Hoping for a year-end bonus
(posted 12-1-07)

No matter what happens this month, 2007 has been my best year ever in the backyard. I’ve spotted 86 species so far—seven more than my previous best in 2005. This is the fifth straight year that I've kept an annual yard list.

My latest success happened a few weeks ago when I heard a pair of Great Horned Owls calling. This was around 2:00 a.m. It was a mild November night, so I had the window open a crack—I might not have heard the birds otherwise because they were some distance away. Listening to owls at night is always a thrill, but since Great Horned Owl had been missing from my 2007 yard list I was especially pleased to hear these ones.

Another success—and a more surprising one—was the Carolina Wren that turned up on November 9. In the 10 years that we’ve lived in our current home, it was only the fourth time I’d recorded this species in the yard.

I’ve been keeping a close eye on my tube thistle feeder for two other species that I’d love to see before we turn the calendar. The first is Pine Siskin. It’s been four years this month since my yard last hosted a siskin but I’ve noticed (through online reports) that many birders have reported siskins at their feeders in recent weeks. An encouraging sign!

Pine Siskins are special to me because it’s the only “lifer” that I’ve ever registered in the yard. That happened in January 1998, just a few months after we moved to Glen Ellyn. My notes say that siskins were common in the yard that winter. They’ve certainly not been common since.

Another bird on my wish list is Common Redpoll. My hopes are higher than usual because it appears that this winter might be a good one for this species—redpolls were reported with some regularity around the Chicago region during November. I’ve never had a redpoll in the yard, and, in fact, I’ve had only one encounter with this species. That was at Fermilab in 1999 and the sighting lasted all of about five seconds. Trust me, I’d give a lot to wake up one morning and see a redpoll on my thistle feeder just 15 feet from the kitchen window!

Either a siskin or a redpoll would truly be a year-end bonus. But if neither bird appears, that’ll be okay. Yard-wise, it has already been an extraordinary year.

Two species were new in 2007: A Field Sparrow in April and a flyover Peregrine Falcon in May. My all-time yard list now totals 104.

One of the most satisfying aspects of 2007 was the appearance of several birds that I’d only seen once before in (or from) the yard. Birds like Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Common Yellowthroat, Green Heron and American Kestrel. Other highlights:
• I heard an Eastern Screech Owl on four different occasions—three of them in March. Before ’07, I’d only heard a “screechie” in the yard three times in nine years.
• A Cooper’s Hawk paid a surprise visit to our heated birdbath in January. It was the closest prolonged look I’ve ever had of this species.
• In August, I witnessed a Northern Cardinal feeding a juvenile Brown-Headed Cowbird. The “baby” was almost as large as the redbird! This was my first time witnessing the brood parasitism that cowbirds are known for.
• Another “first” was nesting House Wrens. I’d been trying to attract wrens for years and a new wooden nest box seemed to make all the difference. It was my best bird-related purchase of 2007.
• Another good acquisition was a second hummingbird feeder—a cheapie from Wal-Mart that I placed about 20 feet away from my trusty HummZinger model. This really increased the activity level in September, which has always been the best month for hummers in my yard.

So it really was an exciting year out back, and I’d be crazy to expect any better in 2008. My goal, instead, is to see a few new species and, along the way, hone my observation skills by watching for bird behaviors that perhaps I’ve been overlooking. I also want to get better at identifying birds by sound.

But enough about 2008. I still have 31 days to put a little avian icing on the cake that was 2007. Siskins and redpolls, your breakfast is waiting.

Copyright 2007 by Jeff Reiter. All Rights Reserved.