Sunday, October 13, 2013

From One Season to Another...

Yes, it's been a while!  Sorry, I've been busy working on my other blog and the yard activity hasn't really picked up until recently.  It's good to finally see some of our winter friends again.

Birds typically begin to move around between mid-August and September, though activity has seemed muted this year.  Hatch-year Robins (above) have been occasionally stealing my huckleberries, but southbound fall migrants (Yellow and Black-throated Gray Warblers, Willow Flycatchers, etc.) have been absent from the yard.  My lone sighting of a Western Wood-pewee (below) in late August was all that we had.  Lame.

This Western Wood-pewee was one of the few southbound migrants that moved through this summer

Thankfully, our winter peeps have not disappointed.  Most excitingly, a male Townsend's Warbler has been visiting our suet feeders for almost two weeks.  Multiple breeding populations of Townsend's Warblers move through at this time of the year.  We typically see one come through between late September and mid-October, and they tend to not hang around.  Individuals from the population that comes through in November tend to be those that overwinter in the neighborhood.  So it was great to see an individual buck this trend.  Townsend's Warblers are one of my favorite winter visitors.  Dark-eyed Juncos are also back, pretty much on schedule.  The first individual was observed on 9/21 and there are approximately eight individuals at the feeders right now.  The first-of-the-season Ruby-crowned Kinglet made a brief appearance earlier in the week, but I wasn't able to get a photograph.

This male Townsend's Warbler has been a regular at the suet feeders for almost two weeks

One of the first Dark-eyed Juncos of the winter season

This funky-looking junco appears to be a molting hatch-year male

Most of the individuals in the yard at this point are year-round residents that breed in the rural areas and move into urban areas in the late summer.  Over the past month, we've had a significant uptick in Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Cedar Waxsings, American Goldfinches, and Spotted Towhees.

Flocks of a couple dozen Cedar Waxwings have been roaming the neighborhood recently

A female Spotted Towhee feeds on cracked corn

One of at least two Downy Woodpeckers that are now regulars at the suet feeders

One of my goals this summer was to introduce more natural food sources for hummingbirds.  I planted several California fuchsias and penstemons (both in the ground and in pots), and the hummer response has been very positive.  As these plants mature and flower more heavily, I imagine that they'll be even more popular.  I also planted several manzanitas in the yard this year, in part to provide hummers with winter and early spring nectar.

An Anna's Hummingbird enjoys my Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria garretti)

This plant was also popular with the migrant Rufous Hummingbirds.  This hatch-year male hung around into the last week of September.

Well, that's it for now.  More to come in the next month, I'm sure.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

More on Oregon Field Notes

I've recently posted a few updates to my other blog, Oregon Field Notes.  Please check it out:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Dog Days of Summer

Summer in the backyard tends to be quiet.  Natural food sources are aplenty, so the local avifauna has little incentive to concentrate on your property.  (We out West have the advantage of very dry summers, and thus bird baths can be something of a magnet.  Though one needs a good heat wave to really exploit this.)  Despite the slowness, I managed to capture a few memorable moments.

Obviously, the main event in late spring and summer is breeding.  Several species brought their offspring to the feeders this summer.

A fledgling Black-capped Chickadee (left) takes suet from its parent.  (Note how worn the feathers are on the adult.  Raising children is hard work!)

Many, many House Finches fed their young at the feeders this afternoon

In August, many began to show up without their mom or dad...

This hatch-year Northern Flicker managed to get at the suet inside the caged feeder.  They grow up so quickly!

An immature male Anna's Hummingbird visits the nectar feeder

This Song Sparrow appears to be a molting hatch-year individual, but it's difficult to tell.  Song Sparrows have recently moved out of their summer breeding areas.  Many winter in urban spots with feeders.

The first Black-headed Grosbeak in early August (below) denotes the beginning of major change in the backyard.  Soon, warblers will be making their way through, followed by a Steller's Jay or two, followed by massive flocks of American Goldfinches (with a few Pine Siskins), followed by Juncos, followed by, Yellow-rumped Warblers, followed by Townsend's Warblers and kinglets... and then it's Thanksgiving.

One of many Black-headed Grosbeaks that visited the feeders this month
Lesser Goldfinches

An American Goldfinch in its breeding plumage.  They're now morphing into their more drab basic plumage and we will be hosting many more of them between mid-September and mid-October.

