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Help count birds this weekend wherever you are

Great Backyard Bird Count can be done in parks or nature areas as well as at home

Whether it involves spotting lesser goldfinches in your backyard, as above, or myriad birds in a nearby wildlife site, anyone can participate this weekend in the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Whether it involves spotting lesser goldfinches in your backyard, as above, or myriad birds in a nearby wildlife site, anyone can participate this weekend in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Kathy Morrison

Got 15 minutes to spare for the birds? The Great Backyard Bird Count is back. 

Starting Friday and through this holiday weekend, anyone can help contribute to a real-time snapshot of bird populations. 

The National AudubonSociety naturally is involved in the event, and explains it like this:

“Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world.”

How to participate? Here’s the guide from birdcount.org (also available at the link):

1) Count birds anywhere you like for at LEAST 15 minutes – or for as long as you wish. Keep track of the kinds of birds you see and how long you watched. 

2) Make your best estimate of how many birds you saw of each species. For example, 5 Northern Cardinals, 3 American Crows. Huge flocks may be a challenge, but your best guess is still valuable.

3) Enter your list(s) online at www.birdcount.org.  Put in a new checklist: 

– for each new day

– for each different location 

– for the same location, same day, if you counted at a different time of day.  

The observation data are used by ornithologists to learn how birds are doing overall and how to protect them and the environment we all share. 

Gardeners of course depend on birds to control insect pests as well as contribute to the diversity and beauty of our outdoor world.

If you’re not already familiar with the birds in your neighborhood, I recommend downloading the free Merlin app today, or at least before you start counting. (The account you create will be used to file your bird-count checklist, too.)  Merlin was created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to help anyone identify, by photo or by sound, the birds around them. You can download a list of birds common to the western United States. I especially like to record on my phone the call or song of a bird I can’t see.

The Sacramento Audubon Society also maintains an online list of Sacramento-area birds, which is so helpful in learning all the feathered neighbors.

Birdcount.org also has excellent tips on identifying and counting birds.

You can be sure I'll be out in the wilds of my backyard Friday, with binoculars and phone at ready.

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Garden Checklist for week of April 14

It's still not warm enough to transplant tomatoes directly in the ground, but we’re getting there.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden needs nutrients. Fertilize shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash.

* Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias.

* Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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