Saturday, December 20, 2008

More Snow Photos

We received more snow on Thursday night. Here are some photos from Friday morning...

Northern Flicker

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Black-capped Chickadee

House Finches

Bushtits swarm to the new suet feeder.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Special Winter Storm Edition

I haven't posted anything over the past few weeks because, well, not much has happened until recently. While many of the usual suspects are around, I'm currently in the middle of a "finch famine" and the overall activity at the feeders has been down. Even my usually-reliable Townsend's Warblers have yet to make an appearance. Lame.

But that all changed on Sunday night. After days of meteorological teasing, we were finally hit with that "winter storm" that they had been bloviating about. The temperature dropped into the low 20's and we received about 3-4" of snow (hey, it's the West Coast... this is a real "storm" out here). It was not only exciting to see snow again, but the snow and cold helped flush some more of the usuals out of the woodwork. Many more Anna's Hummingbirds, Bushtits, Downies, Flickers, Scrub-Jays, and Sharp-shinned Hawks have been observed than usual. The "finch famine" is still in effect, but it's nice to see the other species being represented more heavily.

The winter weather has also brought out another non-regular: a Golden-crowned Sparrow (top). It's been eating cracked corn off of our walkway since at least yesterday morning. I hadn't seen one since May. They breed in Alaska/Northern British Columbia and winter here on the West Coast. So, it's certainly nice to see one of them again. Our friendly neighborhood Song Sparrow has also been out in full force, showing up here multiple times per day.

The cold has also presented challenges with regard to our nectar feeder. The 20% sugar-water solution that we use freezes at approximately 27 degrees F. After doing some research online, I found that wrapping the feeder with ThermaCare pads, with an external layer of bubble wrap helps keep them warm for a couple of hours. This is handy when you have to head off to work at 6 am and want to make sure that the hummers get their morning dose of energy. I'm no entomologist, but I imagine that the mites, ticks, and other small insects that Anna's live off of in the winter are probably not hanging out anywhere exposed to the chilly air right now.

A male House Finch perches in the pre-snow rain.

Our friendly neighborhood Song Sparrow dines on sunflower chips.

A juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk dines on a Pine Siskin.

Unfortunately for some species, it appears that the suet basket chained to the side of the pine tree is being retired. Not only is going through a suet cake every other day expensive, but I have to climb up a 5' step ladder to replace these things every other day. It was just a matter of time before I fell and broke a rib. And, hey, what good is a suet feeder that is occupied by squirrels 80% of the time? So I went out and purchased one of those squirrel-proof caged suet feeders for smaller birds, and placed it along the fence on the other side of the house. Hopefully this will accomodate the smaller birds who aren't acrobatic enough to use the tail-prop feeder (Warblers, Kinglets). There is even a space on the fence for them to perch...

The first morning that it was up, I saw a Bushtit inside the cage, pecking away at the suet, so that makes me optimistic. As a concession to the Brown Creepers who really liked the suet basket on the tree, I'm now spreading peanut butter on one of the tree trunks. Even if the squirrels eat 95% of it, there will still be enough buried in the crevices to satisfy the Creepers. Unfortunately, the Varied Thrushes appear to be out of luck with regard to the suet - too big for the caged feeder and not dexterious enough to use the tail-prop feeder. They'll have to settle for the sunflower chips on the driveway... if they ever decide to show up on a regular basis and come down from the trees.

Anyway, more crappy weather is headed this way. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Holiday Treats

Happy Belated Thanksgiving! I hope that everybody's holiday was enjoyable (that includes the two or three people who actually read this blog).

Everything has been going well here. Last weekend was incredible - definitely one of the best backyard birding weekends I've ever experienced. It all began earlier in the week when my wife was able to establish visual contact (using a Mag-Lite and binoculars) with the Western Screech-Owl that often calls from our pine trees in the evenings. We tried two more times, but wasn't able to locate him/her. After this, we decided that we'd stop harassing the poor owl and just enjoy its calls instead. Last Saturday morning started off well enough with a flock of at least two dozen Pine Siskins at the feeders early on. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet, still not an every-day visitor here, appeared soon after, along with my semi-regular Brown Creeper and Song Sparrow. So far, a pretty good morning. Shortly thereafter, I noticed a medium-sized bird moving through the top of one of the pine trees. Closer inspection yielded a male Varied Thrush, the first of the Winter season! As exciting as this was, it paled in comparison to what I saw just a few minutes later. I began to hear unfamiliar "nasly" calls from the aforementioned pines and, a minute or so later, saw two flashes of red dart towards my living room window. These two landed up high in the tree near my chimney. After moving down into view, they revealed themselves as Red-breasted Sapsuckers! ONE visited briefly near Christmas last year, but only stayed for about 30 seconds... and didn't get anywhere near shooting range. However, I was able to get a close-up of one (above) and a halfway decent shot of the pair as they later returned to the pines to probe for sap (below).

