It’s that time of year: Audubon’s great Backyard Bird Count. Agent Smith was off racing so I set aside a bit of time Sunday and wandered about the ranch perving at birds. Below is the write up I did for the local mailing list.
Backyard at Purgatory Auto Works and Dinosaur Farm
For the Backyard Bird Count, I birded here at my home. Normally I would not post details of such an endeavor, but as I plan on again heading up a Birdathon group that will feature lunch here at the ranch for team members, I figured I’d use the activity to advertise just how spectacular it is here and thus maybe entice a few more people to join.
With that in mind… when I was having my second latte I spotted the usual suspects in the north garden: the herd of CALIFORNIA QUAIL; our pair of CALIFORNIA THRASHERS; the retiring CALIFORNIA TOWHEES; plus the gaggle of GOLD and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS and their cohorts the HOUSE FINCHES and LESSER GOLDFINCHES. Joining them in the North Garden were the BEWICK’S WREN, CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE, DARK-EYED JUNCO, OAK TITMOUSE, SPOTTED TOWHEE, SONG SPARROW, WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH, and a bunch of MORNING DOVES,
After my coffee I had to check the well tank (you don’t want to know,) so I hiked up the hill. I was happy to hear and then spot both our resident ACORN as well as a NUTTALL’S WOODPECKER. By the time I got to the tank (with a grumpy ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD chittering at me all the way) our NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD was in full song-swing while our WESTERN SCRUB and STELLER’s JAYs were resuming their ongoing turf war. I pulled out my phone and brought up the Merlin app to see if it could help me find a few more species. It was happy to point out the lovely YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER above me as well as the song of a LAWRENCE’S GOLDFINCH. (While Lawrence’s are uncommon, we have been working hard to attract them and are hoping this early sighting means they might deign to nest on our land!) Once I made sure the well head was doing its job I walked back down to the main house and enjoyed the cacophony of sound in the North Garden.
I decided to look for a few of our shyer residents like the Phoebe which don’t frequent the house yard often. I headed out to the old barn and was delighted to spot a flock of BREWER’S BLACKBIRDS feeding. As I watched the blackbirds (a brand new species here) one of our resident RED-TAILED HAWKS came streaking past and promptly crashed into one of the cypress trees up on the hillside. A couple of EURASIAN COLLARD DOVES streaked out of the tree and it seems the hawk failed to score brunch. As I turned back towards the house yard there were several TURKEY VULTURES riding the thermals off the mountain-side. I heard and then spotted a handful of YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIES fly overhead and one of our WESTERN BLUEBIRDS was sitting stoically on the old mast pole surveying the pasture below. I pulled out the Merlin app again to see if it could help me spot anything else. To my surprise it located an AMERICAN GOLDFINCH and an incredibly rare HOUSE SPARROW. Say what you will about those dudes, but up here they are almost never seen. Perhaps they don’t care for all the fresh air. Typing of transplants, on my way back to the house yard I spotted the regular flock of ROCK PIGEONS that hang out at our neighbor’s disgusting animal pens and I heard the gang of EUROPEAN STARLINGS that like to hang out in the Italian Cypress trees. Non-natives all around!
No sign of the Phoebe though and I had chores to do, but I popped out again before sunset and wandered out towards the barn and managed to catch a glimpse of some CEDAR WAXWINGS that were hanging with the thuggish Starlings. Typing of thugs, all day long our COMMON RAVENS were trying to challenge our Red-Tails again. Not sure what is up there. I also got a fleeting glimpse of the SHARP-SHINNED HAWK that has been trying score cheap meals using the windows on our house, but no sign of the second one I saw it frolicking with it last week. Anyway,I ventured across the field and spotted a NORTHERN FLICKER in the trees and I’m certain I heard an AMERICAN ROBIN, but failed to spot it.
Finally though, back amoungst the Coulter Pines I spotted our BLACK PHOEBE. Usually that little one is sallying away and easily visible on a fence post, but today it was apparently hiding from the world. That’s ok though, as I probably would not have spotted some of the other species if I had found it easily.
And of course, as I walked back towards the main house I spotted a GREAT HORNED OWL on the steel ladder up to the studio building roof. That brought the total to 40 species of birds in about 40 minutes of birding here. Amazing what 8 years of habitat restoration and some well placed feeding stations will do…..
My checklist is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S129332140
Also, I put together a video using some the birdsong I recorded: https://youtu.be/SwMmDAbKeOM . The video features some related images and video of life here at Purgatory. (I even managed to capture the sound of the Red-Tail crashing into the tree as I happened to be Merlining and so I included it — at about the 7:40 mark.)
And uh…yeah…if you want a novel Birdathon experience this spring….keep an eye out for Last Chance at Purgatory.