Hit or miss birding

All of the redwings were males. More male redwings perched in the trees nearby, more were on the ground beneath the feeder. An hour later the blackbirds were gone, the feeder was nearly empty and there wasn’t a bird in sight from my seat inside the window.

In weeds and brush at one side of our pasture I found a small flock of sparrows. A song sparrow flew up and perched on the top wire of the fence where I could see it clearly and identify it. A white-crowned sparrow flew by close enough that I could see the stripes on its head. But the rest of those birds were just sparrows, LBJs, unidentified little brown jobs.

On a walk in a woods I saw one red-bellied woodpecker, farther along one downy woodpecker. Then there were birds all around, in the trees, on the ground, flying from branch to branch, from branch to the ground and vice versa. I heard many more than I saw. But by sight and sound I knew that all of them were robins.

While driving on a country road we flushed a flock of little birds, some from the road, more from beside the road. They flew just a short distance and landed in the field by the road. We stopped, searched the field visually and spotted one, another, another, all horned larks.

That’s birding this time of year. An individual here and there or a flock of birds at a feeder, in brush or weeds, in a woods, along a country road. Frequently the birds in the flock are of a single species. Sometimes, as with red-winged blackbirds, they’re all birds of the same sex. Birding this time of year is a hit and miss proposition, few or no birds or flocks of birds.

No birds, sometimes for hours, even for a day. But there’s always the chance, the possibility, not only of birds appearing but of uncommon or rare birds. Perhaps there will be a red-breasted nuthatch as well as the usual white-breasted. There might be a few evening grosbeaks. I haven’t seen an evening grosbeak at one of our feeders in years but I used to.

There might be fox sparrow or a clay-colored sparrow or lark sparrow among those little brown jobs along a brushy fence row if it will just come out in the open and let me see it clearly. In the woods I might see a barred or a great horned owl, seldom seen nesters of the area. I might see a saw-whet owl, a visitor from the north.

In the open where, as they say, the wind blows free, there might be Lapland longspurs in a flock of horned larks. I might see a flock of snow buntings. Every large hawk might be a rough-legged hawk, another visitor from the north. A lone bird I saw perched on a sapling in the open turned out to be a northern shrike and a small flock of bigger birds coursing back and forth over a grassy field turned out to be short-eared owls.

To see a bird that is rare in our area makes looking out at a bird feeder or, even better, a walk along a brushy fencerow or through a woods or a drive on a country road an outing to remember. To a die-hard birder, just seeing birds, even the most common birds, the chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches, cardinals and blue jays, downy and red-bellied, a flock of goldfinches in drab winter plumage, add enjoyment and life, feathered life, to any day.

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