And the "cherry on top" occurred the following afternoon when an adult Cooper's Hawk appeared in the neighbor's tree just beyond our backyard fence. This was a first for our yard. The hawk was undoubtedly attracted to the large flock of Siskins at the feeder on the back deck.

Red-breasted Sapsuckers sucking sap from our pine trees

Our friendly neighborhood Song Sparrow eating cracked corn off of our rain-soaked driveway

A female Northern Flicker poses before hopping onto the suet feeder

I hate to say it, but even the Starlings look really good right now

Well, 2 1/2 more days of the four-day weekend to go. Hopefully this weekend brings us a Townsend's Warbler or Purple Finch. I'll keep you posted...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Winter Flocking

Kicking off the beginning of the FeederWatch season, we have been fortunate to see an increase in both diversity and total number of species. The "diversity" (I know, I hate that word, too) part began last week, when the uncommon Winter Wren and irregular Spotted Towhee made appearances. Their presence was a treat. This weekend, fewer unusual/infreqent visitors were about. Instead, we were bombarded with large flocks of the winter "regulars." These included Pine Siskins (20+, left), American Goldfinches (12+), Dark-eyed Juncos (14+), Bushtits (8+), and Chestnut-backed Chickadees (5+). And those that weren't traveling in flocks were still showing up numerous times per day: Anna's Hummingbirds, Northern Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers, Western Scrub-Jays, Crows, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and House Finches. So that was a nice place to start the Winter season. This was likely due in part to the previous week's cold front that dropped overnight lows into the mid-30s and and kept highs down into the low 50s. Lower temperatures compel birds to consume more to stay warm, so the increased numbers are hardly a surprise.

What is somewhat surprising, however, is the relative lack of Kinglets and Winter Warblers. I spotted both Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers two weeks ago, but they've been MIA since. Both species are typically semi-regular at the feeders in mid-November. It's possible that the recent cold temperatures are just now slowly forcing more of these species out of the hills and into the valley. If that's the case, we'll see more of them in the upcoming weeks. And speaking of surprising, our neighborhood has been hosting a Western Screech-owl for the past few weeks. It spends a lot of time in the pines along our driveway and can often be heard calling from there between 7:30 and 9 pm. I tried to locate it last night with a flashlight and binoculars, but was unsuccessful.

A female Northern Flicker gets tired of waiting for the squirrel to get off of the suet basket.

A Western Scrub-Jay swoops in for more sunflower seed.

Tune in again next week, where we'll hopefully see our first Townsend's Warbler of the Fall. (That usually happens closer to Thanksgiving, but maybe we'll get lucky.)

Update: Just a couple hours after typing this, I spotted both a Ruby- and a Golden-crowned Kinglet working the pine trees along my driveway. Sweet!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Winter Is Here

I don't care what the calendar says. Temperatures struggling to reach the mid-60s, several consecutive days of rain, and the month of November is "Winter" in my book. And this belief is reinforced by the presence of wintering birds.

This past week has brought about several winter-esque sightings. Perhaps the most definitive is the first Ruby-crowned Kinglet of the year (sorry, couldn't get a photo). At least one has been foraging through the trees for the past two days. In addition, Yellow-rumped Warblers (both subspecies) have been "hover-gleaning" from the suet basket since at least last Sunday. We have hosted at least one Brown Creeper since last weekend. A Slate-colored Junco, hardly ever seen before October, has also been a regular recently. Surprisingly, there appeared to be a female Rufous Hummingbird at our nectar feeder recently. I am only about 90% sure of its identity (I suck a hummer IDs), but the ample copper coloring on the back and edge of the tail feathers suggests something other than an Anna's. It was here from at least last Saturday through Wednesday. This is noteworthy because female and juvenile Rufous are usually gone by the end of September (the males leave even earlier).

Pine Siskins extracting seeds from the gutter

A Slate-colored Junco (with a little "Oregon" brown on the back) eats sunflower chips off of the driveway

The change of seasons is also evident in terms of what has passed. Perhaps the most obvious example is the massive drop-off in American Goldfinch numbers. Just a few weeks ago, flocks of 30-60 were seen on a daily basis. I was re-filling feeders every other day! Now, a half dozen at a time are the high end. Thankfully, the Pine Siskins that flocked with them are still hanging around in small numbers.

