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.

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