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Birding During the Pandemic by Jon Friedman

The Situation As It Is 
We need to count our blessings and continue to have hope while struggling to adapt to alterations in our everyday living until this pandemic we are experiencing finally reaches its end. None of the experts can accurately predict when that will be, but I think it’s safe to say, that we will have to be patient and wait it out as best we can. When that will be is anyone’s guess at this point. I am thankful to be living in modern American society, but I worry about all those throughout the world living in crowded and basically unhealthy conditions. Certain areas are prone to much more disastrous outcomes. The slums of overcrowded cities throughout the third world, the overcrowded refugee camps in and near the borders of Syria and other mid-east countries, Asia, Africa and Latin America will all suffer tremendously if the virus spreads wildly throughout those communities. Most of the predictions I have heard or read seem to agree that it will be several to many months before we see the end of this.  
Personal Safeguards 
Most agree that this will still be with us come 2021. There’s talk of it occurring in waves, with new hotspots arising while other areas may experience more than one wave. Successive waves should be less severe for a variety of reasons. We will have gained valuable scientific knowledge about the disease and techniques for battling it. We will be better prepared with the right tools to fight it; have no shortage of the protective gear our front-line health workers need to keep themselves as safe from harm as possible; and we, the public, will have learned the lessons of self-protection and protecting others. This includes the proper use of washing our hands thoroughly and using hand sanitizer, keeping our homes disease free, not touching our faces, practicing social distancing, avoiding congregating in groups and socializing in general. And, while there is much more to be said in this regard, I assume that at this point, most of you already know these things and are accustomed to practicing these safeguarding measures as recommended by the CDC. 
I know after just several weeks of staying home and severely limiting my outside excursions for food, medicine, and other necessary supplies, that “cabin fever” can set in. It’s up to us to be our own best self-advocates and adhere to the rules of safety to the utmost extent. Being a senior with some underlying issues, I know how important it is for me not to take unnecessary chances with my health. However, this doesn’t mean I have to stay home 100% of the time and mope about the situation we are all in.  
Spending Time At Home 
I am serious about protecting myself, and my loved ones, as best I can, and I am determined to make the most of this experience and get through it, however long it lasts. For the forseeable future while we’re restricted in our movements and social life, I will use this stay-at-home time to accomplish tasks that have been put off. I have renewed my interest in listening to my favorite music. I will read books that I didn’t have time for earlier. I will be watching the news for information and movies for entertainment. I now find I have more time for keeping my house in good order. I have been spending more phone time talking with old friends and relatives. I’m giving more thought to renewing my gardening interests. I am enjoying spending more time with Jazz, my canine best friend. Walks in my neighborhood give both me, my fiancée Marilyn and Jazz the opportunity to enjoy some exercise and fresh air. While we do see others doing the same things, we maintain safe distances. 
Watching birds has remained a strong interest all the while, wherever we are, which is mostly at home. However, we decided that it is important to get out into nature on a regular basis – to change up the “remaining at home” situation, to breathe deeply the country air and appreciate the smell of pine scent, to be reminded that we, too, are part of nature, and to observe birds in their natural world.  
Recent Outing – Madera Canyon 
We recently drove to nearby Madera Canyon for a little hiking and birdwatching. Initially I thought of Sabino Canyon, a much closer destination. But, I saw there was more than a mile of cars parked along both sides of Sabino Canyon Road, the parking lot absolutely full and an overflow crowd of people also wanting to experience the great outdoors. There were way too many people for me to feel comfortable there, so Madera became the destination. I was greatly relieved to find that the situation in that canyon was very different. Far fewer people, no parking problems, no need to wear a mask. Jazz was happy for the new smells, exploring everything within her leash’s range. Marilyn and I felt wonderful in this clear, brisk and healthy environment. The sound of the wind through the forest’s trees, the smells of nature, the babbling creek, the amazing scenery; all this made us appreciate our being together out of the city. 
It certainly wasn’t the best birding experience I’ve ever had in that location. It was a little early for spring migrants and breeding season, but the “regulars” were present. We observed small flocks of jays, saw numerous White-breasted Nuthatches and Bridled Titmice, some goldfinches, lots of Acorn Woodpeckers, and the largest flock of Wild Turkey’s in recent memory. We watched as two large “Toms” engaged each other for dominance over the flock’s many hens. At first glance they appeared to be dancing but were actually engaged with each trying to outmaneuver and dominate the other. For a while they twisted their elongated necks into a spiraling pattern and seemed enjoined. Once separated, the dominant male chased the other large male away from the hens, pursuing the defeated one until it finally disappeared into the woods. A fair number of hummingbirds were also observed, including North America’s two largest hummers, the Rivoli’s (formerly the Magnificent) and the Blue-throated.  
