Monday, February 18, 2008

Great Backyard Bird Count


This should be have been the weekend of the great turtle count. The numbers of them I saw surpassed any bird species, so I spent more time gazing at the turtles emerging from their slumber than I spent counting birds. Can’t get enough turtles!


The Northern Cardinals win the prize at my house. Their numbers are ahead of Mourning Doves and House Finches this year. The only way I could get a conservative count was to photograph two trees full of them within a few seconds.


Sorry, guys. You’re outnumbered this time.

As a beginning bird person (I just can't use the word "birder" yet for some odd reason), participating in my first GBBC was fun and gave me a good reason to break my monotonous weekend routine of cleaning house and to get out there - backyard to wetland to pond.


I gave close attention to the ground feeders – the ones I often overlook. A neighborhood cat and a brief appearance of a Cooper’s Hawk kept the feeder areas vacant for a while which made me a bit frustrated. I called in the Boston Terrier Swat Team who were more than happy to terrorize a kitty on the other side of the fence.

A visit to the wetlands was downright disappointing at 9am this morning. I arrived there right out of bed - looking quite scary. Couldn't get the hair to lay down instead of up. It's Monday. Did I forget to mention going to work? Didn’t appeal to me too much. Who wants to go to work when there might be a second chance at a Red-Headed Woodpecker? Huh? I played hooky.

What did I find there?


Plenty of them and a few Mallards. I heard a distracting bird nearby that made me whirl around on my heels several times to find it. Made me wanna scream, "Will you STOP playing games with me???!"


“fee-bee! fee-bee!” On the way out, I found the little trickster on a road sign! It was gone before I could get out of my car. Dang.


The pond was loaded with male Hooded Mergansers. I've been wondering where all the guys were…


They nearly outnumbered the Canada Geese.


Mystery Duck! (Please click to enlarge most of these photos.) I can’t find this bird in any of my field guides. I concentrated on looking for the black ring on white. Any help out there?

On one of the dreariest, coldest days a month ago, I was taken aback at seeing a female House Finch sleeping soundly in one of the feeders, all puffed up in a little finch ball. I startled her and she flew away in an instant.


Yesterday I sighed with a heavy heart, as I am sure it’s the same girl. She enjoyed the sunflower seeds, oblivious to potential danger or any stimulation through sound and sight. Conjunctivitis, perhaps.

I spoke to her quietly and there was no response. I clapped my hands and she continued to crack a seed. Possibly, she’s blind and deaf.


I waved my hands near her face and tapped the feeder gently in hopes she would realize I was there. Maybe she saw my shadow.

The rest of the House Finches here look very good since I began close examinations.


So alone and vulnerable, she floated away, to a low evergreen close by.

This bird thing I have going on has given me so much joy. I've learned plenty and lived through the arrival of Starlings, Grackles, Rock Doves, and House Sparrows; upsets over Bluebird drama and their recent disappearance; Barn Swallows, and a damned House Sparrow kicking a sweet Carolina Wren out of the Barn Swallow nest recently. I'm OK. But honestly, there are times when I want to withdraw, step inside the house, and close the blinds. Seriously, I do.


Beth said...

Such beautiful pictures! I love them all but especially the tree with all the cardinals.

Carol Michel said...

"A begining bird person"? You? Repeat after me "I am a birder". Because you are by my definition!

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Anonymous said...

So many amazing cardinals! WOW! I am happy when I see 3 at my feeders! Your duck isn't a duck! It's a pied billed grebe! Love you are already seeing turtles!

Ruth said...

I remember your tree full of Cedar Waxwings last year, and now a tree full of Cardinals...even more dramatic. I love the Hooded Mergansers. We have lots of Common ones here (I like them too).

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Great pictures Mary. So many Cardinals! Wow.

RuthieJ said...

Pied-Billed Grebe is your mystery waterfowl, Mare (although my field guides say his beak should only be that color in the breeding season--guess he's getting some ideas, eh?)

It would be wonderful to see that many cardinals. Let the happy thoughts of cardinals keep you going even when you find a sick house finch. It's hard, I know, because I've had to experience it too.

NatureWoman said...

Cool turtle and all of the bewds! Don't go inside and shut the blinds, Mary! I know nature is heartbreaking at times, but it is wonderful, too!! A grebe!!! Good for you! Yay!

Susan Gets Native said...

Your pied-billed grebe has love on his mind (and on his bill!).

Whoa. You saw a phoebe? Was that a phoebe?
*checking the range maps...okay, I guess that was a phoebe*

Start calling yourself a birder, Mare. It's happened. Live with it.

Mary said...

Ok, looked like a duck to me. I missed the Grebe section in the guides. Thanks, everyone!

Unknown said...

Everyone is getting excited over your cardinals and grebe and rightly so but my attention went to the female house finch. How sad. Sure hope she will be ok. Perhaps she feels safe at your feeder.

Beth said...

Isn't that just life, Mary? Joy and sorrow, love and despair, all mixed together...

Wonderful pics - especially all the birds in the tops of the trees. You are a bit ahead of us in the spring weather department - I am SO ready!

And, yeah, I'd say you are a birder. For sure.

You bless me, girl...

JeanMac said...

Aw, felt sorry for that birdie - I had never thought about birds getting in old in regard to sight, etc.Your pics are great as usual.

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous pictures. Sorry about your little finch. So sad. I'd love to see a Hooded Merganser. Very cool.

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

I'm sorry about your finch too May. I understand the whol circle of life thing, I really do, but still it's hard to see the helpless ones among us suffer.

Love ya BIRDER!!

Alyssa said...

