Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Today was an exciting day in my birding life.  I am doing undergraduate research in the ornithology lab and this morning they sent me out to check on bird feeders they had set up.  They are running experiments on House Finches in Southwest Virginia and needed to ascertain how many were visiting their feeders.  We went to 4 feeders for about 10-15 minutes each.  One was by the President's house on campus near a shrubby retention basin.  Incidentally, it appears the President likes birds, as he has about 4 bird feeders set up on his balcony that were attracting the majority of the birds we saw this morning.  The only House Finches we saw all day were at his feeder along with some Carolina Wrens, Titmice, etc.

The next feeder we checked was at the pond near the vet school.  It was on the opposite bank and was entirely abandoned, despite being chock full of delicious sunflower seeds.  I scanned the water, searching among the Mallards for something interesting.  There was a regal Great Blue Heron resting in the shallows and then my eye caught a black shape gliding among the Mallards.  At first I wrote it off as a Muscovy duck since that is the only black waterfowl I've seen around these parts, but upon closer inspection I realized it was an American Coot!  I've never seen one before, and it always excites me when I can identify a new bird without having to use a field guide.  We watched the Coot bathe in the pond for several minutes before it hopped up onto the bank, giving us a nice display of its yellow legs.  A truly marvelous find indeed!  Even though they're not incredibly rare, I haven't had a life bird in quite awhile and this made my morning.

Not my photo. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_coot/id

What made it even more satisfying, however, was the group of birders who happened to walk up the path right at that moment.  There were about 7 elderly ladies with binoculars walking towards me, so naturally I ran over to them to tell them the exciting news.  They seemed glad to see the bird and I was happy to share this moment with other birders who would appreciate it.  I couldn't stay though because we had 3 more feeders to get to.

Even though the House Finches were sparse, the morning was fairly birdy and it was a lovely time to be outside.  We saw a Flicker, a RB Woodpecker, some Nuthatches, Chickadees, Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Fall sparrows galore.  The White-Throated Sparrows serenaded us as we traveled from feeder to feeder with "OH SWEET CANADA CANADA CANADA."  It was a wonderful way to start my day and a wonderful experience sharing the joys of birding with others.

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