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See the birdie? Grab your binoculars!

The Great Backyard Bird Count is under way

Magpies in park
Whether you count yellow-billed magpies in the local park (there are at least 18 in the photo, including some in the shade) or hummingbirds in the garden, you can be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Here’s a way to help nature and entertain your kids – and you don’t even have to leave your backyard!

It’s the Great Backyard Bird Count, an exercise in citizen science that keeps tabs on our feathered friends.

Held from Feb. 12 through 15, this avian census relies on the sharp eyes of volunteers nationwide.

Co-hosted by the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the GBBC is open to birdwatchers of all ages and abilities nationwide. And it’s free to participate.

The challenge is simple: Count how many birds you see during a 15-minute period (or more) during the four-day event in a specific space, such as your backyard. You also can count birds in a neighborhood park, along a stream or river, or wherever you like. The key: Document what you see including the bird species as well as number.

Handy tools are offered online to help with identification, such as Merlin Bird ID. (It can ID most of your sightings with three easy questions.) Also, take photos to help with that ID process (and to document your observation – experienced bird watchers will review your findings).

Then, submit your list of birds to the GBBC using the eBird tool (also available online).

Last year’s GBBC (before pandemic lockdowns) set all sorts of records. According to organizers, a total of 6,942 species were counted worldwide. In all, 249,444 checklists were submitted by an estimated 268,674 participants.

The most common sighting? That was the Northern Cardinal, with its familiar color and distinctive head. In terms of population, snow geese topped the charts with nearly 7.2 million included in this census.

With 13,331 checklists (a new state record), California topped all participating states in 2020 followed by New York, Texas and Florida. Many of those California lists came from the greater Sacramento area, always a hotbed of birding. (Hint: American crows are among our most frequently sighted birds.)

Organizers note that the GBBC is an ideal and safe activity during COVID-19 restrictions. Social distancing and face masks are encouraged if watching with others.

To participate or learn more:


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Oct. 2

Plan to make the most of the mild weather in your garden.

* October is the best month to plant trees and shrubs.

* October also is the best time to plant perennials in our area. Add a little well-aged compost and bone meal to planting holes or beds, but hold off on other fertilizers until spring. Keep the transplants well-watered (but not wet) for the first month as they become settled.

* Now is the time to plant seeds for many flowers directly into the garden, including cornflower, nasturtium, nigella, poppy, portulaca, sweet pea and stock.

* Plant seeds for radishes, bok choy, mustard, spinach and peas.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Set out cool-weather bedding plants, including calendula, pansy, snapdragon, primrose and viola.

* Reseed and feed the lawn. Work on bare spots.

* Dig up corms and tubers of gladioluses, dahlias and tuberous begonias after the foliage dies. Clean and store in a cool, dry place.

* Treat azaleas, gardenias and camellias with chelated iron if leaves are yellowing between the veins.

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