My 2015 Great Backyard Bird Count Results


Posted by justtracy | Posted in Birding, General Interest, Wildlife | Posted on 16-02-2015

Every year I look forward to a fun winter activity in February, the Great Backyard Bird Count. I enjoy watching my backyard birds everyday but it’s interesting to see how much more you observe during the count.

This year I discovered more than goldfinches on my Nyjer seed feeder. I noticed a different bird with hints of yellow on its wings but a heavily streaked body…the Pine Siskin. In fact, this turned out to be the 6th highest species in my count this year.

On the last day of the count I also had another new sighting…a female Yellow Bellied Sapsucker.

I did not see Starlings or a Red Wing Blackbird this year, which tells me we are still a ways off from spring.

My top 5 bird counts were

American Golfinch at 25 birds

Dark-eyed Junco at 10

White-throated Sparrow at 10

Blue Jay at 8

Northern Cardinal at 8


My entire list of birds observed is below.

Explore all the 2015 results at


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A garden is not a garden without a few feathered friends


Posted by justtracy | Posted in Birding, Gardening, Plants Map, Wildlife | Posted on 15-02-2014

For me, a garden is not a garden without a few feathered friends in the yard.

T_DSC0018he more time I spent in my garden, the more I started watching birds and learning to identify them. A few years ago I heard about the Great Backyard Bird Count and I have been participating ever since. Bird watching is probably my favorite wintertime activity. And yes, I not only make plant lists but I also make bird lists.

When I choose plants for my garden I prefer to include those that are known to provide food or shelter for birds. In a previous home landscape I had two ‘bird’ gardens: one consisting of viburnums and native berry producing shrubs and the other was primarily seed and nectar perennials. In my current backyard landscape, the overstory tree canopy is primarily tulip poplars, sweet gums, and maples.  I have mainly focused on adding a layer of understory native trees and shrubs. So far, I have a list of 27 different species of birds that have visited my yard. At the end of this year’s bird count I will post on my blog ( an update on my bird list.Garden Below are some of the best websites I have found to help create a bird friendly garden and habitat.

National Wildlife Federation: Create a Bird-friendly Habitat
This website includes tips on providing water year round, eliminating the use of insecticides, using proper nesting boxes, and if possible allowing dead tress as an important natural shelter or dwelling plus much more.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden: 12 Ways to Design a Bird-Friendly Garden
This website article offers great design tips including choosing plants that provide year round food sources and creating clumps of trees of the same species together, especially conifers to provide shelter.  They also recommend limiting the size of your lawn because it is not as beneficial to birds as other habitats.

Washington State Dept. of Fish & Wildlife: Landscape Design for Wildlife
This website has a great visual on the different birds species that live at different plant layers in a habitat from ground covers, shrubs, understory trees, to the top overstory canopy.  This is known as vegetation layers and relies on a diversity of plants to attract a broad diversity of birds.

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: Native Landscaping for Birds, Bees, Butterflies, Wildlife
Choosing to incorporate native plans also means that you are providing plants that are necessary to native birds and wildlife. This OSU Extension factsheet provides a great list of Ohio native trees and shrubs. But remember that native is relative, so do a quick search of Cooperative Extensions resources for native trees and shrubs for your state.  You can also reference the North American Native Plant Society database.

Another important note in this fact sheet is to avoid using exotic (or non-native) plants because they can be harmful to native ecosystems. This can have a detrimental effect on both native vegetation as well as native wildlife.  Visit the USDA Introduced, Invasive, & Noxious Plants website for a national list as well as state lists of plants to avoid.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Best Plants and Trees for Birds
This website provides a great short list of the best Trees, Conifers, Vines, and Shrubs for birds. My favorites on this list: Serviceberries (Amelanchier species), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), and Arrowwood Viburnums (Viburnum dentatum species)

University of Missouri: Sunflower An American Native
Do you want to grow sunflowers for your own birds? This website will tell you everything you want to know about growing a crop of sunflowers. Did you know?  “Of all crops harvested for seed around the world, only one was domesticated in America: the sunflower”

And for even further reading, I also recommend Gardening for the Birds: How to Create a Bird-Friendly Backyard from Timber Press.

These are just a few of my favorite websites and resources for creating landscapes and gardens to attract a diversity of birds. If you know of others, please share and comment.

Happy gardening, planting and bird watching.



Tick Season


Posted by justtracy | Posted in Gardening, Wildlife | Posted on 15-04-2013

For gardeners and pet owners, Spring and warm temperatures means the beginning of Tick season.

Links for great information on how to protect yourself and your pets. See your states Cooperative Extension website for more information as well.

CDC Ticks:

Virginia Cooperative Extension: Common Ticks of VA

Virginia Cooperative Extension: Gardening and Your Health: TICKS Ticks, Dogs & Disease



2013 is Year of the…Snake


Posted by justtracy | Posted in Wildlife | Posted on 23-02-2013

If you are a Chinese Horoscope fan, you already know that we are now in the Year of the Snake: a year of progress and attention to detail.

If you are a gardener, you have probably encountered a few more snakes than the average person. Especially the Garter Snake (sometime mistakenly called the Garder or Gardener Snake), one of the most common snakes in the eastern U.S.  Most people have a fear or at least disdain for these legless lizards.  While I don’t enjoy encounters with any of them, I do know that they provide some benefits to the gardener, like controlling rodents such as chipmunks and squirrels and insects like grasshoppers. And some snakes even prey on other poisonous snakes.

For detailed information on managing snakes in your yard, see Managing Wildlife Damage: Snakes from the Virginia Cooperative Extension.  Or search your local state extension website for information on Snakes in your area.  The title above bothers me a bit as snakes actually do no harm to a garden other than frightening the unsuspecting gardener from time to time.  This publication also points out that of the 30 species in Virginia, only 3 are poisonous.  I also learned it is illegal to kill any snake in the state unless you are in imminent danger.  This publication also has good tips on ways to control and remove snakes from you yard as well.

For more information on why snakes can be good for the garden, see Snakes: Good for the Garden.

I will still always keep my distance of any snake and recommend everyone do the same. Stay calm and remember most snakes want to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them. And any snake that feels threatened will bite, which can be a painful experience.  Most snake bites occur because people get simply to close (about 6 feet) trying to get a closer look or pick up a snake.  Best advice: don’t handle snakes!  Back away slowly and remember they can strike a distance at least half their length. And know what attracts them to your yard in the first place and make changes to your environment to discourage them (dense ground covers, tall grasses, wood piles, rocks, water, birdseed on the ground that attracts rodents, etc.).  And snakes have predators too…enter our friend the Hawk.