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!)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Whither The Weather?

Well, here we are at the end of October (not even at mid-autumn yet) and meteorologists are already forecasting the 2010 winter. Here, we'll take a look at region-specific forecasts from three different sources.

An unusually severe winter storm hit Western Oregon last December. This winter is expected to be significantly different.

All three forecasting agencies basically predict the same regional trends, with some degree of variation: Rainy and cool in the South, wetter in the Southeast, and parts of the West Coast being warmer drier than usual. After that, the consensus breaks down...



The Farmer's Almanac:

I could spend and hour comparing and contrasting these forecasts, but I don't have the time or energy right now. However, I should mention that they highlight how complex and difficult even short-term climate prediction is.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Juncos and Other Migrants

October is known for being a month that starts as one season and ends as another. This year, however, October began with a cold blast of winter weather and it's been relatively cool, overcast, and rainy since. As described in the previous post, this sudden cold snap brought a wave of early winter migrants. Not only have these migrants decided to hang around, but others have joined them.

You know that winter is approaching when the flocks of Juncos return. While our neighborhood was fortunate enough to host a pair of Juncos this summer (who, ironically enough, raised two Brown-headed Cowbirds in addition to two of their own), the local summer Juncos were the only yard visitors up until recently. This weekend, I counted 10 eating millet off of the driveway and at the ground feeder. Interestingly, this included a Slate-colored subspecies (above). Slate-colored Juncos are the predominant subspecies east of the Rockies, but we typically host one or two every winter. As you can see in the photo above, the wings have a hint of buff coloring, suggesting that it may have some Oregon subspecies blood.

Two weeks ago, I was scanning the pines along my driveway for a Yellow-rumped Warbler that I had seen previously that morning. I was literally *shocked* to catch a split-second glimpse of a Townsend's Warbler. I typically don't see them in the yard until around Thanksgiving, and sometimes not until January. Early October was unheard of! This past weekend, a female Townsend's (above) was foraging through those same trees and even came up close to the living room window. (Of course, I managed to be a butterfingers with the camera, so you're stuck with the bad photo of it in the far-away tree.) Also flying into the tree near the living room window was another shocker: a Golden-crowned Kinglet. GC Kinglets aren't feeder birds, but they tend to move around a lot in the early winter and I typically see them in the yard a couple of times in November or December. But never October. And, of course, I was all thumbs with the camera, so I wasn't able to get a shot. The closely-related Ruby-crowned Kinglet was foraging through the pines again on Saturday afternoon and another Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's subspecies) was in the yard the previous weekend.

Oregon subspecies Dark-eyed Junco. The flocks are back!

White-breasted Nuthatches continue to occasionally visit.

American Goldfinches: Still flocking and eating, although in lesser numbers.

Our non-migratory species of recent interest include the White-breasted Nuthatches that continue to stop by for food and water. I'm pretty sure that there's both a male and a female in the neighborhood. Interestingly, they do a good job of finding stray black oil sunflower seed on the ground, but still haven't figured out the concept of the bird feeder. Red-breasted Nuthatches (left) Black-capped Chickadees, and Downy Woodpeckers are representing in strong numbers. Bushtits are present (though not every day) and Chestnut-backed Chickadees appear to be in their "normal" winter numbers. Interestingly, I haven't seen a Northern Flicker in at least a couple of weeks. American Goldfinches were flocking in numbers near 100 a couple of weeks ago, but those numbers of dropped down to ~40 or so at a time. Lesser Goldfinches are in much smaller numbers (1-4 at a time, max) and I haven't seen a Pine Siskin in over a month. (Incidentally, if you live in the Eastern half of the U.S., Siskins are not predicted to irrupt this year.) I'm still hoping to see a Purple Finch, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, or Fox Sparrow. And, hey, it would be great to see a small flock of Evening Grosbeaks or Red Crossbills, but I'm not holding my breath!

A really bad photo of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the rain. You'll just have to take my word for it.

As the weather gets colder and rainier, we should start to see more activity. Hopefully I'll have some more stories (and better photos) to share next month.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fall Cometh

Apologies for failing to post last month. I was busy with work-related material, on vacation for a while, and then contracted a really nasty two-week-long sinus cold that I'm just now getting over. Thankfully, not much has happened since late August, with the obvious exception of the typical fall American Goldfinch flocking. Now that the seasons are changing, things are beginning to pick up.

A sign of Autumn: American Goldfinches picking apart sunflower heads.

As usual, large flocks of American Goldfinches have dominated the yard for the past few weeks. I've spent over $100 on nyjer seed and sunflower chips since the beginning of September and counted at least 80 of these little piggies yesterday afternoon (and this was a conservative estimate). They were literally "dripping" from the trees. The flocks will begin to disperse over the next week or so, and the numbers should be back to normal by the end of the month. I really need to clean up all of the spilled seed and finch droppings soon, but I suppose that it can wait until later in the week.

Some of the 80+ American Goldfinches in the yard yesterday.

On a down note, lots of flocking birds near windows usually translates into window collisions. And unfortunately, three of these were fatal. Not surprisingly, two of the victims were goldfinches. One of them may have recovered on its own, but a small raptor swooped in and made off with it. It's amazing how quickly they find prey, nab it, and then dart off. Somewhat surprising is that the third fatality was a Red-breasted Nuthatch, as nuthatches are typically pretty good at avoiding windows.

And speaking of nuthatches, we've been treated to FOUR White-breasted Nuthatch sightings since early August. WB Nuthatches aren't especially prevalent here in the Willamette Valley (mostly due to the clearing of the large oak groves for farmland), and are even more rare here in the city. The one(s) seen recently have been visiting the bird baths and eating sunflower seed (shown above). This is in stark contrast to the individual(s) seen a few times during the winter of '06/'07, which ignored the feeders.

One of the many Red-breasted Nuthatches that visit the feeders daily.

This weekend has brought an insane number of migrants. The first Ruby-crowned Kinglet of the season, as well as the first Yellow-rumped Warblers (both Myrtle and Audubon's subspecies) showed up this weekend. Amazingly, the first-of-the-season Townsend's Warbler was observed just a few minutes ago. This is very early, with our previous yard record being 11/22/07. The current cold spell (highs in the upper-50's and lows in the mid/upper 30's) is obviously playing a part in this early movement. A Steller's Jay was also seen at one of the bird baths approximately two weeks ago. The large flocks of Juncos haven't arrived yet, but the same pair that bred locally this summer is still around. I have also not seen a Pine Siskin for almost a month, but that should change soon as well. Downy Woodpeckers are still in high abundance, with Northern Flickers having declined somewhat over the past few weeks.

Well, that's about all for now. Being in an obvious transition period, I hope to have a lot more to report over the next couple of weeks. This could include a small flock of Siskins, one of the wintering species of sparrow (White-crowned, Golden-crowned, or Fox), or a couple of Purple Finches.