BIRD WATCH: Feed faithfully for best birding benefits

There are rewards for feeding birds. Yes, it gives us pleasure but that can vary in a variety of ways. Faithful feeding brings the best returns. The birds know they can rely on us as an easy source of food. We can also rely on them. I was reminded of that over the holidays. Friends from California were visiting family who live in my neighborhood and they stopped by to visit. When I knew they were coming, I made sure the birds’ banquet was ready.

Derek and Chris are bird watchers, serious bird watchers. Chris is also a very serious photographer and her subjects are often birds. She uses a long lens on her camera and I was amazed at how steady she can hold that heavy combination while photographing an avian subject. Most of us settled in at the kitchen table where a good view of the action at the feeders was right outside the windows. While Chris braved the nippy air and got as comfortable as possible on the front porch, the rest of us enjoyed coffee and cookies in a warm house.

Downy woodpecker, golden-crowned sparrow, white-crowned sparrows, common bushtits, brown creeper, red-breasted nuthatch, chestnut-backed and black-capped chickadees, Steller’s jay, and Bewick’s wren – what do they have in common? They are species that are pretty much regulars at the feeders. They were the reason the banquet for the birds was waiting. I was hoping they would in an appearance during this visit.

Derek spotted the downy woodpecker first and I breathed a sigh of relief. Chris was first to report the chestnut-backed chickadees. When the brown creeper landed on the plum tree’s trunk and put on a good show, I was the happy hostess. It’s not that they don’t see these same birds in San Francisco but several don’t visit their yard. Red-breasted nuthatches and chestnut-backed chickadees like habitat that includes lots of trees, especially evergreen trees. Brown creepers are uncommon even in their preferred habitat. It’s always good spotting when you see one.

Seeing a life bird is always special, but other sightings are almost as enjoyable. When visiting the Southwest, the excitement of seeing birds never seen in the Northwest is the best part of the trip – even though I may have seen them on other trips to that region. How could I not get excited at the sight of a greater roadrunner, elegant trogon, blue grosbeak or magnificent hummingbird?

This isn’t to say that I don’t always hope for a life bird. Over the years, on numerous trips to the San Francisco area, I looked for the wrentit. It can be seen in several locations in that part of California. I finally found one north of San Francisco and that was the only time I’ve seen that bird. It will be just as exciting when I see it again.

There were no life birds waiting for Chris and Derek in my yard. However, Chris captured some beautiful photographs of the red-breasted nuthatch among others. Next spring when I once again visit the City by the Bay, I do have another elusive life bird I will be hoping for. Derek has had more warning since the last visit. Both of us are hoping that handsome bird, the Lawrence’s goldfinch, will cooperate.

The first part of our planning might be to find someone who is filling feeders this member of the goldfinch family includes in its daily food foraging expeditions. I’ll even bring gifts – sunflower seeds, thistle seeds – money is no object.

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