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Winter Birding: Best Time to Begin (January 1997)

by Tom and Jo Heindel

Happy New Year! Many use the turning over of the calendar as an opportunity to turn over a new leaf and resolve to be better in something. For those of you who have expressed a desire to be a better birder there is no better time than right now. Not because you will have the rest of your life to enjoy being better, which is true, but because now is the easiest it will be for another year. Why? Because the number of species is at its lowest during the winter.

Inyo County has 401 species. Each species has male and female plumages, often different; spring and fall plumages, often different; and juvenile and immature plumages, often different from each other and different from each of the parents; 2-3 races of some species; plus slight individual variations just like people. In other words, over one thousand different plumages for 401 different birds! Starting when there are about 100 species, no juveniles, and most immatures look much like the parents makes this a manageable goal. The other piece of good news is that many of the confusing families are gone. Flycatchers, except Black and Say’s Phoebes, vireos, and warblers, except Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) and Orange-crowned (only occasionally) Warblers have left for warmer climes.

Rule #1: Learn the common birds well. Cold winters are a great time to curl up next to the fire with your bird book and study, study. study. Use the list provided of the more common birds and give a thorough look at each listed bird in your book. When you see the bird later you may not remember the name but that it was in the upper right corner of the page. That’s great! Study the birds, with book in hand, that come in to your feeder or yard. Go to a park and study the birds, with book in hand, that are swimming in the water or are perched in the trees. Drive along dormant alfalfa fields and study the hawks and sparrows, with book in lap, that soar overhead or scatter into the Russian thistle at your advance. Take a leisurely walk and see what other birds are around your neighborhood but haven’t come into your yard. It won’t be long until you will leave the book in your pocket or in the car because you will have learned all the common birds.

Rule #2: Keep a list. Write down what you saw, when, and how many. If you see a bird that you did not recognize write a description of it and go through the list and your bird book to see if you can find it. The diligent effort you extend will be richly rewarded not only in terms of knowledge gained but with the satisfaction of knowing that you did it right!

  • NEAR WATER
    • Pied-billed Grebe
    • Eared Grebe
    • Great Blue Heron
    • Tundra Swan
    • Canada Goose
    • Green-winged Teal
    • Mallard
    • Gadwall
    • American Wigeon
    • Canvasback
    • Ring-necked Duck
    • Bufflehead
    • Common Merganser
    • Ruddy Duck
    • American Coot
    • Killdeer
    • Ring-billed Gull
    • California Gull
    • Song Sparrow
    • Red-winged Blackbird
    • Marsh Wren
  • FIELDS
    • Horned Lark
    • Savannah Sparrow
    • Black-billed Magpie
    • Common Raven
    • Mountain Bluebird
    • European Starling
    • Sage Sparrow
  • RAPTORS
    • Bald Eagle
    • Northern Harrier (Marsh Hawk)
    • Red-tailed Hawk
    • Ferruginous Hawk
    • American Kestrel (Sparrow Hawk)
  • HOME
    • Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)
    • Mtn. Chickadee
    • Bewick’s Wren
    • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
    • American Robin
    • No. Mockingbird
    • Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)
    • Spotted Towhee
    • Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)
    • Brewer’s Blackbird
    • American Goldfinch
    • House Sparrow

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