March Chapter Meeting Was for the Birds!

Our chapter meets on the second Thursday of each month. We always look forward to a great speaker, and this month was no exception. El Camino Real chapter member Ann Collins put together a presentation on the birds that came to her back yard over this past winter, and she brought together two other members to provide additional information. Here are some highlights.

Ann Collins tells us you can still enjoy birding, even if you haven’t memorized all the pertinent features. Her well-loved Peterson’s Guide also helps a lot.

Ann both started and ended the presentation, first sharing some of the interesting birds she’s seen this year (leaving out the old favorites we all know and love). Her discussion of the three types of warblers helped me a lot, because I always have trouble with them, too, but now at least I’ll know a couple more. And she is GREAT with sparrows.

It impressed me that Ann has feeders that hold 40 pounds of black sunflower seeds. Wow. She did say that meant she didn’t have to fill the feeders so often. She also told us about the shallow wading ponds she had made, which birds really like, especially is the water is moving.

Recording Your Sightings

Joyce Conner then told us about some ways we can record the birds we see online and help to support research. She compared the relative merits of eBird versus the Project Feeder Watch. To quickly sum it up, on eBird you can document any bird you see, anywhere. Plus it’s free, though they appreciate a subscription to the Cornell Lab, who sponsor it. In the Backyard Feeder Watch, you watch just one spot for the winter birding season and record only what you see there on the same days of the week each week. It costs $15 per year, and they send you a lot of information, calendars, etc., when you join. So, they each collect slightly different kinds of data, but both are helpful for researchers.

Joyce explains the intricasies of bird-watching software, while Jackie looks on.

Joyce also noted there are many other places you can record bird sightings (like iNaturalist where most of mine go, though I’m trying to get up and running with eBird, too).

Also, she was kind enough to share with us some wonderful materials from the Feeder Watch folks. There’s even a little poster we can put up!

Attracting Birds

Next, Cindy Travis shared how she attracts birds that aren’t the “feeder” type by making her own suet feeders. The recipe seems easy (and gooey). That will be shared in another blog post, so you can try it, too! Suet (which contains lard, peanut butter, flour, and optional dried seeds, fruits and nuts) is great for woodpeckers and other birds that like to climb trees, as well as many other birds that prefer more hearty fare than seeds.

Cindy shares her suet recipe. You can see samples on the table.

Parts and More Parts

At the end of the presentation, Ann came back to talk to us a bit about bird anatomy, which she freely admitted was not her specialty, but the original speaker who was going to cover it was off in Austin becoming a Master Birder, which sounds really exciting!

All these parts make up a whole bird.

The part of this talk that fascinated me was when Ann talked about there being different ways to identify birds. She says she does it visually, taking in the entire bird. She said she learned to read the same way, word by word. She compared the other main way to ID birds as more like phonetics in reading, where you learn all the parts and put them together, often identifying a bird by just one pertinent feature. (Our auditory learner friends often identify birds by sound, which makes it easy to know what birds are there that you can’t see; for me it’s usually woodpeckers and Chuck-will’s-widows.)

The sun sets over Milano, Texas.

I was only SLIGHTLY distractred from the beautiful sunset that was going on during the meeting. I really shouldn’t sit near windows!

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