Monday, December 14, 2009

Afield In Oregon

I thought I'd take a break from the usual (and sometimes repetitive and boring) yard photos and share some of the photos that I've taken around the state over the past two years. After assembling these photos, two things became apparent to me: (1) I don't get out nearly enough and (2) I really need a 500 mm lens (donations gladly accepted!). Some of these photos turned out well and others... meh, not so well. But for better or worse, here they are...

Brandt's Cormorants, Lane County Coast

Wood Duck, Drake Park, Bend

Bufflehead, Waldo Lake, Lane County

Cooper's Hawk, Mt. Hood

California Quail, Mt. Hood

Killdeer, Secret House Winery, Veneta

Spotted Sandpiper (juvenile), Waldo Lake, Lane County

Dunlin, Lane County Coast

Rufous Hummingbird, Secret House Winery, Veneta

White-headed Woodpecker, Cold Springs Campground, Deschutes County

Western Wood-Pewee, Cold Springs Campground, Deschutes County

Cassin's Vireo, Cold Springs Campground, Deschutes County

Clark's Nutcracker, Crater Lake National Park

Common Raven, McKenzie Pass, Linn County

Tree Swallow, Secret House Winery, Veneta

Mountain Chickadee, Cold Springs Campground, Deschutes County

Chestnut-backed Chickadee (fledgling), Lane County Coast

White-breasted Nuthatch, Cold Springs Campground, Deschutes County

Marsh Wren, Fern Ridge Reservoir, Lane County

Mountain Bluebird, Waldo Lake, Lane County

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Cold Springs Campground, Deschutes County

Townsend's Warbler, Cold Springs Campground, Deschutes County

Wilson's Warbler, Cold Springs Campground, Deschutes County

Western Tanager, Cold Springs Campground, Deschutes County

Green-tailed Towhee, Cold Springs Campground, Deschutes County

Spotted Towhee, Mt. Pisgah, Springfield

Chipping Sparrow, Cold Springs Campground, Deschutes County

Fox Sparrow, Cold Springs Campground, Deschutes County

Song Sparrow, Mt. Pisgah, Springfield

Golden-crowned Sparrow, Mt. Hood

Black-headed Grosbeak, Calliope Crossing, near Sisters

Red Crossbill, McKenzie Pass, Linn County

Evening Grosbeak, Secret House Winery, Veneta

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cold Snap

The few of you who follow this blog may remember last December's winter storm that dumped several inches of snow and sent temperatures into the teens. We haven't received any snow yet, but we had a heck of a cold snap this week. Lows in the teens and even single digits trumped last December's cold snap and made life miserable for our hummingbirds again.

Temperatures began to drop into the mid-20s last Saturday and Sunday evening. Then an Arctic high pressure system hit on Monday and drove temperatures down further, with temperatures remaining above freezing throughout much of the week. While the cold was a minor annoyance to species such as the American Goldfinches pictured on the left, this weather presented a much more problematic scenario for our Anna's Hummingbirds. Not only do hummers in general expend a ridiculous amount of energy by beating their wings 80 times per second, their natural winter food sources (small insects such as ticks and mites) tend to not hang around on the surfaces of plants in this weather. Thus, hummers are even more reliant on sugar-water feeders in these conditions - to the point where they're almost completely dependent on them. While sugar-water feeders typically stay thawed down to about 27 degrees, that's not much help when it's 12 degrees at dawn. To help combat this, I've wrapped the feeder in bubble wrap, stored it in my bathtub overnight, taken it out at twilight (7 am), taken it back inside to warm with a hair dryer at 8:30, and have let the sun do its job while I'm at work. Even if the feeder froze in the late morning before re-thawing, the hummers still had the ability to energize in the morning and late in the afternoon. And thankfully, both of our resident Anna's managed to survive. (Temperatures are back to normal this evening.)

An Anna's Hummingbird energizes on a very cold morning.

An "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler prepares to dine on suet.

A flock of Bushtits crowd the caged suet feeder on a chilly morning.

The cold has brought out a few more of the "usual suspects." This includes an uptick in House Finches (up to 7 at a time now), Bushtits (flocks of 20+), Scrub-Jays (3 at a time), Juncos (8-10 at a time) and, unfortunately, Starlings as well (thankfully only 4 at a time). Interestingly, American Goldfinches have been on the decline since we first moved in. Not sure what that's all about, but they're notoriously nomadic so it's not exactly a shocker.

The one exciting "new" yard bird observed recently is the White-crowned Sparrow (above). First observed last Saturday, this one has visited the yard to feed on millet and cracked corn just about every day since. Interestingly (but not surprisingly), the closely-related White-throated Sparrow observed last month appears to be long gone. Thankfully, our two Golden-crowned Sparrows are still daily visitors.

