While some fireworks in the neighborhood technically did start my New Year's Day with a bang, the day focused on time spent with family and my pursuit of new birds. With Mandi struggling to ambulate following a night at work, Lily and I saw an opportunity to head outside and kick-start our Big Year. While she doesn't really understand the concept of the Big Year, she will regardless be a big part of my discoveries this year. So we left the house yesterday a little after 9 in the morning for a few of my favorite local birding spots. The first location is a road that winds along the back side of a local reservoir and is lined with old, dilapidated houses on the other side. No more than ten minutes after we drove up and started looking for birds in the underbrush did an 80+ year old man come by to wish us a Happy New Year. Actually, he stopped to ask "What the hell we were doing?" I explained we were watching birds and he proceeded to tell me that they'd had a string of break-ins and that he'd "Dern near called the po-lice" when he'd spotted me. Break-ins . . really? These houses barely had roofs and windows. My guess is the local raccoons were just coming in at night and pilfering the lunchmeat and leftovers. I politely (and admittedly a bit sarcastically) told him I was sorry to hear about the break-ins, but that we were just there to see some birds. This exact spot was where I'd seen a small group of Cedar Waxwings devouring the berries off of a tree last year, and the lake was home to a lot of different species of ducks. He recommended I put a sign in our window indicating that we were just watching birds, as if somehow that would prevent one of the hungover rednecks in the neighborhood from taking pot shots at us with his Winchester. So I wrote "We're Watching Birds" on a 2.5"x4" piece of paper and stuck it in the corner of the windshield, just to appease the old man. Seriously though, do you figure the people breaking in to the houses are scoping the place out at 9:30 in the morning with the headlights on and their kid in the backseat watching Curious George? Just go back inside and watch Judge Judy like you normally do old man . .
Anyway, that part of the trip paid off with the addition of the Field Sparrow and the Mallard to our list of birds spotted. Sparrows, while small and not overly interesting, are some of the harder birds to ID because there are so many different species and the differences are often subtle. If I'm going to make it to 150 species for the year with no extensive travel I'll need to positively ID all of the local sparrows. I've got Song Sparrows that visit the tray feeder in the back yard, and while I haven't seen any yet this year there are White-throated Sparrows at the nature trail in our neighborhood. The Field Sparrow is distinguishable by its pink bill and relatively unmarked breast. The Mallard is another one I surely would have gotten eventually as a pair is usually seen hanging around down in the nature trail, but the 6 pair on the lake allowed me to add them to the list on Day 1.
Then it was off to the McEachern Greenway near Downtown Concord to look for a few more species I'd seen there in the past, and maybe a few surprises. I'd packed a little cooler of snacks and offered a "snack picnic" at a nearby park as an incentive for Lily to tolerate the long walk in the wind and cold. She was actually pretty excited to get out of the car, and went as far as to ask me if I could show her some Cardinals. I'm pretty sure they're her favorite. I hoped I could oblige her, and just a few hundred feet into the walk they appeared, two beautiful males playing out in the grass near the road. She was thrilled!
We continued down the path and found more Field Sparrows, a playful pair of Carolina Chickadees, and one of my favorite small birds the Tufted Titmouse. These little guys were within a hundred feet of the spot where I'd seen them the last time we took this walk, and I was happy to be able to add them to the list. As we turned back I spotted a male Red-bellied Woodpecker climbing up one of the trees near the water. His song was distinct and loud in the empty woods. A few steps further back toward the park and I saw another woodpecker fly across the path into a tree almost directly above me. The Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are very similar in appearance, and I worried that I would not be able to determine which of them I was seeing. While the Hairy has a much longer bill, it's difficult to use as a judge when you're not seeing both at the same time. Then, just before he flew out of sight, I put down the camera and pulled out my binoculars. He jumped from a horizontal branch to a portion of the tree's trunk and gave me a great view of his tail feathers. The outermost ones on a Downy Woodpecker have small black bars among the white, but these were completely white. I surmised that I had indeed seen the less common Hairy Woodpecker, and later zooming in on photos I'd captured of his head confirmed the absence of the Downy's conspicuous tuft on the bill. This had definitely been a successful birding trip!
In all I've got 23 species currently listed, and I saw and confirmed all but 2 of them yesterday. I added the Belted Kingfisher and the Red-shouldered Hawk to the list because I see them very frequently and I'll almost certainly be able to add them this week anyway. That puts me over 15% of the way to my goal of 150 species, but with most of the easy ones already identified my pace will certainly slow from here. I'd be thrilled to get to 30 by my birthday next Tuesday (subtle reminder).