As I drove home from doing my uncle’s chores, I kept noticing less-than-ordinary birds winging overhead. The day already promised to be warmer than normal and a soft breeze was blowing. I decided to give the day a try for my Christmas bird count. On the way to and from church, we identified quite a few, including a Great Egret and a Loggerhead Shrike.
After lunch, I set out again, armed with my trusty Stokes Field Guide. After heading down our shady country road and picking out several species, my two younger brothers and I set out for our neighbor’s pond at the back of a ninety-acre field. Scarcely had we begun, when we came across a Chipping Sparrow. A few trees farther, we noticed another feathered friend, one that I had never seen before. After studying it for a while and flipping through my guide several times, I identified the little fellow as a Pine Warbler. Another bird for my life list!
Halfway out along the field, two robins alighted in a tall poplar long enough for me to mark them down. At the pond, we crept down among the weeds to the edge. A Great Egret flapped lazily up and disappeared over the pines, but no ducks. After double-checking to make sure we hadn’t missed anything, we climbed back up the bank and stopped under some gnarled grandfather oaks. A Downy Woodpecker hammered away on a dead cypress close by. Soon several of his companions joined him at his table. Various birds flitted from branch to branch overhead, but they were all too high for me to identify. After a few minutes, one flitted down right in front of me and began hammering away on an acorn. The tuft of feathers on its head gave it away—Tufted Titmouse.
I wanted to go to several other places around our farm, and the day was waning fast. After identifying several Carolina Chickadees, we retraced our steps. Our next stop was at our small pond in the woods. Rounding some bushes, I saw the brilliant male Wood Duck a moment before he saw me. With a cry of alarm, he shot into the air and twisted and turned in flight among the trees. His mate followed on swift wings.
An American Kestrel hangs around our fields pretty faithfully, and soon I noticed him on a power pole, waiting for Mouse Hut to deliver his supper. I also stopped briefly at a forty-acre lake on the other side of our place, and picked out a pair of Pied-billed Grebes that I’ve been watching for a number of days. Unfortunately, the flock of 120+ Canada Geese that had been hanging around the lake this winter weren’t there today.
I very much wanted to see a Barred Owl to add to my list, or better yet, the Great Horned Owl I saw several weeks ago. So the next morning before my twenty-four hours ran out, I tramped through our cypress lowlands. Although I identified a Northern Waterthrush (a new species for me), no owls showed their solemn faces. (Of course, I stood ten feet below one and heard two others within the following week.)
Although I didn’t see nearly as many birds as I hoped to, and although some I did see didn’t come close enough for me to identify, I was pleased with how many I DID identify (many of which I haven’t even written about). I haven’t often spent so much time out of a day “just” identifying birds. I usually simply keep my eyes open and pick out species as I go about my work. But I enjoyed the day immensely, and I want to fit in more days like this in the future.