OUTDOOR LEARNING: Remedial Birding

Published on: February 28, 2013

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

By DIANE STRAUSER ALVAREZ, Master Naturalist and Camp Bayou Supporter

I participated in the Great American Backyard Bird Count several years ago when I was taking the Master Naturalist’s class at Camp Bayou. I was fortunate to be paired with a real birder, who identified a pine warbler among other species, to my sheer amazement.

I participated solo this year on Feb. 15–18 in my own yard each morning from 8:15 to 8:45 or so and entered my findings on the website. My greatest discovery occurred in the lead up about Feb. 5 (I thought I’d better get in practice), when I identified two brown thrashers, big with long tail and beak, brown and white specks and markings on chest. It was easy to notice because one perched on the highest branch of the highest tree and sang even better than the Carolina wren or with more variety at least.

I was blessed by the God of Birding on the first official day of the count by seeing a red-shouldered hawk fly from my yard onto the wire across the road and land on top of another hawk. I first thought it an attack, except the bird was consenting to a fluttering mating— and in public no less. I also saw two blue jays and two warblers together but missed the hanky-panky. The brown thrasher this day sang for a full 10 minutes, perhaps declaring his territory or his love.

The next day of the Count, I spied three blue jays, two mourning doves, one cardinal, and two unidentifieds, which turned out to be blue-gray gnatcatchers, I think, according to the bird book; and lo and behold a yellow-rumped warbler also called myrtle warbler. Wow, did I feel like a birder! But wait; I cannot tell a tanager from a cardinal. All red birds have been cardinals for me up until now, but the bright red ones with no crest must be tanagers. But then one supposed tanager has black near the beak and dark wings, and the pictures do not show black near the beak. Calling all birders; help!

On Feb. 17 of the Count, it was two black vultures with white on the wing tips, a cardinal pair in the firebush and two sparrows in the leaf litter. The last day was similar with an added titmouse and was that a kinglet or a peewee??

This column is sponsored by Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center located in Ruskin at 4140 24th Street SE, 3 miles south of S.R. 674 off exit 240 W. on I-75. Email: or call (813) 641-8545 for more information.