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.

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