An American Goldfinch takes an afternoon drink. "What happened to the party?"

A Song Sparrow enjoys a late Sunday afternoon.

Well, that's it for now. I hope to see a Purple Finch or perhaps a wintering sparrow (Golden-crowned, Fox, or Lincoln's) sometime soon. At the very least, FeederWatch (always a good time) begins again next weekend. Until then...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Possible Pink-sided Junco

I spent most of this weekend out on the coast, but was still able to shoot some photos early Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon. Aside from a Varied Thrush trilling off in the distance around sunrise and a couple of possible (but without visual confirmation) Ruby-crowned Kinglet sightings, there wasn't much to report in terms of new species. However, there was a very strange-looking flock of Dark-eyed Juncos. In Oregon, the "Oregon" subspsecies is (not surprisingly) the predominant one. We do occasionally see a Slate-colored subspecies (predominant east of the Rockies) on occasion, especially in the winter. But that's typically all that's considered "normal" around here. The small flock of 3-5 that I saw on Saturday morning appeared unusually pink to me, and I immediately thought of the Pink-sided race that typically populates the Rockies. Most photos showed the characteristic pink coloring on the sides, but lacked the black lores (area between the eye and the bill). However, one photo (above) seems to show dark lores. (Thanks to local birder Greg Gillson for the helpful comments and analysis. Also, apologies for the noise; it was shortly after sunrise.) So far, we can put this one into the "possible" or even "likely" Pink-sided Junco category, but can't quite give it the "definite" label yet. I am awaiting the comments of another expert. More photos of others in the flock are shown below. I'm wondering if these others are Oregon/Pink-sided hybrids.

Outside of this very interesting find, there isn't much else to report. American Goldfinches are still hanging around in flocks of 30-40, and are accompanied by the occasional Pine Siskin.

In addition, Red-breasted Nuthatches have found my new peanut feeder and one was brave enough to pose for a shot on Sunday afternoon. That's it for now. Hopefully I'll get more info on the possible Pink-sided Junco soon. I get the feeling that I'll be seeing much more soon.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

"Winter Storm"

While watching the local news on Saturday morning, I was surprised to hear that were experiencing an early "winter storm." Huh? You mean the whole one inch of rain that had been falling lightly over the past 24 hours, with wind gusts topping out at a blustery 20 mph? I admit that my little Honda Civic was taking on a noticeable amount of wind on I-5 Friday night, but... geez. It's called "perspective." You might want to look into it.

West Coast Weather Wussy hyperbole aside, the rain that fell almost steadily from Friday through Saturday (and periodically today) was indeed out of character for early October. And with temperatures topping out in the low 60's, it felt a lot more like early November. Not surprisingly, the birds acted accordingly. Anna's Hummingbirds (above) were visiting the nectar feeder early and often, loading up on carbs to burn and fend off the cooler temperatures. Dark-eyed Juncos (below) were almost at their normal double-digit winter numbers this (11, up from 7 last weekend).
American Goldfinches, though in lesser numbers than last weekend, are still in relatively high numbers (20-40) and were flocking with my first double-digit (10) showing of Pine Siskins. Even Lesser Goldfinches are making somehwhat of a comeback.

I knew that the large finch flocks were going to begin attracting accipiters soon, and I first saw it yesterday. The hint came in the morning, when all of the small songbirds took off, and a female Flicker stood very still, clinging to a pine trunk for several minutes. Nothing appeared to happen and things went back to normal. However, later in the afternoon, I noticed that the feeders were empty and saw a jay-sized bird flapping its wings up in one of the pines near our driveway. A quick gaze through the binoculars revealed a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk, this time with a successful catch (most likely a goldfinch). "Sharpies" tend to show up once every other month or so (in reality, probably more often, as I'm likely not around see them most of the time) and I had never seen one actually catch prey. So that was a nice moment. Not quite so nice for the dead passerine, but hawks have to eat too.

While watching movement in one of the bushes near the living room window this morning, I became suspicious after the bird inside seemed reluctant to come out. "This is not how Juncos and Chickadees behave," I told myself, and figured that it must be some sort of wren or sparrow. After waiting for a couple of minutes, a Song Sparrow emerged. It was nice to see this guy/gal again and I hope to see it as frequently as last winter.

Despite the winter-like conditions and winter-like bird numbers/behavior, one remnant of summer visited this morning who serves as a reminder that it's still early October: a Black-throated Gray Warbler (probably a male, but I didn't see it for very long). My first thought was "Mountain Chickadee," but the very obvious streaking on the underparts and very un-chickadee-like behavior dispelled that thought pretty quickly. This was surprising, as I hadn't seen one in the yard since last May, and most have migrated through by mid-September (although it's been documented that there are usually a few that remain until mid-October). I rushed to get my camera, but couldn't autofocus on it after it flew higher up into the tree. I went outside to get a better shot, but it had flown off by then. Oh well.

