Saturday, December 4, 2021

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Summer Roundup in birding

August is the low point of the birding year. Birds are starting to lose their breeding colors, and they seem less visible as they start to prepare for fall migration, which is heaviest late August through October and has already started for shorebirds and a few other species. It’s almost time to start looking at the “Confusing Fall Warblers” section in my “Peterson’s Field Guide.” Those birds that were so distinct when they came through back in April aren’t quite so easy to tell apart when they make the return journey in September.

This year, I have some help. Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s free bird identification app, “Merlin,” now has a sound identification tool. All you have to do is open the app outside and press “record” and it will identify possible birds in the area. It seems pretty accurate, and it is able to pick out several different songs at once—although it’s not perfect. It told me, for example, that there was a Pileated Woodpecker in my yard. (There’s not a Pileated Woodpecker in my yard.) But it has picked out most of the birds I know are there, and I’ve learned how to identify the Cooper’s Hawk’s call.

The Cooper’s Hawk has been visiting my birdbath a lot in the past week. It perches there on one leg and sits quite still surveying the yard for prey. It’s not the only unexpected visitor looking for water. I’ve also been noticing quite a few bees stopping by for a drink. According to “Backyard Beekeeping,” bees don’t get the water they need from pollen, and they need to both drink often and take water back to the hive to help cool it and to thin honey that has crystallized. 

Like birds, once bees find a water source they are likely to return—and to bring friends. If you are seeing a lot of bees at your birdbath, bee experts suggest setting up a shallow pan filled with small stones and filling it until the water just about covers them. This will give the bees an excellent perch from which to collect water and may draw them away from the birdbath. I just have a few bees, and they don’t seem to bother the birds, so I’m letting them alone.

Finally, there is some good news on the mystery illness that has been spreading across the eastern and midwestern U.S. and killing some young songbirds. According to the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab, cases have been declining in recent weeks, and they have not identified any known contagious disease. Some wildlife experts in affected areas have said that it’s ok to return to feeding birds, as long as you clean the feeders regularly and keep a close watch for sick birds. There have been no cases in South Dakota, so I put my platform feeder back up. I’ve mostly had sparrows so far, but those fall migrants will be here soon.

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