To Bird or to Twitch?

I finally had a few hours to get out birding, and had planned to visit some of the Washington County wetlands. But a Brambling visiting a feeder in Woodburn presented me with a dilemma. Should I spend my birding time standing around in someone’s back yard hoping to see a particular bird, or should I explore large areas of habitat and find birds on my own?

The Brambling, an uncommon visitor from Asia, was only a 30 minute drive from home, well within my “chase radius.” (I will drive up to an hour and a half to chase a rarity, although it had better be a darned good bird if it is over an hour away.) The species would be a lifer for me, a nice tick on my Oregon list, and this would perhaps be my only chance to see this species. Then again, if the bird didn’t show up, I would have spent my limited birding time not looking at birds. With some reluctance, I decided to go for the twitch.

When I arrived at the stake-out site, a small group of birders informed me that I had just missed the Brambling. How typical is that? So I began my wait, hoping that the bird would maintain her schedule of repeated visits to her favorite feeder. I had come this far, so I might as well stick it out.


As luck would have it, this yard was very birdy. A small flock of Evening Grosbeaks was a rare treat. Several species of finches and sparrows worked the feeders, interrupted occasionally by a hungry Cooper’s Hawk. After about an hour of waiting, three things happened; my cell phone rang, the owner of the home came out to offer me a cup of coffee, and the Brambling appeared.


So with one hand holding my phone (it was an important call), I used the other hand to hold my binocular to get a brief look at the bird, then snap a few photos, all while thanking my host for the coffee (he didn’t realize that I was on the phone, and didn’t know that I don’t drink coffee). Then the Brambling flew away.

So now what? I had gotten a brief glimpse of the Brambling, although not a very satisfying view of a lifer, and had no idea if any of my photos would be usable or not. The bird had established a pattern of visiting the yard about once an hour for less than a minute. Do I hang out for another hour (did I mention it was really cold?), or do I cut my losses and go do some real birding? I was leaning toward the latter when an acquaintance of mine arrived to look for the bird. The prospect of visiting with him, along with the general birdiness of the this yard, convinced me to stay and try for another look at the Brambling.


This Downy Woodpecker worked on the suet feeder.


Notice that the Dark-eyed Junco on the left has some dark gray on the sides and a darker back than the typical Oregon race birds.

Here is the same bird from the back. The brownish cast on the bird’s back is not right for a pure Slate-colored Junco, so I think this bird is an intergrade Slate-colored/Oregon.


After about an hour, the Brambling returned for less than twenty seconds. I spent the entire time watching her with my binocular, making up for the fleeting view of the previous visit.

So I had gotten my lifer, adding my twitch to the checklist, but I had also gotten some actual birding in, as well. I had seen about 20 species in that little yard, and had a nice visit with some other birders. While I really enjoy getting out and finding large numbers of species, there is often birding to be had in confined situations such as this. I will still struggle with the choice of birding or twitching, but hopefully I will allow myself to find the joy in either.

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