A Western Scrub-Jay prepared to go in for some peanuts.

One of our two Golden-crowned Sparrows perches atop our neighbor's fence.

Well, it's been a full month now and still no woodpeckers (not even a Downy!). Hopefully that changes soon. And, who knows, maybe some Pine Siskins will show up as well. Until next time...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Back In Business

And... we're back. We are now officially moved in and have been keeping and eye on the backyard for a full week now. Due to the fact that I set up feeders at the beginning of the month, we're almost in mid-season form already. After living here for just one week, the yard list has already impressed me.

When we first looked at this house, I strongly suspected that the ample shrub cover along the backyard fence would be good sparrow habitat. And I was right. Dark-eyed Juncos were conspicuous and numerous before I even put up the feeders. The day that we moved in, I caught a brief glimpse of what appeared to be a large, plump sparrow. The next morning, we were treated to not one, but two Golden-crowned Sparrows. Golden-crowns are regular winter migrants here in the Willamette Valley, although I saw them very infrequently at our previous residence (apparently more shrub cover really helps). Three days later, I caught another brief glimpse of what appeared to be a White-crowned Sparrow, another relatively common winter migrant. But upon second look, the distinctive yellow coloring in the supraloral region and large white patch on the throat revealed it to be a White-throated Sparrow. This was quite a surprise. White-throated Sparrows are common winter visitors in the Eastern half of the country, and they do reside on the West Coast as well. However, they're less numerous out here and are more highly concentrated on the coast (we're ~50 miles inland). Birds of Lane County Oregon characterizes White-throated Sparrows as an "uncommon to rare migrant and winter resident." At the very least, I wouldn't expect to see them in my backyard. Not surprisingly, there have been other reported sightings in the state and at least one prominent local ornithologist believes that this is a "peak" year for White-throated Sparrows in Oregon.

A White-throated Sparrow feeds on scattered millet and cracked corn.

A Golden-crowned Sparrow and a Dark-eyed Junco dine on dry seed.

While I figured that we'd feed a good showing of sparrows, I wasn't sure about the other species. Going from a yard with over a dozen mature pine and oak trees to one with none, but a neighbor with a couple of large birches, an apple tree, and a spruce in the other neighbor's yard is obviously going to affect which species visit. Thankfully, many familiar species have found us. The most prevalent are American Goldfinches and House Finches, who prefer less trees anyway. Some more exotic suburban-friendly birds that are representing here include Anna's Hummingbirds and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Interestingly, we're hosting more of the latter here than at our previous residence. We're also fortunate to host both subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler. A population of the "Myrtle" (white-throated) subspecies that is prevalent in the Eastern half of the country winters on the coast in appreciable numbers, and many move inward into the valley. Our regular Western "Audubon's (yellow-throated) subspecies - which is actually less prevalent that the Myrtles in the winter for some strange reason - is also representing. They spend as much time chasing each other from the suet feeders as they do feeding.

A "Myrtle" Yellow-rumped Warbler. Note the white throat.

An "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler. Note the yellow throat.

A female Anna's Hummingbird sips sugar-water in the rain.

House Finches gobble down sunflower seed.

Other regulars from the previous residence include Red-breasted Nuthatches (one of my favorites), Black-capped Chickadees, Western Scrub-Jays, and perhaps the signature bird of the Pacific Northwest - the American Crow. Kinglets (both Ruby- and Golden-crowned) have also visited briefly within the past week. The presence of the latter what somewhat surprising, as they're typically associated with conifers. And since we're in a more open area, I wasn't shocked to see a greater showing of House Sparrows and Starlings. Thankfully, they're in relatively small numbers right now (knock on wood). We have yet to see any woodpeckers, though. I thought that we might see a Downy by now, but I'm sure that it's just a matter of time. We may or may not host Flickers here - only time will tell. However, I'm pretty sure that the days of my occasional winter glimpse of a Red-breasted Sapsucker from my window are over.

We also have a nice showing of Fox Squirrels. I've counted seven individuals, including a number of juveniles. One of them tried to jump through our kitchen window earlier in the week. Squirrels never cease to entertain me.

A juvenile Fox Squirrel ponders ways to get into the house.

I'll close with a summary of the largest number of each species seen at one time over the past week. I'm pretty happy with this list...

