Archive for December, 2013

Reasonably priced gifts for your backyard birders?

Christmas shopping for birdersLooking for some reasonably priced gifts for your backyard birders?

Whether they have been naughty or nice, backyard birders, like anyone else, think they deserve at least one expensive gift, whether it’s during the Holidays or on any other special occasion.

Starting at the top of the Extravagance List yet providing excellent value is a Birding Trip.  Birding trips allow the birder to visit exotic locations to be shown birds they have only dreamed of seeing.  Locations on any birder’s list include San Padre Island in Texas, or further afield to Mongolia, Costa Rica, Belize or Peru.  Birding trips in the US or overseas are run by private tour groups and conservation organizations.  Some of the best trips (based on destination, accommodation and leadership) are put on by the Massachusetts Audubon Society (

Next on the list is Optics.  A budget of over $1,000 but under $5,000 will buy a first glass pair of binoculars or a telescope.  Expensive, comfortable and well balanced binoculars with 8 to 10 times magnification and a superb set of lenses will bring a life time of excitement for a birder.  Similarly, a world class telescope with most importantly, a world class sturdy but lightweight tripod is essential to any birder’s tools for viewing birds that in large open areas such as on water or in prairies.

If the backyard birder lives in an area known for purple martins, in other words, near a body of water and near open fields, then an elaborate purple martin nesting system makes a great gift.  A suitable set up includes a purple martin house, a mounting pole and accessories for lifting and raising the box, cleaning the houses and ensuring their stability under harsh climatic conditions.

Lastly, a handsome gift certificate to The Bird Shed would be very well received, especially in this house!

Christmas Bird Count

Christmas shopping for birdersChristmas Bird Count

Last Saturday, my Christmas Bird Count team helped maintain the century old tradition of counting and not shooting the wintering birds in a small area of Eastern Massachusetts. Three of us welcomed a fourth, Jim, an eager novice with a short but impressive life list (including Harlequin Duck and Northern Gannet), sporting a nice pair of new binoculars and bringing a voracious appetite for sightings, facts and lore.

We were in the field from 6:30 AM until 2:30 PM on what will stand out as one of the few counts done under ideal weather conditions – almost no wind, only a few degrees below zero, and no snow under foot.

Dressed for the cold and with coffees in hand we steamed up the inside of the old F-150 and set off in search of pockets of open water and large open spaces. We gave up on owl prowls many years ago, the distant owls’ “Whooo’s awakes?” and “Whooo cooks for yuooos?” having become increasingly inaudible under the truck tire noise echoing off I-495.

We lamented over the falling numbers of black birds of all types, but were startled by the abundance of Blue Jays, the latter having apparently enjoyed the bounty of two consecutive years of heavy acorn harvesting.

However, on the bright side, our excitement was piqued to levels of breathless awe several times that day.

While approaching a particularly large lake reliable for scoping out the usual ducks, Canada Geese and Mute Swans, we all immediately noticed a large bird on the ice observing a tiny raft of Ring-Necked Ducks fussing around in a tiny pool of open water. As the bird lifted and soared, so did our hearts when we realized it was a Bald Eagle, our first ever on a CBC.

Later, proving that attention to detail is vital, we all rejoiced over a Snow Goose maintaining its chevron with 24 Canada Geese. The perfect response to this unusual sight came from our new birder, who asked us long-in-the-tooth birders “Why is it with the Canada Geese and not with its own kind?” We stumbled around a few behavioral ideas, but in reality, and the one reason why we love nature – we will never know what traumatic event happened in the past to force that Snow Goose to flock with the Canada Geese.

CBC Stats for our team: 41 species, 600 birds, 8 hours, 2 by car and 6 by foot.

If you have comments or would like to share your CBC anecdotes, please let us know.

BTW – No matter what religious denomination you are, get out there and count em up for the Holidays!

Check out this Tsunami of Geese!

Check out this Tsunami of Geese!

- Enjoy!

The Bird Shed!