First posted on 02-22-2013
The Great Backyard Bird Count was last weekend. It rolls around the middle of February each year, and it’s a great excuse to grab an extra cup of coffee and a recliner, then sit back and enjoy the comings and goings of birds in your backyard or neighborhood.
Count the ones you see, paying attention to what species they are, and upload the results to a website designed just for collecting these citizen scientist numbers. It’s a fine occupation in which you can devote as little as fifteen minutes, or as long as you have time to spare. The collective results of everyone who participates actually help researchers determine migration patterns and other meaningful data about birds.
This year, I decided to kick it up a notch. I had already planned to take my kayak out for a spin on a nearby lake in hopes of capturing some bird photos. So why not count the birds as well?
I headed out bright and early the first morning of counting, a Friday. No one else was on the lake, and no wonder. It was cold, an icy wind making matters even worse.
I launched my boat and paddled across the lake to a quiet little cove filled with the remnants of aquatic plants and the dried flower heads of American lotus blossoms. Sticking up like reeds, that dead material gave me plenty of cover. I passed a group of coots that paid little attention to me as I quietly paddled, barely breaking the surface of the water.
A blue heron noticed me, though, and flew into a tree on the opposite shore. I backed my boat into a fallen mass of branches and waited. Admittedly, not quite as comfortable as my recliner back at the house, but I was bundled up for the weather and pulled my hood up over my head. Sipping hot coffee from my thermos also helped warm me.
Some mallards flew past, and I spotted a pair of Canada geese guarding a mound of a nest. A pair of redheads—ducks, mind you—swam nearby as a kingfisher came into the cove to fish.
Of all the birds I saw that morning, the kingfisher was the only one who suspected I might be something more than a fallen log. He kept his distance from me, chattering every time he decided to fly.
As birds came and went through that cove and on the shores, I was able to amass a good number of species and populations. And I was able to get a few good image captures as well. I paddled through the cove both to keep warm and to change position in hopes of finding more birds.
To my right, across a narrow neck of the cove, I spied a large bird float by just above the plant stickups. Then another. Then a group. More still. Fifty wild turkeys in all crossed from one spit of land to another, most not even flapping their wings, just gliding effortlessly and without a sound across the calm water.
Weekends fill with plenty to do, so I counted from home the rest of the four-day event. Still enjoyable, but I longed for a little more time to grab the yak and find another body of water from which to count.
Of course, there’s always next year. I’ve already blocked my calendar.
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