A deeper appreciation for backyard birding

How has the past year changed your backyard birding habits for the better?

A year ago this week many of us were getting ready to participate in the spring bird count with an Illinois Ornithological Society-organized Backyard Big Day. I was on #teamjosh with the Backyard Bellbirds sparring against #teamadam and his Solitary Sandpipers. Everyone was excited by both the number of bird species seen (141) and the number of birders out watching: 200 families across the state. (Results)

Greg Neise was in the middle of his 25’ x 35’ epic big sit in his tiny back yard. And I was re-evaluating how local local birdwatching could become during a pandemic.

In hindsight one of the blessings of the past year has been more time at home to enjoy the birds of our backyard, quite literally. For everyone in the Chicago region, chances are your backyard is within a mile or so of a sizable park, forest preserve, the lakefront, Salt Creek or the Calumet, Chicago, Kankakee, DuPage or Des Plaines Rivers. All of these rivers are major migration routes. Within a short walk or relatively easy drive you have access to truly great birding, especially during the next few weeks of spring migration when literally millions of birds of hundreds of species will be winging their way over your neighborhood. Get outside! Enjoy the abundance of birds.

Though I am a few hours southwest of Chicagoland, in Bishop Hill, Ill., I feel similarly blessed. The Edwards River flows a few hundred feet from my home. I own a two-acre prairie restoration project and have planted dozens of trees around town. There is a fair amount of Conservation Reserve Program farm property in the area. And in my small village of 100 people I have counted almost 100 species of birds!

I have made a commitment to do a monthly eBird count of my entire town and now have a much better appreciation of more than just what birds, but where: where the Common Yellowthroat has nested three years running; where you can consistently find a Baltimore Oriole’s hanging basket; and where you are most likely to hear a Dickcissel singing.

Since the dozen or so birding festivals that usually hire me to perform and lead hikes have been on hiatus, I have been heartened by the Illinois Audubon Society asking me to lead more local hikes. (You can join me for “Birding Bishop Hill” April 27 or May 4.)

Clearly, this year, and the next few weeks of spring migration, have me itching to get out and enjoy the birds of my backyard and the fields and forests, wetlands and shorelines within the area.

How has the past year changed your backyard birding habits for the better? Moving into this spring’s migration what are the local hotspots you look forward to scouring? And/or you could join the BCN local survey crew mentioned in a recent TWiB.

And need I ask? What can be better than sitting on your back porch, your balcony, or in your sunroom, a short distance from a refrigerator and bathroom, spending time really getting to know the birds that visit your backyard feeders?

TWiB Notes

Since TWiB is in your backyard, let’s take TWiB Notes further afield this week: Have you been following the ongoing international search for lost birds? From the recent rediscovery of the Black-browed Babbler to these five species found in the past five years, there are new searches being organized by The American Bird Conservancy and Cornell Lab’s eBird. Having been birding in Colombia just after the peace treaty when territory was just re-opened, I am particularly excited about the search for the Sinu Parakeet....As a guest blogger allow me to end with a short video we produced for The Sun Foundation’s Clean Water Celebration, A River of Birds with noted ornithologist, Dr. Travis Wilcoxen, banding birds in his backyard:

Our guest blogger, Brian “Fox” Ellis, is an author and storyteller who portrays John James Audubon and other historic naturalists. He recently published a series of biographies of these historical characters, History In Person, and launched a podcast/video series, Fox Tales International, available here and wherever you get your podcasts. He and his wife run a B & B in Bishop Hill, The Twinflower Inn.

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