Counting Birds

Costa's at penstemon

Costa’s at penstemon



The Great Outdoor Bird Count snuck up on me like a birdwatcher in a yellow rain slicker pushing through wet foliage. I knew it was coming, but it was on me too soon. So just before the pets started pressing for dinner on President’s Day, the last day of the count, I stepped outside with a notepad and binoculars. I sat in a folding chair beyond the edge of the patio and looked around. It was 4:10 pm. The blue sky was empty and the back yard was still.
I took some deep breaths and tried to settle into the moment. Our backyard fountain was annoyingly loud. It splashes like Victoria Falls when the water level is high and slows to a drip when it’s low. But birds are attracted to the sound of water, so louder was fine. 4:25 pm. I thought about checking emails on my phone. Why wasn’t I out at daybreak, like most birdwatchers?
Then the female Costa’s hummingbird zipped into the yard and began working her way among the blood red blooms of the chuparosa. This is her territory; the violet hooded male feeds at the purple blossoms of the lavender and sky flower near the fountain. When not feeding the female roosted on the topmost branch of the creosote bush, where she could see over the walls and out in every direction.
A mourning dove flew overhead. A verdin began chipping, and I peered through my binoculars at the tiny animated bird picking insects among the Palo Verde branches. Later he came down to the creosote and took nectar from the yellow blossoms.
Four more doves flew towards South Mountain. Beyond the iron railing of the back fence a cottontail rabbit hopped leisurely by. My husband came out with a chair and glasses of wine. When I turned toward him I spotted a red tailed hawk circling the craggy peak to the east. This hawk and her mate become active and vocal this time of year. Usually when they fly in the afternoons you can hear thin screams of keee-er.
Three doves secretly roosting on the rocky hillside behind our house broke cover and flew up in a commotion of flapping and chittering while a coopers’ hawk veered away, disappointed. Later two Gila woodpeckers bounded in flight through the cooling air, going opposite directions and passing each other over our yard.
At 5:10 I went in to feed the outraged cats, their dinner sorely overdue. Then I was drawn back outside to see what further drama might unfold. Two doves drank at the fountain, then flirted and cuddled on a cement fence post in the day’s last sunshine. The hungry coopers hawk made a turn in the sky to the west and a fence lizard hesitated then darted into the lawn to snatch a bug.
After dinner I submitted my count to and a response came right back questioning the number of doves I’d claimed, stating that ten mourning doves sounded unreasonably high. They gave me a comment box to justify myself. I typed in that our neighbor feeds the birds and that our backyard is in a flight path from nearby golf courses to the desert preserve, so doves are a common sight. I imagined raised eyebrows, but then I too am amazed at all that’s going on out there.


One response to “Counting Birds

  1. Friggin’ delightful!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s