Birding at Home 
Back in my mid-town neighborhood, my neighbor to the east informed me that in his almost 40 years there, he has noticed that as time went by the numbers of birds have declined steeply. Even House Finches aren’t as abundant as in the earlier years. Inca doves have all but disappeared. But, Harris’s Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks have proliferated. With my setting up feeders, he said he’s so happy to see the return of birds that were once common to the neighborhood, like Gambel’s Quail, Northern Mockingbird, and Vermillion Flycatcher. I do offer fruits and insect meal (our Nuts ‘n’ Bugs) to attract those non seed-eating species. And, while I do have some mixed seed feeders, I tend to favor the goldfinches and cardinals. I have two species-specific Cardinal feeders and several Nyjer thistle feeders. I have two feeding stations set up, one in front of the house and one in the back.  
The front yard feeders include three large feeders for the goldfinches along with a Bugnutter and a Multi-feeder for the insect meal. These feeders are located in a Palo Verde tree. I also put fruit out in this tree, stabbed onto the thorns and into crotches of the branches. I also hung a large seed cylinder feeder there, where I alternate between the Cardinal Magic and Feast for All seed cylinders. I see the widest variety of species at this feeding station. Amongst the regulars, I have noticed Verdin, Vermillion Flycatchers, Northern Mockingbirds, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Hooded Orioles, and a small variety of sparrows. Gambel’s Quail scour the ground underneath the feeders and peck every scrap of edibles, leaving nothing for the large population of Round-tailed Ground Squirrels that inhabit every lot in this entire neighborhood. The rear feeding station has multiple Nyjer thistle feeders and two birdbaths, one pedestal model and one ground bath. Both are used regularly. Ground Squirrels only use the ground bath!  
The kitchen and dining room both offer good views of the rear station. The other day I was surprised to see a Black Phoebe at the birdbaths. This handsome male used both baths alternately. He would drink from one and fly off. Next time I saw him, he was at the ground bath. I haven’t seen him in a couple days, perhaps my house was a temporary stop on his way to his breeding territory. I have a Lazy Boy recliner by my big picture window in the front of the house, in the living room. It offers excellent viewing of the front feeding station. I keep a pair of binoculars within arm’s reach to enable me to see details more clearly and closely. Recently, I was watching this station when a Cooper’s Hawk swooped in, grabbed a Mourning Dove, lifted off with the dove in its talons and just couldn’t get enough lift to clear the roof and crashed into my picture window. It hit with such a thud, such force that I thought for a moment the window may break! Luckily for me, it didn’t. But, for the dove – well, the dove didn’t fare so well but the Cooper’s ensured it had a good meal that day! Because it fell to the ground under the window and outside my field of view, still clutching the dove, I decided to get up for a better view of its dining. When I repositioned myself, it must have seen me, or at least some movement, and flew off with its prey. I stepped outside right away, but it was too late. I couldn’t locate it and assumed it flew off to some place out of my sight to eat undisturbed. 
Finally, during this time of the flu pandemic, I just want to encourage you to use this extra time you may have to hone your birding skills without having to leave home. In my otherwise “normal” daily schedule I probably would have missed seeing some of the more unusual birds that have recently visited my feeding stations. But, having to spend more time at home has made it very convenient to continue watching birds. And, don’t forget, even in this time of pandemic, you can still safely act within the guidelines (washing hands, keeping a safe distance from others, etc.), get in your car and go to any number of good birdwatching areas for either a few hours of diversion and delight or you can make a full day of it and go a little further from Tucson to observe more exotic birds and experience nature and some of the best scenery southern Arizona has to offer. Right now, and for the next couple months, many of our seasonal neo-tropical beauties will become more apparent as the breeding season continues. 
Other resources 
If you need help in deciding where to go for a day of out-of-town birding, you can check our website archive of articles. Section three has a list of about a dozen locations for excellent birding opportunities. And, if you still find you have extra time on your hands, you can peruse the archive which has dozens and dozens of articles specifically about hummingbirds, particular species and families of birds, birding destinations, and a very large section of general articles about a wide variety of birding interests and concerns. Happy reading! Happy Birding! And, above all else, stay safe! 

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