Monday, May 12, 2008

Birder, who me?

This part of the Hill Country is known for its abundance of birds, both resident and migratory, some even endangered. Birding this area requires field guides to both the Eastern and Western U.S. as many species overlap on my sliver of the world.

I suspect this is due to having the headwaters of many of the state's rivers originating within a few miles of our farm, the incredible diversity of terrain, and one of the longest county rosters of endemic plants (and there certainly are a lot of counties in Texas). Diversity begets diversity.

I know I post a lot about birds, but I'm not a birder, OK? By training, I am a botanist. There are many advantages. Studying plants does not require getting up at the crack of dawn, owning an optical bigger than a hand lens, or keeping a competitive "life list". Plants do not move around--you can usually count on them being in the same place tomorrow or next year.

As the years pass, I have to describe myself as a botanist (and a gardener) very interested in birds and butterflies. It's impossible to look past a beautiful butterfly or interesting bird to study a flower: they are all interrelated.

This week, there were two exciting bird observations at the homestead. First, I had just read in Sibley's field guide to birds that male hummingbirds do acrobatic airshow patterns to attract their mates, and the very next day I witnessed my first one. From the short grass prairie overlook to the creek, this little, determined fellow did several swoops back and forth, starting above the majestic live oaks and diving toward the limestone ledge and soaring to the other side above the trees.

Since then, I've noticed several of these performances each day. Some hummers make a "J" pattern. Each display is accompanied by a particular whirring sound. I realized that this has been going on around me all along, and I just had not been observant to what was causing the sound before now. I find that it is easier to bird by ear, even though I am a visual person. It helps me know what I'm looking for in the tree or bush.

The second observation was a male Hooded Oriole at the hummingbird feeder. I heard a ka-thunk and looked up from my computer work, and there he was trying to disassemble the feeder to get to the sugar water. I decided to help by unscrewing the top plate to reveal an open reservoir of nectar. Soon he and his girlfriend were taking turns drinking from the sweet fount and entertaining me with their antics. (Too bad our windows have screens as they blur the photography, although we appreciated their ability to keep out mosquitoes). These photos were taken a couple of feet away.

Before they land, they sing a couple of bittersweet notes, followed by some squawky chatter that seems to tell the hummingbirds to clear the deck, they're coming in for a landing. Ka-thunk! I've learned his song, and can now find him wherever he is on the property. This morning he woke us up tapping on the feeder and scolding because the feeder was dry.

I don't want to admit I'm a birder. No, I'm just a botanist willing to get up early on a weekend morning to make sugar water.


Dana Jones said...

I wonder of that is what I saw! A bird was making this strange flight pattern, kind of swinging like a pendulum near a tree top. I think it was small, but looked larger than a hummingbird though. It swung back and forth about 8 times, then flew away. I've got to remember to get my hummingbird feeders hung and filled today!

Punkin's Mom said...

I was sitting outside this morning listening to and "not watching" our birds wake up and I saw a hummer heading into an apple tree with no flowers left and am hoping I'll be able to spot a nest up there somehow.

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