I hope to see/photograph some migrating warblers in the yard later this month.  I'll report back in another month or so.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Introducing Oregon Field Notes

Just over a year ago, I posted an account of a recent trip to Malheur NWR and it occurred to me that I should document such trips into the field more frequently.  However, this site is not the proper venue for that.  So I've created an appropriate site for such reports:

Eugene Backyard Birds will co-exist with Oregon Field Notes, with updates of each occurring every six weeks or so.  I hope that you enjoy Oregon Field Notes and that it inspires you to get out into the field!

New posts to both sites are forthcoming in the next week or so.

Monday, July 29, 2013

No, I Have Not Fallen Off of a Cliff

When life gets busy and complex, time for blogging becomes scarce.  And when there are few yard birds around, apathy becomes a complicating factor.

But fear not!  The birds have returned and multiple posts are forthcoming in August.  Until then...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Restrained Migration

Despite our unusually sunny, warm, and dry weather from late March through the first week of May, spring migration seems to have gone in slow motion this year.  Or at least that's what my yard has experienced.  My first-of-the-season Orange-crowned Warbler didn't appear until mid-April (late March is more typical).  My first Rufous Hummingbird didn't show up until the third week of March - about a week later than usual - and I've seen very few hummingbirds since then.  Very strange.  However, things began to pick up in mid-April and I managed to get a few decent photos.

Mixed warbler flocks are a harbinger of spring.  And while it took a while, I was finally rewarded with a nice flock of Orange-crowned and Black-throated Gray Warblers (above) on a sunny afternoon in mid-April.  I was not only able to spend 20 minutes taking photos on my back deck, but also got some much-need Vitamin D!

If I'm lucky, I see something really cool and unexpected every spring.  Last year, it was a Swainson's Thrush that hung out for about a week, feeding on ivy berries in the neighbor's yard.  This year, it was a Townsend's Solitaire that hung out in my neighborhood for two days in late April.  Townsend's Solitaires breed in the Cascades and typically winter in Central Oregon.  However, smaller numbers winter annually in Western Oregon.  This was the first time that I've seen one in this part of the state.

This Townsend's Solitaire hung out in our walnut tree for a couple of days in late April.

An Orange-crowned Warbler forages through vegetation in the neighbor's yard.

In addition to the solitaire, other members of the thrush family have moved through the yard recently.  In the early morning of 4/21, a Hermit Thrush was observed in the magnolia tree in the backyard.  Earlier this morning, a Swainson's Thrush was seen foraging through the neighbor's mature maple trees.

Flycatchers and vireos are two other families of neotropical migrants that tend to be conspicuous during April and May.  While I was not as lucky with them as last spring, both did represent earlier this month.  My first Warbling Vireo sighting was on 5/4, a good week or so later than usual.  I never seem to get good photos of this species, as they tend to stay higher up in trees that have already leafed out.  The other migrant species of vireo that shows up during spring, Cassin's Vireo, rarely shows up to my yard.  Hammond's and Pacific-slope Flycatchers are the typical species that arrive in mid-April.  Unlike last spring, I did not spot either species in the yard.  However, early May rewarded us with a few Western Wood-pewees.  When moving through, pewees like to hawk insects from high up in the cluster of Douglas Firs and Silver Maples a couple of yards over.

A Western Wood-pewee searches for insects from high atop this maple branch

This Swainson's Thrush was foraging with a flock of 10+ Western Tanagers

Back in April, sparrow movement was very evident.  At this time of the year, White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows move out of the valley on their way to their breeding grounds.  Golden-crowned Sparrows are true migrants that breed in Western Canada and Alaska.  White-crowned Sparrow movement is a little more complex, as two different subspecies move through at this time of the year.  The local subspecies, pugetensis, is a year-round resident here.  Subspecies gambelli overwinters in the Southwest and breeds in Alaska and Western Canada.  I spotted a few gambelli White-crowned Sparrows last April, but this year was surprised to only see a single pugetensis.

A breeding plumage Golden-crowned Sparrow forages for spilled seed before moving northward.

This subspecies pugetensis White-crowned Sparrow hung around for a few days.

This White-throated Sparrow was is of two that overwintered in our neighborhood.  White-throated Sparrow numbers have increased dramatically in Western Oregon over the past decade or so.

Grosbeaks have been avoiding my feeders for some reason this year.  Black-headed Grosbeaks typically stop in for a bite when they arrive in early May.  While I've seen and head them singing in and around yard this month, they've stayed up in the trees.  Evening Grosbeaks are loud and gregarious at this time of the year.  They usually feed on the the seeds from my neighbor's maple trees.  While this year has been no different in that regard, I have not seen a single individual at my sunflower feeder.  No fun.  Hopefully that will change this fall.

