With the year 2011 still etched in our memories with drought, fire and low wildlife food production, we can safely say that the past year, 2014, was a good year for birds, humans and wildlife in general. Birders are an optimistic group of people who generally see the bright side of reality, especially when it comes to birding. Two common expressions among birders are, “Every day is a good birding day and “There is never a bad birding day.” Of course, one must make the effort to go to the habitats where birds are found. I feel 2014 will be considered a better than average year in most of our memory banks.
One measuring parameter can be the success of our recently completed National Audubon Society’s annual year end Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs). Based on my participation in six CBCs, three in the Gulf Coast area and three in the Hill Country, I would say that they too were above average. Bad weather is often blamed for what might be considered lower than average numbers of birds being found on any given day. But I think the effort is factor that matters most. If you go out and make the effort to “beat the bushes” to find birds, you will likely find them.
I am the compiler of the West Kerr CBC and have participated in all fifteen counts since the count area was set up in the year 2000. I can safely say that other than having a bad snow and ice storm, we have seen about every kind of weather day that would be considered normal Hill Country winter weather ranging from bright warm sunny days to very cold and windy days. To some, this year’s foggy and cold morning conditions that gave way to cold and cloudy by mid-day, would be considered a “miserable” birding day. To the credit of my fellow counters, we found 93 species, tied for the highest count total in our fifteen year history. Effort trumped weather conditions.
If you think about what is going on in the natural world outside our cozy homes, birds and all wildlife have to eat to survive. To eat requires wildlife moving around foraging for whatever food sources are available and making the effort to find and consume the food. Whether it is sunny and warm or rainy and cold, our feathered friends have to venture out to look for food. Nature has provided all wildlife the protection whether it be features or fur, to cope with most weather conditions. So, we as birders have to dress warm and dry and join them. Wind is the most difficult condition for birds to cope with; therefore on windy days the birds hunker down and make it more difficult for us to find them.
One of the more unusual birds to find their way to the Hill Country in 2014 was the Long-tailed Duck that made appearances in Junction, Fredericksburg and Inks Lake Fish Hatchery. No reports have been made of their return. The Red-naped and Red-breasted sapsucker hybrid was the most interesting bird for me in earl 2014, but again no reports this winter. Regarding the appearance of the Phainopepla, two readers reported sightings in the Hill Country – one in Kerrville and the other west of Junction, but none were current sightings. I am holding out hope one might be found before spring arrives.
Looking at my sugar purchases in 2014, reminded me of our abundant numbers of hummingbirds last summer. Increased numbers of Golden-cheeked Warblers reported away from their normal haunts was an encouraging note that the cowbird trapping program is working. Pine Siskins returned this winter, but far below their normal numbers. Maybe the most unusual bird visited without being seen, so we need to always vigilant for rare visitors to the Hill County.
Now that the calendar has flipped forward to a new year, we can all be hopeful of 2015 being an exceptional year for bird sightings. Please let me know if you see one of the rare visitors.