loving critter. Long-tailed Weasels (Mustela frenata) used to be considered strictly nocturnal but are now known to be active in daylight as well, because voles, among their favorite prey, are diurnal.

This rather tame-appearing representative of its kind was nearly done with its seasonal wardrobe makeover, having exchanged almost all the handsome yellow and brown summer attire for a white winter coat, except for the face and back, which probably turned white soon thereafter. The dark tip of the tail, on the other hand, remains black always.

 

I had enjoyed one previous weaselly meeting in southern Colorado in April 2016 during which the subject posed long enough for me to take a few photos. The image I have added for comparison shows the warm earth tones of the fur. I wonder if this weasel kept the same coat year-round, as the white camouflage color only makes sense in areas that receive significant amounts of snow.

If you have observed and/or photographed weasels in the wild, I would love to hear about your experiences.