How did you spend your Presidents' Day weekend? I spent mine counting birds.
Yes, this was the weekend for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, an activity that has now gone global. Beginning last year, the Count started accepting reports not just from North America but from all around the world. When I last checked the website, reports had been received this year from every continent except Antarctica. Participants count birds in their own yards or other designated places.
This year, I counted birds in my yard as I always do, and on Saturday I also did a count at Brazos Bend State Park. We had a family cookout there to celebrate our older daughter's birthday, and, of course, I insisted that we go on a bird walk after lunch.
In fact, the highlight of my weekend counting came on that walk. It was around 3:00 in the afternoon and we were walking around Forty-Acre Lake when we heard two Barred Owls calling to each other in the woods nearby. Since I do my bird counting during daylight hours, it isn't often that I get to list an owl species, but Barred Owls frequently become active in mid to late afternoon hours and, fortunately for me, these two certainly were!
I ended my day with 31 species counted at the park. With more time and effort, I could have probably doubled that, but, after all, birding was my secondary activity on this particular day.
On the other three days of the four-day holiday weekend, I observed and counted birds in my yard. My goal for the weekend was 40 species, but I ended with only 34. As always when I do an official count of birds in my yard, I was frustrated by the no-shows, the birds that I know are there but that just didn't turn up during my count period.
Where was that Pileated Woodpecker that has been so active in the area in recent weeks? Where are the Eastern Phoebes? I haven't seen one in my yard all winter. Where was the Red-tailed Hawk that flies over my yard every day - except for this weekend? That Killdeer that flies over and calls noisily on occasion - where was it this weekend?
And on most days I can count on flyovers in the late afternoon from a number of waterbirds and waders, but this weekend? Nary a one showed a feather.
Perhaps most frustratingly of all, the tiny Brown-headed Nuthatch did not make an appearance. I didn't even hear it calling during the time that I was counting.
For most of the weekend, I thought I would have to include the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on my list of no-shows, but just at about 6:00 this afternoon as the light was fading and I was about to call it a count and head indoors, I heard the sapsucker calling in the big pine tree just across the fence in my neighbor's yard. I looked up and finally was able to find it far, far up the 100+ foot tree.
Encouraged, I decided to wait just a few more minutes to see if something wonderful might turn up. Nothing did. My last bird of the day, the last bird of my count was that Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
Here are the 34 species that did deign to show themselves for my yard count.
And here is the species list from Brazos Bend.
Little Blue Heron