Mary I've found that when you put your heart and soul into loving some facet of nature there are bound to be times you'll want to withdraw. There can be such heart-breaking moments and situations but your wonderful pictures show me it surely is worth it.

I loved your previous posting about the pups going to the vet. Thea (surprise, surprise!!) is the crazy one and has to be held down by two attendants while the third clips her little nails. Garm just sits there, chilling. The fish are like beautiful jewels in your pond. Fantastic!

Larry said...

That must be nice to have so mamy cardinals in your yard-I can't imagine having that many at once in mine.-Maybe they are looking to you for guidance.-I always like seeing Hooded mergansers too.-Glad you're enjoying the count-including turtles.

Cheryl said...

As always a fabulously put together blog. The house finch made me sad....I can't bear suffering. There is a disease going around amongst the finches here. Fortunately I have not had a problem but many people have. I wonder could it be that?
Love your turtles, you have an amazing amount of wildlife around, lucky you.

Dorothy said...

Hi Mary, I'm so glad you took a day off to play! Sounds like you need a hug!
((((((((HUG MARY))))))))))))
Great pictures again..and yes, you are definitely a BIRDER!!!
Your blog rocks!!!

Q said...

Dear Mary,
GBBC is a fun four days! Glad you took the day off work to count birds. No House Finches at my house this year. Lots of Purple Finches and Woodpeckers. I like keeping tract from year to year. Seeing your trees filled with Cardinals is a beautiful sight. Good year for Cardinals here too.
Sometimes I do have to come inside and take a break. I end up going right back out. How could we not feed them and care? The birds are so beautiful.
Hummingbirds will be back soon!
Oh Mary, I love the turtles!!! I want to count turtles too.

Susan Gets Native said...

I forgot to mention....your house finch has mycoplasmal conjunctivitis.
Take down your feeders and clean them with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water and put them back up. And rake up as much spilled seed as you can under your feeders.
Also, go to the House Finch Eye Disease Survey at
and report your birds...both healthy and sick.
It sucks, but there isn't anything you can do for the sick female. Some of them get through it and build immunity, and some die from it.

Mary said...

Thanks, Susan. Wouldn't you know I just cleaned the feeders two weeks ago but not with bleach.

beckie said...

Mary, great usual! Usually we have a couple of pairs of cardinals winter over, but they must have been smart this year and got the heck out of Dodge! Can't wiat til they come back.

Kathie Brown said...

Mary, your wonderful community of friends has just about said it all. Congrats on the grebe! You are a birder already! We all have to start somewhere. An easy way to keep a life list is just record the date and place next to the pictures in your bird guide. I did this for years until my daughter bought me a life list book. It was only this January that I started eBirding and now they do it for me, but I still write the dates next to the picutres in my old Golden Field Guide.

sonia a. mascaro said...

Such wonderful picture, Mary! Just beautiful those red cardinals! You live in a blessed place indeed!

Alan Pulley said...

Great pictures Mary! Also, I like the tip about taking the picture and then counting the birds. I should have done that with all the finches I had around my feeders.


Ramblings of a Villas Girl said...

Hi Mary! A beginner. I don't think so. You are a birder and a very good one at that. How do you get all of those cardinals in one place. I am lucky if I can get two pairs. Enjoyed the pictures and feel for the sick little bird at your feeder. Have a good night. Lisa

Sandpiper (Lin) said...

So many cardinals! Beautiful. I love the little grebe. I've only seen them a few times and it's always a treat to watch them. Poor little finchie. I hope it will be okay.

Jayne said...

Mary, I'd be thrilled to have that many cardinals!! Lucky you! Hang in there my friend!

The Quacks of Life said...

mary - in answer to your comment on my blog there was a starling roost in somerset a few years ago numbering 7 million birds

Mary said...

(this is the other Mary) Wonderful the turtle, the cardinal tree. The finch story is sad. It is heartbreaking when we see the damaged birds among the fit.

Kerri Farley said...

Oh are definitely a BIRDER!! :) Wonderful post, as usual! And a Grebe...Wow! A wonderful find! Poor little finch :(

Love the turtle too!!

I just saw a news story about the Charlotte area and barred owls living in some of the old neighborhoods....have you seen any?

Cathy said...

Aw . . . sweetie . . . I so understand. As much as Nature delights us - she doesn't shield us from the struggles and endings.

I learned from my friend who keeps my feeders filled when I'm away, that the Cooper's Hawk killed the little squirrel to whom I'd been providing extra provisions. I wish she hadn't told me.

I hope those incredible Cardinals lift your heart.

KGMom said...

As I arrive late, all that's left to say is -- ditto, ditto, ditto.
I do want to ask, though, do you live in an area that was lately wild space? You have so many birds here and there. I am thinking developments have displaced lots of birds. Not that we don't have developments here--we do--but our bird numbers are way down compared to your experience. We live in an area that has had developments for 30, 40, 50 or more years--so the birds that need space has scooted long ago.

Chrissie said...

Great post, Mary. Are the turtles in your pond? Do they find the way there like frogs do over here? How wonderful to see them! Time for a rest now :-) Stay warm and dry.

Kathi said...

Late to the party, as usual. I see others have already alerted you to the Pied-billed Grebe identification.

Mary, if you go out looking for birds, and take pictures of birds, and count birds and keep track of Life Birds, then, my dear You are a BIRDER!

Keep on looing up!


Mel said...

The cardinals in the tree are beautiful, what a sight! you are so lucky! In my backyard I get 4 or 5 visitors a day, mostly the same guys over and over :(

Pond Plant Girl and Sweetheart Artichoke Co said...

Great pics Mary! Wildlife is often a topic overlooked when it comes to watergardening. Love your "four-eyed" koi too.