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.

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 Birder’s Prayer

Lord of Birds, please make me a better birder.

Where there are birds, let me find them,

Where there is birdsong, let me hear it,

Where there is a nest, let me shield it,

Where birds are hungry, let me feed them,

Where they are in danger, let me protect them.

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

O Maker of Feathers, please grant that I may be

Fleeter of foot to find birds without flushing them,

Keener of ear to hear their heavenly music,

Sharper of eye to see all their beauty,

Astuter of perception to understand nature’s wonderful ways.

For it is through birds that we grasp nature’s miracles,

It is through birds that we discover a meaning of life,

And it is through birds that we find hope for the future.

Freely and shamelessly based on the Peace Prayer by St. Francis.

All bird photos were taken in Colorado Springs in January and February 2020, except for the Greater Yellowlegs, which was photographed in Pueblo, where it seems to have overwintered, rather than farther south. The topmost photo shows a White-breasted Nuthatch (Carolinakleiber).

Black-and-White Birds

The combination of the colors black and white is considered elegant and classy, not only with regard to fashion, but also when it comes to feather arrangements, as many posts by fellow bird-loving bloggers attest. When I assembled my avian portraits a few months back, my only intention was to share a selection of Colorado’s bicolored resident and migratory birds. I hope you will enjoy their beauty with me. But when I finally scheduled this post a few weeks ago and realized how close to an eagerly awaited yet at the same time anxiously dreaded event it would be published, my mind took me into directions altogether different, and it is also my hope that you will allow me to digress.

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

The bird in the topmost photo is a Black-throated Gray Warbler (Trauerwaldsänger).

I stay away from politics as much as possible because most of the time nothing good comes from discussing it. Only with some trepidation did I allow my pen and keyboard to follow my mind in this instance. All of us have strong convictions and are reluctant to have them questioned. Polarization and radicalization have increased not only in this country, but across the globe, whereas nuanced discussion and civil discourse have gone the opposite way. What does it say about our societies that people are not only ostracized, but are sent hate mail, death threats—or even poison—merely for expressing their opinions, or for stating scientifically accepted facts? It’s so bewildering it beggars belief.

I know one thing. While black-and-white fashion or plumage might be beautiful, black-and-white thinking is not. Polarizing is not. Claiming that white is better, smarter, or more superior than black is not. Asserting that every human being has the same potential and that people who don’t succeed didn’t try hard enough is ignorant at best, cruel at worst. To declare that systemic racism doesn’t exist is to wear blinders, is to deny that many humans don’t grow up on a level playing field or with the same privileges.

Indigenous lives matter. Black lives matter. White lives matter. It should go without saying that ALL lives matter, but this self-evident statement has been misappropriated and distorted in the most insidious way. A clarification: While feathers may be black or white, human skin is not. It might be pink or brown or countless other shades. But because we have reduced the world to black and white, I am manacled by reductive language.

Each day we see where prejudice and polarization have brought us—to a dead end. It will take all of us to correct centuries-old and deep-seated misconceptions and biases. To return to the birds which started this train of thought, we need to acknowledge and affirm that, while black and white might stand alone, they complement one another and become more beautiful when they exist side by side.

A selection of signs I have recently come across in people’s yards.

Animal Encounters

Meetings with animals wild and tame make me happy.  And while birds touch my soul most profoundly, I’m always grateful for opportunities to observe and photograph other creatures. All of the following pictures were taken this summer, except for the last one. I had to chuckle when I came across these slightly uncommon pets: not one, but two pigs in someone’s front yard. As is obvious from this picture, they were as curious about me as I was about them.

Western Tiger Swallowtails are among our most notable butterflies. Their wingspan of 3 to 4 inches, conspicuous color, undulating flight, and graceful alighting on bright blossoms will irresistibly capture one’s attention and gaze, and hold them captive as these exquisite flyers propel themselves from one nectar source to the next.

To enlarge a photo, click on it.

My ears are always switched on during my excursions and when a friend and I went birding one late August morning and tried to figure out from what avian a certain sound emanated, a glance at the ground a few feet ahead of us reminded us to heed my husband’s perpetual advice of “watch your step.” A not-so-little serpent lay coiled in the cool, wet grass and let us know about its presence. Needless to say, our repertoire of unusual bird sounds grew to include reptilian rattling! Out by myself only a few days later, I nearly jumped in the air when I heard similar rattling from right next to my foot. Fortunately, this one came from a cicada which didn’t mind being picked up and inspected.

During my first and sadly only camping trip this summer at one of my favorite destinations, Manitou Lake in neighboring Teller County, I was thrilled to capture a gorgeous American Mink with my camera early in the morning, when I approached stealthily and had the sun in my back, making me blend into my surroundings. These ferocious, carnivorous, semi-aquatic mammals are related to weasels and otters and, on account of their lustrous coats, have been bred in controversial fur farms. Luckily, this one lived in freedom.

One early summer morning, I arrived at my destination before sunrise. Next to a pond I found several crayfish crawling on a path lit by streetlamps. They are by no means rare, but I see them rarely enough that I took note–and a few snapshots.

The following portraits are of animals I have seen and shared before, but I encounter them seldom enough that each occasion represents a reason to celebrate: a very mellow bobcat which accepted my presence with nonchalance, a cute-from-a-distance porcupine whose arboreal slumber I briefly interrupted, and a thick-headed Bighorn Sheep, also best enjoyed from a distance.

Western Painted Turtles can often be seen sunning themselves on exposed rocks in the middle of ponds and lakes, and this group struck my fancy because each individual seemed to have a preference for the same sun-warmed prominence. They are popular as pets, until they are not, and are often abandoned by their owners at bodies of water to fend for themselves, which they seem to be able to do.

Last but not least I would like to introduce two fellows I met a few years back. They graciously interrupted their grazing to greet me at their fence. Long-eared and soft-nosed, one was particularly endearing. When one of my e-mail correspondents asked me for a photo of myself shortly thereafter, this is the one I sent him. I aspire to its characteristics: curious, clever, and charming. 😊