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.

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