Under the Open Sky: Give Yourself the Gift of Project FeederWatch

By Kimberly Mason
For The Chronicle
After all of the column inches I have devoted to singing the praises of Project FeederWatch, I’m amazed to find out that there are only six of us in The Chronicle subscriber area who are participating.
There is one each in Chehalis and Rochester, two participants in the Tenino area and myself and my neighbor Darlene Sybert out here in Cinebar.

It’s Not Too Late
Project FeederWatch began on Nov. 10, but it’s not too late to sign up, the project runs through April.
There is a $15 fee to join, but with that fee you receive a research kit which contains instructions, a bird identification poster, a wall calendar, a resource guide to bird feeding, and a tally sheet—everything you need to start counting your birds. You’ll also receive a subscription to the Lab of Ornithology’s newsletter, “BirdScope.”
Visit http://feederwatch.org to sign up.

While most woodpeckers prefer to peck on dead or dying wood, the Red-breasted Sapsucker likes to drill into live trees where they suck the sap and eat the bugs attracted to the sapwells. They drill a series of parallel holes, leaving a tree truck looking as through it was shot full of holes by a tiny machine gun. A group of Red-breasted Sapsuckers is known as a "slurp."

What Watchers Do
Simply pull up a chair in front of a window where you can see your bird feeders and on two consecutive days each week and count the different species of birds and how many of you see of each. It’s that easy.
You don’t have to watch any longer than you want to. You can stay all day or just spend 15 minutes at peak feeding hours. It’s up to you as to how much time you want to spend.
You don’t have to have Internet access to take part in Project FeederWatch, but paper data counters are limited to one 10-day count period.
Online participants may count birds for two consecutive days each week and submit their bird count tally in the forms available at the FeederWatch website. You do not need to count every week, but they ask that you wait at least five days between counts if you miss your scheduled count period.

Dawn McHugh, of Centralia, captured a photo of this Snowy Owl in February of last year as it posed on a fallen log at Damon Point near Ocean Shores. The huge "irruption" of Snowy Owls in 2011-12 has been followed by a smaller number of sightings at beaches, in the city and at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

What Counts?
Participants count all birds within view at one time. That means birds at the feeder or in the trees in the counting area.
Hawks, owls and other predatory birds that are attracted by the birds at the feeder are also counted.
Birds that are in the area, such as American Robins or Crows, who don’t visit the feeders are also counted.
Birds that simply fly over the area such as Canada geese or ducks are not counted.

No Feeders? No Problem
You can count birds outside of your backyard, too.
Try Adna for Trumpeter Swans. Charles McElroy, my fishing report guru, told me that he has been seeing more swans than ever before in the last few weeks.
“And this year the swans are skittish like they have been in years past,” he said. “I’ve seen people parked just a few yards away from them to watch.”
Snowy Owls have been sighted at Damon Point near Ocean Shores, in downtown Seattle and Olympia, and at the end of the boardwalk at the Nisqually Wildlife National Refuge.
I counted the Great Horned Owl my mom and dad has seen in their own yard this week. My mom tells the story best:
“You know those decoy geese your son put in the yard? We keep finding their heads laying on the ground, now we know why,” my mother said. “Your dad found a huge owl perched on top of one of the geese twice this week, pecking away at it. I guess he figured there had to be something good to eat in there somewhere.”

Project FeedWatch Testimonial
The following is from a Tweeters mailing list posting by Cinebar resident and experienced birder, Darlene Sybert, as she describes her enjoyment of her first year as a Project FeederWatch participant and what she has learned in just the first few weeks.
To subscribe to the mailing list, go to http://mailman1.u.washington.edu/mailman/listinfo/tweeters.
“This is the first year I have participated in Cornell’s Project FeederWatch, and I am impressed with how much I have learned through this effort.
“First, I have discovered that there are many more species visiting my feeders (or that area of my ‘yard’) than I realized and a greater number of the birds I knew were visiting. …
“Then, I have learned more about those species because I have been watching more carefully and discovered variations that I had not noticed previously. …
“Also, I discovered that the strange, anemic-looking sparrow resembling a Fox Sparrow that visits my feeders IS a Fox Sparrow, pale adult version.
“Not only that, but I have at last seen a large flock of Pine Siskins, a species that other birders in this area said were visiting their feeders, but which I had not seen — probably because I had not been watching in such a careful and continuous manner because there have been more than 20 in every ‘flock’ I’ve seen.
“The FeederWatch site is also a great place to look up data about what birds were seen where and when, especially if you are visiting unfamiliar area.”