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...