Make Your Own Breaks by Steve Frye
Make Your Own Breaks – March 2018 Wild Bird Company Newsletter
My college roommate Roube used to say “Sly, you’ve got to make your own breaks”. He meant things don’t always happen completely by chance, having fortune smile on you requires putting yourself in a position where you can take advantage of what life brings. He was usually referring to school or women when he made this statement, but I think it works well for bird watching. You’ve got to make your own breaks.
We have had some good fortune on the bird walk lately. On January 20th, I announced to the Saturday Birders, as we were gathered to go out for the morning, “we are going to look for a snowy owl this morning”. One of the group facetiously remarked “not another snowy owl chase”. You see, we had looked for the snowy owl that was frequenting Stanley Lake in Westminster the month before, but we dipped as some birders say, we didn’t see the bird. I fell into the bird walk leader trap of announcing that you are just going after one particular species. If you don’t see that bird, then it’s hard for the walk not to seem a failure. Anyway, on the 20th I tempered my announcement by saying we were going to go to places where it would be more probable to see a snowy, and if we didn’t see it, we would find plenty of other great birds. The risk of dipping on the owl was great because I had never seen a snowy owl in Boulder County. Within a few minutes of arriving at Boulder Reservoir, I spotted what looked like a melting snowman on the ice about half a mile away. A very curious lump. We walked down to the Reservoir and put the scopes on it, a snowy owl. After a few minutes of reveling in our find, we saw another lump on the ice. A second snowy! What are the odds of that? To add to our luck, one of the birds flew right at us, passed us, and landed on some sailboats grounded for the winter. We enjoyed some nice views of this owl and it was a pleasure being in its presence. Both of these owls spent the day at the Reservoir and they both moved on by the next day. Snowy owls are known for their nomadic behavior and these two were no exception.
A couple of weeks after the snowies, again on the Saturday Bird Walk, we were having a rather lackluster outing. The wind had been with us all morning so the birds were hunkered down just like most people. Why battle the wind if you don’t have to (unless you’re a bird watcher). We decided to stop by one of the places I visit going to and from work. Bird watchers often refer to these little pockets of habitat as local patches. This local patch of mine is where Nimbus Road crosses over Left Hand Creek, just west of Niwot. We saw a few good things at this stop including a distant and very camouflaged great horned owl, but still not a lot of birds. I said my good byes to the group and climbed into the car heading for the Wild Bird Company to start the retail portion of my day. As I was driving off, I looked in the rearview mirror and noticed some of the Saturday Birders looking up into the trees. This was not a casual scanning or glancing, something about the intensity of their gazing combined with the unity of their focus told me they had found something. I put the car in reverse and backed up quite a ways until I was just about where they were. One of the group came around to show me the back of her camera. It looked like an immature northern goshawk! I quickly got out to investigate. Sure enough, they had found a northern goshawk. It had flown in just as we were getting set to leave. I have seen goshawks in Boulder County on many occasions in the summer in the mountains, but never on the plains in winter. Serendipity had smiled on us again. One of the values of bird watching in a group comes from all the collective eyes and ears. If all the members of the group are actively searching for birds you will discover many more compared to the situation where the group is depending on the leader to find and point out everything. You can’t ignore sightings and expect to find “interesting birds”. If you see something and aren’t sure what it is, you have to pursue it. Blowing it off as probably “just” another junco is a good way to miss seeing some unusual birds.
My mom swears that birds come out of hiding whenever I am around. Sometimes, my Saturday Birders have claimed the same thing. To which I will sometimes break out into the cheesy Carpenters song “why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near? Just like me, they long to be, close to you”. I have been on bird walks with expert birders and I am amazed at how they can find so many birds including unusual or rare ones. What seemed like normal or mediocre birding conditions suddenly transform into memorable sightings. What I have come to realize is finding birds is not all accidental. With knowledge of the season, habitat, and even weather conditions you can anticipate certain possibilities. Combine that with field experience, book knowledge, earnestness, and a certain amount of intuition and the birds will suddenly appear. You’ve just got to make your own breaks.
P.S. Here are links to the two bird walks referenced above. To sign up for the weekly email and slide show, so you too can take a virtual bird walk every week, click on the link below.
Snowy Owl Slide Show
Northern Goshawk Slide Show
Woodpecker Problems at Home?
Visit this link from a past Wild Bird Company Newsletter to help solve your Woodpecker problems
See the "Ask Steve" article in the current Newsletter (March 2018) to answer the following two questions:
Q1: I’m so excited about spring coming. What should I do in my yard to welcome the birds?
Q2: Where should I go to see the Sandhill Cranes?
Sand Hill Cranes ©Steve Frye