Sunday, November 30, 2014

Up Your Jackpot Birding Success

I got into birding in the Chicago area and I just marveled at the rarities the veteran birders found...regularly. "How the heck", I marveled. It was like magic...what were their secrets? Sure some of their birding surely was serendipity in nature, random encounters...a look out the window, step out on the back porch, walk around the block, etc. They knew something more, like the needs of the wildlife: food, shelter, water and space. Applied to species it is a roadmap for success; it will up your odds of finding common/uncommon species.

Driving power poled-lined roads of North Dakota will not yield a Snowy Owl or Gyrfalcon in summer, wrong space. In winter an entirely different story (food and space needs). Birding homework pays dividends.

So winter is setting in and your first thoughts: "Where are the winter finches?" Think food and space...cones on conifers. I put this logic to test yesterday going into the "urban setting" of Missoula, Montana. There is an abundance of conifer habitat on public lands, but the cone crop on the Ponderosa pine is somewhat lacking. Spaces in urban areas have an abundance of plantings, some native/some not that are also habitat. Think golf courses, arboretums, cemeteries, dumps, home landscaping, etc.

So I drove towards Fort Missoula and on the way I passed through two golf courses, Larchmont and Missoula Country Club. Heard and saw Black-capped Chickadee in roadside conifers. Noted zero waxwings using Mountain Ash (Sorbus acuparia), btw a great planting for a berry crop. Arrived at the Fort and found the conifers (mature plantings) loaded with cones. Within minutes heard the "gyp-gyp" call of the Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra). Found a flock of about 20 using Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)  and Blue Spruce (Picea pungens). Nothing but magic...try it today :-)

Black-capped Chickadee

Douglas Fir cone

Red Crossbill atop Blue Spruce

Bohemian Waxwing on Chokecherry