Anna's Hummingbird - 2
Western Scrub-Jay - 3
American Crow - 1
Black-capped Chickadee - 2
Bushtit - 6
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 1
American Robin - 1
European Starling - 1
"Myrtle" Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1
"Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1
White-throated Sparrow - 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow - 2
Dark-eyed Junco - 12
House Finch - 6
Lesser Goldfinch - 1
American Goldfinch - 15
House Sparrow - 1

Until next time...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Closing Time

In the first half of October, we were greeted with an exciting array of fall migrants (due in part to an unseasonably early cold spell that sent them fleeing from the hills). The second half of the month saw a sustained presence of many of these species (particularly kinglets), plus very visible local movement of year-round species. In short, it's been a great month.

A sure sign of fall for those of us in the northern half of the country is the first Dark-eyed Junco (above), typically arriving in October. While we've been fortunate enough to host at least one breeding pair of juncos over each of the last two summers, their numbers were always low at the time (2-3 adults, plus a couple of juveniles). We began to see their numbers uptick during the first weekend of October, and they're out in full winter force now (10-15 at a time, sometimes more). Another feeder winter feeder regular, the House Finch, is also representing in higher numbers now (usually at least three at a time). And speaking of finches, the annual American Goldfinch Invasion (left) that typically goes from early/mid-September through mid-October has carried on a little longer than usual. Their numbers typically max out at the end of September and gradually fall back to "normal" levels by the end of October. However, a record 120 at a time showed up at the feeders last Sunday afternoon, and I'm still seeing 20-30 at a time this weekend. I thought that my wallet would be spared by now, but apparently not. Other regulars spending increased time at the feeders include Western Scrub-Jays, Downy Woodpeckers, and (occasionally) Bushtits. While first spotted in the yard a good 2-3 weeks ago, both species of kinglet (Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned) have been regulars in the yard for the past 2-3 weeks. Both have been seen foraging through the large pine trees along the driveway, and the former species was foraging through our Rhododendron bushes this morning for insects. I had the opportunity to get a shot of a Golden-crowned Kinglet last weekend, but my focusing was too slow. I've been trying to get a nice photo of one for the past 2 1/2 years, but they continue to elude me.

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet forages for small insects in the Rhododendron bushes.

Last weekend was unique in that yard activity was abundant, but with year-round species. Small flocks of Cedar Waxwings (10+), Northern Flickers (2+), Robins (6+), and Starlings (5+) decided to congregate in our immediate neighborhood and the former three even stopped by briefly (how lucky we were to avoid the Starlings this time). This was not terribly surprising, though, as this is the time of year that many species begin to search for food sources in flocks. I was even able to get my first semi-decent Waxwing close-up photo.

A Cedar Waxwing checks out a tree in our yard.

A hatch-year Robin sticks out its chest like a tough guy.

Two species of sparrows also decided to visit recently. The first is the Golden-crowned Sparrow, which winters here in the valley and visits irregularly in the winter and early spring. I wasn't expecting one this early, but they regularly visit other feeders in town in October, so it's not surprising at all. My experience with Golden-crowned sparrows is that they're rather nomadic and they typically visit the yard from anywhere from a day to a week, but seldom for much longer. Thus, it hasn't exactly been a shocker that I haven't seen this one since last Sunday. Slightly more regular in the winter (but far from a lock to hang around) is the Song Sparrow. One made an appearance late Friday afternoon, and this individual is (surprisingly) the first I've seen here since January. Who knows how long this one will stay. Two Western Screech-owls were heard calling from the trees along our driveway and across the street earlier last week. And just this morning, a Brown Creeper was foraging through the pines along the driveway. It's been a very exciting month.

A winter plumage Golden-crowned Sparrow forages for seed along our mossy front door step.

This Song Sparrow spent several minutes surveying our and our neighbor's yards from atop the fence.

So, with all of this new activity, some of you may be wondering why it's "closing time." Well, due to a number of factors (including a lack of space, soon-to-be-exacerbated by the arrival of our first child), the wife and I decided that it was time to move into a larger place. So we will be transitioning our feeding operations (and, of course, all of our other belongings) over to a larger house a few miles away in a couple of weeks. Here are a few photos...

The well-manicured front yard. I'm going to need to invest in hedge trimmers.

View of the backyard from the back deck. I've always wanted a tool shed.

View from the far side of the backyard. The plant trestle on the deck will come in handy. As will the sliding glass door, the other side of which will be our future home office space.

We moved a few things over this afternoon, including four feeders. The abundance of wildlife activity observed in the two hours that we were there left me feeling very optimistic. Fox squirrels scurried about. Dark-eyed Juncos probed the bushes for insects. Small flocks of Cedar Waxwings and American Goldfinches flew overhead. A male Anna's Hummingbird found the nectar feeder just 10 minutes after I put it up. I think that we'll be happy here. (It'll also be nice to actually have enough place to put all of our stuff!)