A bad photo of a male Western Tanager

One of the last overwintering Varied Thrushes from mid-May.  I look forward to seeing them again in November.

Migration is just about over and the yard is becoming quiet again.  However, I will be making a few trips later this spring and will post the photos in future posts.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Birdscaping - Part II

Spring migration appears to be in slow motion right now.  We've been visited by a whopping one Rufous Hummingbird so far.  With little of interest going on, I thought I'd share some of my recent landscaping.  Last spring, I began to plant bird-friendly vegetation in my yard and chronicled this in a post last summer.  I've added much more this winter and hope that the birds will begin to reap the benefits soon.

Sugar-water feeders are a pain in the rear maintain (especially in the summer) and I wanted to introduce naive perennials that the hummers would enjoy - and that I would not have to clean twice a week!  I decided to plant a few different species of California salvia (sage) around the yard.  This included two cultivars of Salvia spathacea (Hummingbird Sage) and Salvia Clevelandii 'Alpine'.  The latter is marginal in our winter fog and thick clay, so I planted it in an 18" pot with a "cactus mix" potting soil and pea gravel.  One of my S. spathacea is beginning to grow a flower stalk, so I'm hopeful that they'll do well out here.

A young Salvia spathacea

Salvia Clevelandii 'Alpine'

Manzanita is perhaps the quintessential evergreen shrub of the West Coast.  Their winter/spring flowers are beloved by hummingbirds, and other species (such as Scrub-Jays and Black-headed Grosbeaks) eat their fruit in the late summer.  They're also very drought tolerant once established and look great year-round.  I took out the overgrown, diseased wax myrtles in our backyard and planted a Howard McMinn manzanita (Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn').  Unlike most manzanitas, Howard McMinn is very tolerant of summer garden water.  I confidently planted one 3' from my lawn, which gets biweekly water from June through September.  To fill a small, sloped area just off my deck, I took a gamble on a Margarita's Joy manzanita (Arctostaphylos 'Margarita's Joy').  This natural hybrid from the Centra CA coast has not been tested up here (that I know of), so it's a bit of a gamble.  It's undergone some die-back, but just may do OK after it gets established.

It took me a while to find a replacement for the area where my Sitka Mountain-ash once stood.  This area is unique in that I can get away with not watering it in the summer (the adjacent lavender needs no summer water and the adjacent grass turns brown by July regardless of how often I water it).  So this is my dry spot and I chose to take advantage with a compact shrub that would grow nowhere else on my property.  I ended up choosing a Ceanothus thyrsifluorus 'Skylark', a species of California lilac.  It's not exactly a bird magnet (though quail like the seed), but they grow fast and it'll look great in another year.

Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn.'  Will be about 6' x 6' in five years.

Arctostaphylos 'Margarita's Joy.'  This one will be much smaller (~3' x 2').

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus 'Skylark.'  Has grown 1" or so after being planted a month ago.

I have a few berry-producing shrubs in the ground.  Most are flowering right now and will be producing berries soon...

Ribes aureum gracillimum (Golden Currant) is a profuse bloomer (even at a young age) that produces hummer-philic flowers in the early spring, and then berries that birds (and humans) enjoy later in the summer.

Vaccinium ovatum (Evergreen Huckleberry) produces very tasty berries.

 Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) grows quickly and is enjoyed by several species of birds.

Mahonia aquifolium ("Tall" Oregon Grape) in flower - berries are forthcoming.

Mahonia nervosa ("Longleaf" Oregon Grape) beginning to flower

I also have a couple of Saskatoon Serviceberries (Amelanchier alnifolia), but they're just beginning to leaf out.  I'll post photos of these later.

My one conifer is a Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana).  This is a very slow-growing species: Saplings grow about 0.5" per year, and I'm expecting 4" or so out of my 3.5' specimen this spring.  They are native to the Cascades from 4,000-7,000 ft.  They do well down here, but get nowhere near the 60-90' that they do in their native habitat.  I'm hoping that mine will put on a few inches of growth this spring, and perhaps sprout a few cones next year.  Chickadees and siskins enjoy the seeds.

Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana)

I will post another installment at the end of the spring, after these have flowered/fruited.  And who knows, perhaps I'll even get a couple of pics of interesting migrants on them!

Edit: In my haste last weekend, I forgot to thank Bert Wilson and Penny Nyunt at Las Pilitas Nursery (Santa Margarita, CA) for assisting me in the selection of California native plants that will thrive up here in the Pacific Northwest.  Their willingness to answer my (many) questions and their dedication to customer satisfaction is greatly appreciated.