This post may be stretching it a bit, but what the heck …
During my college years, one of the drinking games we used to play was “One up, one down.” Those who knew the secret would always get the right answer and not have to drink. Those who guessed wrong had to drink. I’ll give away the secret and spoil the game because I doubt a lot of college students are regularly checking in with BirdsofNewEngland.com. Anyway, one player raises both hands, one hand or neither hand. (It’s actually a bit more complicated, but you get the idea.) Another player has to say “one up,” “two up,” or “zero up.” The game only works, obviously, when new people are at the party; otherwise, everyone would always get the right answer.
Well, the reason for that stroll down Memory Lane was that I was reminded of that game while watching pine siskins at my feeder during yesterday’s snowfall. Check out the photos and you’ll see why.
There was a time when blue jays were my favorite bird. It’s not that I don’t like blue jays anymore, but I was a youngster then and only knew a handful of birds. Their size, color and boldness intrigued me. I’ve since discovered 100s of other birds and, while blue jays remain a valued sighting, other birds have replaced them at the top of my list. That doesn’t mean I can resist grabbing a shot of one when it poses for me during a snowfall. So here you go …
More snow photos from the other day. Here’s a female cardinal sharing a platform feeder with a chickadee and a male looking sharp in his red plumage.
Quick facts: Did you know that fewer than 40 percent of cardinal nests actually fledge young? That’s according to the folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Lab’s NestWatch team studied cardinals and came up with some interesting results. For instance, despite that low success rate, cardinals are a successful species overall. A long breeding season and occupying a variety of habitats are part of the reason.
For the third consecutive day, southern New England was hit by an overnight snowfall. None of the “storms” amounted to much in terms of accumulation but they did create some good bird photography opportunities.
Here are a few to get started. Many more to come …
I alluded to these guys and gals during my barred owl posting a few days ago. Here they are in photos.
For context, here’s what a wrote a few days ago”
“I turned the car around to get another look, but the owl was no longer there, even though I had seen it about one minute before. I drove past the spot and turned onto the next side road to get turned around again. It looked as if the road would lead to a few farms. The largest flock of turkeys I’ve ever seen was gathered in a field alongside the road. The turkeys, about 40-50 of them, seemed fairly wary so I didn’t linger long.”
I decided to stick to the woods behind my house for the Great Backyard Bird Count. I could have gone off to some nearby birding hot spot to try to log more birds, but I decided to stay put and “bird my patch.”
The action was fairly slow but not terribly so. I didn’t find any out-of-the-ordinary species, but I did get a lot of the common ones. I got my chickadees, titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers and American goldfinches. A small flock of pine siskins came to the backyard just as I was wrapping things up. I was glad it arrived for the count as this bird has been a regular visitor all winter.
The highlight of the count for me was checking out the beaver pond at the end of the trail that begins behind my house. The pond was mostly frozen, probably about 85 percent so, but the open water that did exist on the far edge held a lone male hooded merganser and nine ring-necked ducks.
Did I say nine? I meant to say 12. No, make that 13. When getting a precise number of birds is important, such as when doing a bird census like the Great Backyard Bird Count, it is important to check and double check the diving ducks.
When I first looked at the ring-necked ducks, I counted nine. I moved along the edge of the pond to change my angle and suddenly I counted 12. I watched for another minute and another duck popped up its head to make 13. I watched carefully for another couple minutes and the number stayed at 13.
Ring-necked ducks are one of the more common diving ducks we see in New England during the winter. Diving ducks are the ones that, true to the description, dive underwater for their prey such as fish and crustaceans. The other types of ducks are dabblers and they simply tip up and stick their heads in the water in their search for food.
Most of our very common ducks are dabblers. Mallards, black ducks, wood ducks and teal are all dabblers. The divers include species such as the mergansers, bufflehead, goldeneye, and, as mentioned, ring-necked ducks.
Dabblers are sometimes difficult to count because there can be so many of them they tend to crowd each other out. But at least you can always see them. They don’t “disappear” underwater.
When you approach a pond and see a flock of divers, you never know whether you are looking at all of them or not. Not that it would have made a whole lot of difference in the grand scheme of things if I had submitted 12 ring-necked ducks, or even my original count of nine, for that matter. But, of course, I was trying to be as accurate as possible so I’m glad I was able to submit the correct number.
All in all, it was a fun count with a decent number of species. How did you do? Feel free to send me an email and let me know.
For more information and international results of the Great Backyard Bird Count, click here.