Sunday, February 17, 2013

GBBC Day Three - Hard Work

Downy Woodpecker along Wissahickon. Watercolor by Ken Januski

It was hard work out birding today what with wind and cold temperatures. But the title refers not to me but to birds searching for food in winter. One of the first birds I saw today was a little white puffball amidst many gray and brown twigs. It looked so bright and fluffy that I assumed it was something manmade, some sort of plastic detritus stuck among the vegetation.

When I checked though it was a male Downy Woodpecker, much rounder than they normally are, due I'm sure to both the cold and the unusual perspective. Later I ran across more downies. One in particular was very close, down on the ground, first pecking at twigs then rustling through the leaf litter, picking ferociously. That's when I realized anew that getting food is indeed hard work for birds at this time of year.

Birds at feeders, especially the eminently cute Downy Woodpecker, can look almost as though they're putting on an endearing show for us. But today's views of the downies in particular show something different, they're working very hard just to stay alive.

As I said it was tough birding today. In 3 hours I saw a total of just 12 species. I knew when I decided to bird a familiar section of the Wissahickon today that I probably wouldn't up my count total for GBBC. But I've birded the Wissahickon each count for many years and I hated to skip it this year.

Birding often offers the thrill of the hunt and/or the pleasure of being outside on a beautiful day. Those latter days might go in the 'happy to be alive' category. Sometimes at Cape May in the fall, and in numerous other circumstances you can get great birding and great days. And then you can get great birding in miserable weather. I can remember many a colorful warbler seen at Shenandoah National Park in 40 degree very rainy weather.  And then there are days like today, when the birding is hard and not very rewarding but the day is as beautiful as could possibly be. That was today, full sun and blue skies. A good day to be alive, even if the birding was nothing to write home about.

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