Backyard birdwatching is one of the most popular hobbies in the country. Therefore it is no surprise that occasionally a rare species will be discovered not by intrepid adventurers in the swamps or mountains, but by someone feeding the birds in their backyard, and noticing a strange bird eating the food from their feeders. Often, these folks will reach out to someone they know to help identify the bird, or they may know it is rare themselves and let someone know, and from there the larger birding community is alerted that the bird is in the vicinity, through various message boards and electronic communication.
If the person is amenable to visitors interested in seeing the bird, and if it is rare enough, they will often be swamped with people wanting to camp out their backyard in order to see a rare species. A visiting protocol will be developed and if the bird is cooperative, many people will get to enjoy the wonder of seeing a species of animal they would otherwise have to travel some distance to see, or perhaps have no chance to see again.
Not having been my cup of tea, I have never chased these backyard rarities before. I typically prefer to get into the woods as opposed to sitting in a backyard. However, it is starting to get a little harder for me to see new species, and it is exciting to get the chance. In addition, I have the goal this year of seeing more species – combined with the fact that there happened to be two rarities within 20 minutes of me at the same time, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
The first bird was a Bullock’s Oriole. I find the name of this bird funny; although it is named for someone, the term also means something else in Ireland, which is where my wife is from. The bird had been coming to a local feeder for about a week and many people had seen it. In addition, the homeowner was very welcoming of visitors and understandably excited about the bird herself. It is a western bird that should not be anywhere near the east coast. In addition, it should only be in the country in the summer. Having one of the these in North Carolina in the middle of winter is extremely strange.
I followed the instructions to visit the backyard – through the gate to the covered porch in the back. The owner came out to greet me and was very welcoming and helpful. I could see why the bird might have stayed around this yard. It had many feeders and the landscaping was done very nicely with many spots for birds to forage in and hide. The amount of bird activity was extreme. At times the flock made a racket and there was pretty much every yard bird you could see in this area. I even saw a Blue-headed Vireo, my first for the year and a fairly uncommon winter bird.
Unfortunately, although it was a pleasant stay and the birdwatching was enjoyable, the Bullock’s Oriole never showed up.
Hoping to not get totally skunked for the day, I texted the homeowner at the location of my second target bird, a Rufous Hummingbird. Another western summer bird, I have heard of Rufous Hummingbirds coming here before, but it is very occasional and you are unlikely to see one unless you go find one when it is reported.
This yard, while nice, was not as much of a bird hotspot. The main attraction from a birding perspective were two hummingbird feeders. I was told the hummingbird came to each of them every 15-30 minutes. After my last failure, I was unsure if I was going to have any luck, but sure enough, after 20 minutes or so, it showed up! It was very exciting to watch, and I even heard it make its tyuk call several times. I waited for it to come and go about 3 times before heading home for the day, happy to have seen a new species.
The weather had been bad with a lot of rain the day before, and wind on this day, so the Bullock’s Oriole homeowner and I were worried that it was gone. But I got a text that evening that it had come back, and for the next two days I visited that backyard hoping to get a glimpse of the bird. Finally, on the third day. having timed my arrival with the time the bird was seen the day before, I hit gold!
At first the bird was shy, but eventually it came out into the open and I enjoyed excellent views on the feeders for about 15 minutes.
It was all worth it, and my backyard birding was complete for now, having scored two more life birds. The yard actually was pretty fun to watch as well. At one point two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers fell from a tree fighting each other. I averaged 18 or 19 species each visit, and met some very nice people.