This weather is for the birds
Like gardening, birding can be a good addiction.
The mild weather lately has made me very happy in our region, but I am sure it will eventually end soon as this weekend is proving. Not only does it make me happy, but I think it really makes the birds a lot happier also. Every morning that I go outside, I hear the birds chirping away like it is the spring season. On a normal winter morning, there is usually very little to sing about. That has not happened yet and it truly starts the day off right.
So often during the winter, we find ourselves catching up with projects in the house, as it is too cold to be outdoors. There are still things you can enjoy about the outdoors that does not require you to be in the cold when the weather is not so nice. One of those activities is called “birding” or bird watching. For decades, many people have gotten involved in the art of birding. Not only is it a wonderful hobby all year long, but at times it can become quite addicting.
Like gardening, birding can be a good addiction. It will invigorate your mind and your senses regardless of the time of year. It will excite you when you see a new species that you have never seen before very much in the same way as a new variety of plant does when it blooms for the first time. Being a novice bird watcher myself, I can get excited just by seeing a sparrow with yellow wings. Of course, that is probably not what I am looking at, but many times I can never find this type of bird in my bird book and guide so make up a name for it. Sometimes it even impresses people when I tell them what I saw. A true birder will tell me the bird that I saw through my vague descriptions and impress me in return. I always hope that what I have seen is rare, but that is rarely the case.
With the milder weather, there sure is a presence in my garden lately. Every day that I go out, they seem to be overjoyed to be in the dead garden of winter. They still find solace in it and enjoy the numerous dried flower stems that contain thousands of seeds. Not that food has been hard to find this winter, but I have spoiled them rotten with feeders full of seed and cages packed with suet to attract all types of the flying critters. Most of the time they visit my home when I am away at work. By the time I get home, they are gone and doing their own thing. On the weekends, I can waste hours sitting near the patio door and just watching their activity outside. It is almost like watching a campfire at night and staring into the embers — it becomes mesmerizing and the time goes by without even noticing.
In our area, I see a large array of birds at my feeder or just enjoying the dried plants in the garden. In the trees, I will see Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers plucking at the bark, the Nuthatch and the Rose-breasted Nuthatch that seem to walk upside down on the limbs and from the suet cages, and sometimes I will catch the ultra-large Pileated Woodpecker in the trees pounding away at the wood. Seeing that guy is a true joy in the watching of birds.
My feeders usually have a mix of birdseed and black sunflowers. Other people also put out thistle seed and safflower to attract additional species. Shelled peanuts seem to be a highlight for all, as they are a high-energy food. A good mix of food at the feeding spaces can bring in Juncos, Black-capped Chickadees, Redpoles, Pine Siskens, Blue Jays, Northern Flickers, Cardinals and a myriad of finch varieties. Every once in a while, you may even see a hardy Robin that has decided to stay in the area for the winter. I know there are a few around, as I have heard them in the early morning hours. I have just not laid my eye on him yet, but one of these days, I know he will show his face to me.
There are many bird-watching clubs one can join in the area, too, if you are interested enough in learning more about these garden visitors. Some people will travel all across the country to catch a rare species or to see the migration of another type. Some are only found in the South, while others are only found in the forests of the upper northwest. Like plants, they all have their preferred locations where they thrive and once in a while, they will get lost and end up someplace outside of their range.
There are many similarities between a birder and a gardener. At times they go hand in hand but when you get to the details of each, they are a separate addiction of enjoyment altogether. As you see each species in your yard, use a journal to document the type and date of when you viewed each particular bird. After a while, you will create quite an interesting list of all the species you have viewed. If you want to tempt yourself with a little birding enjoyment, pull up a chair to a window or patio, grab a journal, a birding book and a good pair of binoculars and see how quickly the time can pass on a cold winter day. I can bet when you see something new and exciting, you will call a friend to tell about it. It is how we get other people interested in the things around us. It is contagious in a way, and you will feel the relaxing and invigorating effects almost immediately.
What better way to spend the winter season while indoors.