Sunday, February 19, 2006

GBBC: Counting Birds at the National Arboretum

Last week I pointed out this weekend's Great Backyard Bird Count and encouraged people to participate. This afternoon I put my money where my mouth is and did a few hours of counting birds at my local patch, the National Arboretum. This weekend turned out to be the coldest of the winter; I think the low today was the lowest temperature so far this year.

I started off with my best sighting of the day: two chipping sparrows in the brush near the bonsai house. While common in the summer, these sparrows move farther south during the winter. In a warm year like this one, some will winter here. One great blue heron was fishing in Heart Pond while a large flock of starlings and a few robins and blue jays foraged in the fruit trees diagonally across the intersection.

The Asian Gardens were fairly productive today. In addition to the large flocks of white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos, I found a yellow-bellied sapsucker and a hermit thrush. With birds flying back and forth and in and out of bushes, getting an exact count can become difficult. My solution, today and on Christmas Bird Counts, has been to estimate the number to the nearest ten if a hundred or less of the species is present. White-throated sparrows are particularly difficult to count, both because of their cryptic coloration and because of their habit of foraging in the most tangled underbrush where eyes and binoculars cannot penetrate. I expect that most totals reported this weekend for the species will be undercounts.

I rounded the walk off with a stop near the Capitol columns. Unfortunately the red-headed woodpecker did not make an appearance (though I know it was seen yesterday). Instead I found a brown thrasher that peered with its yellow eye at me from inside a bush.

Great Blue Heron1
Canada Goose20
Common Merganser3
Turkey Vulture1
Red-shouldered Hawk1
Red-tailed Hawk2
Ring-billed Gull50
Mourning Dove1
Belted Kingfisher1
Red-bellied Woodpecker6
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker1
Downy Woodpecker5
Northern Flicker1
Golden-crowned Kinglet1
Carolina Wren3
Northern Mockingbird3
Brown Thrasher1
Hermit Thrush1
American Robin20
Carolina Chickadee10
Tufted Titmouse8
White-breasted Nuthatch2
Blue Jay20
American Crow100
Fish Crow3
European Starling50
House Finch1
American Goldfinch20
Eastern Towhee1
Chipping Sparrow2
White-throated Sparrow100
Dark-eyed Junco60
Northern Cardinal12