Cedar Mill Feeder Watch (or Just SIT a BIT)
by Lauretta Young
The Audubon sponsors annual bird counts at different points during the year, the most famous possibly being the Christmas bird count. While truly the weather can be horrid, as it was around here for this past December and early January, with lots of rain and freezing temperatures, the bird life is very diverse in the winter in this area. One of the methods of counting birds is to go to "known" sites to find certain difficult species. Last month I wrote about the Acorn Woodpeckers at Dawson Creek. Certainly for a Washington County bird count the "counters" will go there to tick that one off their list of species.
Generally in the valleys of Oregon the counts of seen species are around 100 plus or so. Some years have more and some have less. Clearly the counts of species in the summer reveal that some birds are in this area all year long and some are winter- or summer-only visitors.
Over the break from teaching at PSU this past month, after entering grades and doing the planning for next term, I spent one blissful day SITTING in my comfy padded chair with an ottoman and cat on lap and knit a scarf for one of my sons AND looked at my birdfeeder. I have a suet feeder, a Niger thistle feeder, a hummingbird feeder and a generic multiseed feeder. Also we don't tidy up too much of the leaf litter in our yard to encourage those species who love to hunt for insects.
All this planning to attract birds paid off big time when I sat most of the day drinking tea, petting the cat, watching the clouds and sun breaks and knitting, all while enjoying the delightful array of visitors to my feeders. We are also fortunate to have a wetland pond in view of my window area, so I got to see the many ducks, geese, herons and other water birds as they visited the pond.
So for my day sitting and knitting and being peaceful instead of running around doing chores and work—I counted a total of 34 different species of birds. Certainly not the Washington County record of around 120 in a day, but for sitting in a chair I found that a good number. Also I had a couple of rare treats including an Evening Grosbeak that my neighbor saw as she brought me a holiday present. That bird has such a gorgeous deep yellow eye stripe it looks almost clownish and made up! I had not seen Grosbeaks since the summer, when they generally come by in large flocks to eat my wild cherries. This was a lone bird, which I imagined came down from some snowy mountain to the valley to hunt for food. Who knows, and I have not seen him since his one-day showing.
My other favorite and rare bird was the Varied Thrush (see the December 2010 News for a picture). He and his two buddies have stayed around the yard now for a couple of months. They love to toss leaves in the air as they scratch for insects. They are incredibly "wild," if they see movement inside the house they scatter off to the next yard and I don't see them for an hour or so.
Most of the other birds I saw were the expected visitors to a Cedar Mill backyard this time of year—the plentiful Juncos with their flash of white as they fly to and fro, the huge flocks of Bushtits that cover the suet feeder as if they are one swarming body, yet composed of about 40 small birds, the adorable Red-breasted Nuthatches who flit in and out of the suet feeder and the other "typical" birds of our area. Very soon these winter birds will be supplemented by migratory shorebirds, water birds and warblers. Until spring comes I will enjoy being able to see the birds in the bare trees. When there is sunlight to see the flashes of yellow on the Yellow-rumped Warblers – that is my winter treat of color before the yellow daffodils emerge.
Lauretta Young MD is a retired physician who now teaches at PSU community health and OHSU Division of Management and takes out new as well as expert birders on personal guided trips in Cedar Mill and beyond. See her web site at: www.portlandbirdwatching.com and see more of her husband's photos at: flickr.com/photos/youngbirders