Sunday, January 30, 2011

In Quest of Birds

DSC_0005 Red-tailed hawk, my yard 1-25-11

My Big January count isn’t going so great. My January total of 54 species equals the number of birds I could see in one day at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson, AZ! This is a new thing for me to have to work so hard just to see birds.

My own yard has been practically silent since the invasion of hawks last week. The same day the Cooper’s hawk showed up I also saw a pair of Red-tails hunting my back yard later on that afternoon. I was just about to go out when I noticed motion out my bedroom window. I looked just in time to see one red-tail drop like a rocket to the ground. On the tree next to it I saw a gray squirrel scurrying up the bark. Then, to my utter surprise another red-tail flew out of one of the tall pines and landed on a bare branch closer to me. I grabbed my nearby camera and watched, but apparently the hawk also saw me pressed against the glass and it soon flew off.


The next day the little birds returned to the feeder and so did the Cooper’s hawk. Birds scattered everywhere. The feeders were abandoned. The final incident which has rendered my feeders virtually silent was the day of the snow storm. On the west side of our apartment the yard is bordered by a hedge that ends at a little stone wall which marks the corner of my neighbor’s yard and the backyard lawn and woods. There a little tangle of branches and vines tumbles over the wall creating a nice place for the juncos and sparrows to gather and hide. Sometimes the Carolina wren joins them. It always seems like a happy place and the birds seemed safe there. I have even seen mourning doves lying in the leaf litter in this location, sunning and preening themselves, or even taking a nap. The ground slopes slightly up on this spot so it is elevated over the rest of the yard. I suppose it is a bit like having a terrace to sit on and survey your surroundings. For whatever reason, the birds love it.


However, as Gus and I were exiting the house in the afternoon after the snow had stopped and the paths had all been shoveled we heard a commotion in the backyard and then a squeak! Gus was ahead of me and saw more than I did but we both looked up to see a Sharp-shinned Hawk on a branch above our heads and slightly in front of us. I saw the black and gray banded tail hanging down over the branch and there in the Sharpie’s talons a small butterscotch-colored bird was held tightly. The sharpie, heart pounding from the hunt and eyes flaming clutched the little bird. I had my bins in my purse and quickly tried to raise them up to see which bird it had, but the sharpie spied us and gathering itself it flew off, the little bird dangling beneath its body as it flew away. Oh! I hope it is not the Carolina Wren, I think to myself as the hawk flies away.

I have not seen the juncos or sparrows in the stonewalled corner since that day. Now the birds take flight at the slightest motion when I walk past the windows or try to peek out and see them. On at least one occasion I have entered a count of zero into my eBird data as there have been no birds to count! One count I entered had just two birds; a crow flying overhead, and a poor shy dove huddled beneath the drooping branches of the yew tree. Yes, it has been very exciting and now very quiet around here.


The snow has not helped my quest for birds either. I drive around the country roads looking for places to find bird but the trees are empty, which is a good thing, because there is absolutely no place to pull off and watch them! Snow banks tower overhead everywhere I go! I cannot see over them in many places to the meadows beyond, and if I am driving through forest, the snow covered branches are void of birds. All the ponds and lakes are frozen as are the creeks and streams. Even most of the rivers are frozen yet there must be open water somewhere for I have seen ducks and even Great Blue Herons flying over my head. Where are they going? I want to know! I want to see!

Gus and I drove out to the Ipswich Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield yesterday in hopes of seeing birds. While it is only about 13 miles from my house it took us 30 minutes driving winding country roads to get there. In many places my view is blocked by the ever towering snow banks. We drive past old colonial homes from the 17 and 1800’s. It is a pretty drive but I do not see any birds the whole way. Once at the sanctuary we park in the parking lot and I get out. While this sanctuary encompasses 2,200 acres, it is all snow covered and I cannot walk the trails. In the trees surrounding the parking lot I see chickadees and titmice, but I have those same birds in my yard. There is nothing new or different here and the hour is late, so we leave. The drive is not wasted for I will return here when the snow melts, but for today it was a bust as far as adding to my Big January total. At one point I thought I heard the call of a northern flicker, which would have added to my list, but though I scanned the fields and forest around me, I never found the bird and it stopped calling.

Today in January 30th. I have two day left to count. Today Gus and I will take a trip to the ocean once again, for it seems to be the only place I can find and see birds in all this deep snow! If I could see a purple sandpiper or a razorbill or even a cormorant, that would be exciting for me! Right now the sky is cloudy and threatening but the roads are clear and the temperature has climbed to nearly 20 degrees!

Wish me luck!


  1. We have a hawk that haunts the evergreens around our feeders, too. I happened to let Stella-dog out just as he was swooping down toward the feeders. It startled both the hawk and Stella. Thankfully, the hawk hasn't been back. I now only let Stella out the door by the feeders. I'm hoping if the hawk is spying on is, it sees the dog and is discouraged from coming close.

    Cathy, is it normal to be seeing wrens? I don't recall seeing them during previous winters. I was under the impression they migrated to warmer climes. I can tell you this much, they LOVE suet!

  2. It's been a tough January in New England to get around to see birds this year.I had to spend this last weekend shoveling snow offf my roof and away from my foundation.I eneded at 82 apecies I think. Unlikely that I will add any more unless by chance.

  3. Your surroundings are just as empty of birds as mine, just for a different reason.
    We are in the middle of a heatwave without second day with 40+C. Before that it was just days of 38-9C.
    Today it is already 43C. and only hungry blackbirds come to steal my early grapes before the sun rises.

    Give me cold any day, I hate this enervating, dehydrating heat. Even our air-conditioner died yesterday, there is just no respite as we sit under the fan and desiccate.

    Better luck next month!

  4. I went out today for 3 hours to all the spots I would go to if I were a bird. But I added nothing to my count. I am at 52 and unless a flock of new birds lands in the hospital courtyard tomorrow, I am done. The hawks must be having a struggle hunting with the deep snow.

  5. That Red-tailed Hawk, what a majestic looking bird. Great shot. My feeder is often empty of the usual finches, chickadees, nuthatches, etc and I suspect there is a hawk somewhere, but I haven't found it yet in the tall pines and oaks around the house.

  6. TSAnnie, I do not know if it is normal to see them around here or not. Perhaps Larry or Hilke can give us some insight? I know they are on my eBird list and as a possible species so my guess would be yes! I have noticed they do like my suet. I had one here again today during the height of the storm!

    Larry, I can so empathize with you! Enough snow already! I bet the birds feel the same way! Do you perhaps know the answer to TSAnnie's question above?

    Ruth, it looks like you and I are very close in the numbers and I would say that is excellent considering that you are farther north! Well done!

    Hilke, I have had brief glimpses of these hawks in my yard ever since I moved here but would only see a partial bird or silhouette, especialy since they often arrived at sunset. I think the snow and cold have made them bolder and has driven them out into the open.


Welcome to my nest! I hope you will enjoy spending time here with me and the birds. Thank you for your comments. I will try to get back to you as soon as I get back from counting more birds.