Wednesday, March 23, 2011

birding on the cheep

I returned from Oregon with three bird books and a flock of good intentions to get out in the countryside to watch my little feathered friends.

So far, I have made it to my hammock. 

But it is a start.  My garden attracts a wide variety of birds.  And it is a good place to hone my watching skills.

My skills need honing.  But, my back yard may not be the best whetstone. 

The birds in my back yard fall into two categories: birds I recognize from years of bird-watching, and birds that can hide faster than the brother-in-law who owes you a hundred pesos.

The best example of the first category is what I call the English sparrow (though it is neither English nor a sparrow) -- what more-educated people call a house sparrow.  They seem to be almost everywhere north of the equator.  For all I know, they may also eat bananas in Ecuador.

And even the birds that are new to me, like the American robin's Patty Dukeish Mexican cousin, the rufous-backed robin, are easy to identify.  For some reason, the familiar birds seem to hop around in public as if they were part of a local circus.

It is the second category that baffles me.  I get all sorts of warblers flitting through.  Along with several varieties of vireos.  Not to mebtion the Greta Garbo doves -- like the one in the photograph above.

But the moment I train my binoculars on them, they disappear.  Getting my camera close to my face is a sure sign for them to do their Amelia Earhart impressions.

I thought I was going to be clever with a little avian chumming by throwing out some stale corn flakes on the compost heap.

It worked.  I had a full cast of house sparrows and grackles.  Birds that I can see by simply looking out my window whenever the sun is up.

It was like opening a bar to attract single women.  Only to have a bunch of drunk men show up.

But it was not just house sparrows and grackles who took me up on my generous free lunch.  While on ant patrol that same night, I discovered a thick line of leaf-cutter ants transferring the cereal to their nest.  Perhaps they had run out of Rice Krispies for the queen.

There are times I can be stupidly optimistic.  My first thought was perhaps the ants would now leave my plants alone.  After all, they had an alternate food source. 

Of course, that was nothing more than recycled Chamberlain appeasement.  Feeding the Sudetenland to Hitler did not save the rest of Europe from invasion.

(I think that last paragraph may be an exception to Godwin's Rule.  But I can never tell in these name-calling days.)

I am done with chumming.  If I want to see timid birds, I will need to find a good place to sit -- and watch -- and wait.  Another opportunity to learn patience.

Or I can just be happy watching sparrows -- and the occasional dove.


Jonna said...

Yes, I think this is one of the few times Hitler's name is used without invoking Godwin's Rule. I remember him from The Well, many years ago. Brilliant and acerbic and not fun to find on the opposite side of a discussion.

Steve Cotton said...

I have always found him to be a fascinating conversationalist. But, you are corrent. Woe to those who find themselves facing him across a dueling line.

Felipe Zapata said...

Greta Garbo doves. I like that. And it's accurate.

Felipe Zapata said...

You sent me to Google. I had never heard of Godwin's Rule. And now I have. And I agree with it too.

Steve Cotton said...

Thank you.

It turns out that the elusive dove Iophotographed is an immigrant. An African bird. Probably once caged or an escapee from a breeder. But he and his mate are now regular visitors to the back yard. Escaping on hissing wings at the slightest movement. Chicken doves as you once called them.

Steve Cotton said...

Always happy to act as a tool for further education.

I thought it matched well with your posts on name-calling.

Kim G said...

Perhaps you need to convert your hammock into a fully-fledged, camouflaged blind.

I suggest you make it look as much as possible like an impressive, stainless-steel barbecue and then slip inside.

That ought to fool those tricky birds.

Saludos desde el norte,

Kim G
Boston, MA
Where at least there aren't any chickens in plain least live ones.

Charley said...

When your birdwatching elevates to "twitching" , you'll be off to the isles of silly, uhmmm, I mean, the Isles of Scilly.
Hope we get reports from Rome!

Steve Cotton said...

I doubt the birds would be tricked. Stainless steel barbeque grills are as rare as -- well, hen's teeth -- around here. What I should buy is my own pollos asados setup. But the birds would think I had set up some sort of Aztec avian sacrifice system.

Nope. I think I will simply swing in the hammock -- and pretend I am birding.

Steve Cotton said...

Every time I try to blog on my trips, it never works out. But I can guarantee there will be post-Rome reports.