Today, February 14th, 2014, is not only Valentine’s Day, it’s also the first day of the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count. Unlike the Christmas Bird Count, this event is less formal and there’s no need to register for a circle or stick to a certain area. You can count anywhere you want at any time for at least 15 minutes. Today, I spent time counting in the mountains near San Diego. It’s not an area I usually count, but I’ve been planning a trip there, anyway, and I thought I would count birds while I was there.
I spent most of my time counting in Heise Park, which is about a mile or two from the small town of Julian, California. I’ve been the Heise Park before, but I’ve never counted birds there. I knew there were wild turkeys there and I didn’t have them on my life list since I first officially started counting birds. I paid the $3 parking fee and went all the way to the back of the park where I had seen turkeys before.
The first bird I heard was a Steller ‘s jay, though I didn’t get a good look at him. They’re fairly dark-looking when they’re high up in a tree with the strong mid-day light I had. Plus, this bird didn’t sit still. I also heard several other birds that I didn’t recognize, at first, and when I saw down to listen to their calls on my iPad, a spotted towhee took a great interest in me. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t playing towhee calls, he seemed really curious. There were many spotted towhees there, more than I’ve ever seen anywhere. Nearby, I think I saw what looked to be a Cooper’s hawk, but I wasn’t sure. I think the hawk tried to capture two Eurasian collared doves that were roosting in a tree and flew off, suddenly.
The highlight in this area was the acorn woodpecker. Back in San Diego, where I usually go birding, the most common woodpecker I see is a Nuttall’s woodpecker and sometimes a downy. I didn’t see any of those in Heise Park, but I saw several of these very vocal acorn woodpeckers. It’s probably due to many dead trees left over from the fires years ago that are now filled with insects. Other birds I saw and heard were California quail, western bluebird, mountain chickadees, and a white-breasted nuthatch.
I still hadn’t seen any turkeys when I heard a clucking sound and went to check it out. That’s when I saw the mule deer in the woods. There were at least three of them, one appeared to be a yearling, and the others were at least one doe and possibly one buck. Finally, I heard the definite sounds of turkey hens greeting each other, nearby, outside the park’s fence.
The Great Backyard Bird Count continues until February 17th. Counts can be entered into eBird, or through their website at http://www.birdcount.org.