One other strongly-represented family of recent are woodpeckers. I don't know if the cold is driving insects away, but both Downies and Flickers have been at the suet feeders very frequently over the past couple of weeks. I'm happy to have them back and hope that another Hairy Woodpecker or Red-breasted Sapsucker joins them later this winter.

Female Downy Woodpecker (top) and Northern Flicker (bottom)

Well, that's all for this weekend. Hopefully next weekend brings us some more surprises.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A New Record!

Last September and October, I was routinely seeing 30-50 Goldfinches in our yard. It isn't even the end of September yet and that record was shattered this morning when I counted a whopping 63 American Goldfinches at our feeders! And that doesn't incude the 3 Pine Siskins and the 2 Lesser Goldfinches mixed into the flock. Here are a few photos...

Note how the more aggressive Pine Siskin vigorously defends its perching space.

Due to the high volume of seed being consumed, I replaced the tube feeder with one that has twice the seed capacity and all six perches on the bottom, maximizing the time between re-fills. Given that I'm typically out the door at 6:30 am and don't get home until 7:30 or 8 pm, I was getting tired of re-filling a feeder every day. The new one is also squirrel-proof and can accommodate larger birds. So far, it's been a pretty big hit.

In other news, a small flock of Dark-eyed Juncos was seen yesterday morning, further indicating that Fall is upon us. I've also seen more Chestnut-backed Chickadees (above) lately. Things are beginning to get interesting.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Clouds and Rain

Three straight days of cloudy mornings following by a morning of light rain pretty much means the end of summer here in Western Oregon. And as the seasons change, so does the activity in the yard.

This summer, mornings typically consisted of a few Lesser Goldfinches and Black-capped Chickadees showing up an hour or so after sunrise, followed by House Finches an hour or so later. Back in July, I would sometimes go days without seeing a Red-breasted Nuthatch. But we're clearly in Fall Mode right now, with 3-4 Dark-eyed Juncos announcing their presence with their characteristic, erratic trill just before sunrise. The silence is further broken by Black-capped and Chestnut-backed (above) Chickadees. They are soon joined by Red-breasted Nuthatches and American and/or Lesser Goldfinches. Later, House Finches and flocks of 10+ Bushtits convene.

The end of the breeding season is also evident in the presence of flocking species.
Most obvious are mixed-finch flocks, such as American Goldfinch/Pine Siskin (above). "Families" of Lesser Goldfinch parents and juveniles, a common sight as of a month ago, have since dispersed and joined the AMGOs and Siskins. The number of American Godlfinches has increased dramatically over the past few weeks. I typically now see 20-30 at a time and they've spilled over onto the driveway, as there aren't enough feeders to accomodate them. As mentioned earlier, Bushtits are now rarely seen in flocks of fewer than 10. And as I was walking around the neighborhood last weekend, I happened to come across a small flock of Cedar Waxwings feeding on berries. This is a sneak preview of what's to come next month, where flocks of ~100 will be common.

Going back to the earlier point about Goldfinches, the "changing of the guard" that we saw last season has occurred again this year. Both times, American Goldfinch numbers at our feeders drop significantly in Spring, to the point where Lesser Goldfinches became the most abundant Finch. And like last year, the populations have reversed. Last Saturday, I counted 31 American Goldfinches at my feeders, and only 3 Lessers.

A Dark-eyed Junco enjoys a mix of millet, thistle, sunflower chips, and canary seed at the ground feeder.

Some of the two dozen American Goldfinches currently spilling onto the driveway.

"My wings are missing!" A juvenile male Anna's Hummingbird forages for nectar early on a Saturday morning.

However, it's not quite peak Winter feeding season just yet. Northern Flickers have been pretty much MIA for the past week and Steller's Jays and Brown Creepers have yet to make their annual Fall appearances. I lucked out last year and got a Ruby-crowned Kinglet at the end of September, but I don't foresee that happening again this year. Mid or late October is more likely.

Anyway, I hope to report a Kinglet, Steller's Jay, or Purple Finch sighting next time. Until then...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New Site

Welcome to the new site. I've decided to move my old site here because Atom5 is inexplicably making it difficult for me to use hyperlinks.  Rather than answer my questions and assist me, their tech support elected to act like obnoxious jerks instead.

Here's a pic of a Western Scrub-Jay from Saturday. More to come later...