How the Great Backyard Bird Count made me a birder


My first ever bird journal!

Lots of birders recall their “spark bird” – the sighting that gave them the bug to bird – fondly.

I don’t have a spark bird. I have a spark weekend.

There’s this neat bookstore in the nearby town of Bethel called Byrd’s Books. In this do-or-die time for independent book sellers—there’s a lot of competition out there from Amazon, mostly, but from other large outlets that sell books at a cut price as well, such as BJs and Costco—they constantly have to invent new ways to keep themselves alive.

One of the ways Byrd’s does this is through the creation of community. Alice works hard to host a number of interesting events. In late January, her newsletter heralded an introductory session to the Great Backyard Bird Count—an annual event that takes place around President’s Day Weekend. It’s when birders everywhere count the birds in their yards or anywhere else they visit, and make reports each day. The National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology then use these reports to create a real-time snapshot of local bird populations. In prior years, this count has been exceptionally helpful in noting increases and decreases in certain populations and, for example, how changing weather patterns have affected them.

GBBC Confirmation

I signed us up immediately—Nathan has been a birder for years, and I’ll admit I never understood the appeal of it, but it would be an interesting date for us. I was excited, because I knew Nathan would be; I also love going to lectures on just about anything, and I love participating in citizen science. Besides, maybe I could figure out what the heck it is he loves about sitting out on our back porch for hours watching birds.

Whatever it was got me too. The four-day stint turned into an addiction, and I’m now one of countless birders (there’s some discrepancy about how many birders there are in the US and the world. If you’re interested, you can read about that here).

I’m out there every morning with my coffee, watching the birds come to our feeders (I’ve changed my morning routine – I get up half an hour earlier so I can fit in that time). I have a new appreciation for binoculars. I have two birding journals going. I love to log in to ebird and share what I’ve seen. Birding podcasts have been added to my listening rotation. I get a thrill to visit new places—not just for the thrill of visiting new places now, but for the thrill that I might see a new or different bird. And my morning stress levels have dropped considerably—watching birds is a lot like watching fish. Chills a person right out. But most of all? I love the birds. Some of them are distinct in size and/or markings, so I can tell them apart as individuals with little personalities (like Hugo, the largest of our three titmice who never shuts up. I mean, never. Except when he’s eating).

So, you might see a birding post or two from here forward—especially if I see something cool or if we go do a birding activity. For now, I’d like to introduce you to some of the special birds in my past, as well as some of our current birds, especially Fattypants, our male Carolina Wren that’s been hanging around here all winter. Did you know that only the male Carolina Wrens sing, and they have one of the loudest sounds in the bird kingdom?

For the record, this winter we’ve had between 10 and 16 species in the yard on a daily basis.

The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place every February (in 2019, it will take place from the 15 – 18). For more information, visit here, or visit Ebird here.

Wild turkeys in our yard, 10-14-02

Walt Disney World, 9-19-07

Mallards at Down the Hatch, 8-7-10

Mallards Down the Hatch 8-7-10

Orson, World’s Fattest House Finch 10-13-13

Great-tailed grackle, Austin, 08-18-14

Great-Tailed Grackle Austin 8-18-14

Bartleby the Tufted Titmouse, 3-21-15

This little guy had a broken wing, so Nathan rescued him. We kept him overnight in our guest bathroom (away from our cats) until we could bring him to a wildlife rescue center — Wildlife in Crisis — in nearby Weston. We are happy to report they were able to save him.

Barred owl in our yard, 9-9-16

Barred Owl 9-9-16

Red-tailed hawk, 10-23-16

Black-capped chickadees, 7-12-17

We had to get rid of our citronella candles, because we were afraid these little guys were trying to get at the dead bugs trapped in the wax, and we were afraid the wax would hurt them.

Chickadees 7-12-17

Savannah, 2-22-18 – 2-27-18

Some of our backyard residents, Winter 2018

Mute swan, outside the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, 3-11-18Mute Swan Maritime 3-11-18

Fattypants the Carolina Wren, 3-30-18


About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies; her traditionally published books include a short story collection, THE SHADOWS BEHIND. She was the recipient of three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She serves as co-host of the DARK DISCUSSIONS podcast, as founding editor of the dark literary journal 34 ORCHARD, and is a member of both the New England Horror Writers and the Horror Writers Association. Follow her adventures at

Posted on April 2, 2018, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Kristi, I recently downloaded the Cornell website and it’s wonderful! Moved from a place of many trees and much water to a high desert environment with dwarf trees (truly the name I learned from articles about the area-we are in the shadow of the great Sierras so our trees are mostly small). I thought I wouldn’t see or hear birds, but they are strong! Biggest group in our yard is Cedar Waxwings! Cutest ever tufts!

    • Isn’t that awesome??? Yeah, I LOVE the Cornell website. The backyard bird counts are the best — in February, and then there are two global big days, one in May and one in October. You basically just count the birds in your yard. It’s so much fun! A desert environment sounds awesome. I did some birdwatching in Austin, TX, but that’s more Hill Country than desert. Cedar Waxwings are lovely — we have them here, but not abundantly (at least not in our neck of the woods). Happy birdwatching!

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