As novice birdwatchers, each year my wife and I learn more, and enjoy more, about these amazing animals. After learning to identify different bird species, bird watching includes noting feeding habits, mating rituals and individual personalities. Inevitably, each species has some interesting trait or fact that both aids in identification and affords fascination.
Like many hobbies, bird watching can spur addiction. Our back yard has become a sort of bird sanctuary with several types of food, a few houses and a small running pond available for our feathered friends. We have upwards of ten feeders, while offering a diversity of shelter including brush, small trees and large trees. Of course, they are left to themselves to compete with the deer, rabbits, raccoons, and squirrels that frequently visit our small nature "reserve."
Over the last two years, we have recorded around thirty-five species of birds. Our favorites include the Northern Cardinal (especially the female), Red-headed Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, Baltimore Oriole, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, American Goldfinch, White-crowned Sparrow, Northern Flicker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Thrasher and Red-breasted Grosbeak. To catch a glimpse of some of the migratory birds that do not visit, we usually make the trip to Magee Marsh each May to see them off before their long trip across the lake. Each year, the second Saturday in May is International Migratory Bird Day.
Magee Marsh is often labeled as the best place in Ohio for bird watching. This year's trip included Lincoln's Sparrow, Blue Heron, Eastern Screech Owl, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet- among an array of species. Magee Marsh offers an easy to navigate boardwalk, just over a half-mile long, through the marshy forest. The park is also positioned on the lake, complete with a small beach and areas for picnicking. Another benefit of the tour of Magee Marsh is the knowledgeable birdwatchers from around the region. For amateurs like us, they help in the identification of the migratory birds- most of which we rarely see (especially the innumerable, and closely related, warblers). Over 300 species of birds have been seen at the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.
At home, we have started keeping track of our spring arrivals and other habits. For example, last year we first saw the Oriole on May 6; this year they appeared on May 7 (at least two pairs). The Hummingbird first visited on May 4 of last year; this year it was May 6. The Orioles have been especially active this year, enjoying our newest buffet item- grape jelly. We get American goldfinches in numbers, sometimes as many as twenty at a time, either eating or waiting to eat. New this year includes a pair of Mallard ducks, the female that hops into the pond that is barely bigger than she is. A House Wren found the front yard bird house and is entertaining to watch in the preparation of his nest. He will maneuver the twigs to find the proper angle to enter the house (he will build several in hopes of luring a female). The other day we witnessed a Crow and three babies flying from tree to tree. Many other species perform dances, feed one another or sing an array of tunes as part of their aesthetics.
One uninvited guest, besides the occasional neighborhood cat, is the hawk. We have at least one, but probably a couple that regularly pays our backyard a visit- often sitting in our small trees that overlook the feeders and pond. They are smart, flying between the houses or hiding up in the tree waiting for an unsuspecting victim. Our small, but dedicated, German-Shepard mix, Shea, is responsible for keeping the yard free of felines and predatory birds.
Noticing birds, as a matter habit, has been extended to driving. Heading back and forth down Route 2 usually includes a couple of hawk sightings as they sit in the trees and on the fence posts lining the highway. Glimpses that are a bit more exciting included three buzzards (Turkey Vultures) sitting on a small fence just off the highway (they are beautiful in flight, but quite homely up close) and a Bald Eagle sitting in a tree in its classic intimidating pose (whose sighting nearly spurned a dangerous double-take).
Bird watching is a popular activity, with approximately 29 million individuals. For me, it is a way to relax and enjoy nature. In a world in which it is easy to get caught up with phones, web-surfing, email and blogging, it is refreshing to spend some time narrowly piercing the environment that employs most other species of our world.