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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:
https://www.birdcount.org/

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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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