Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Signs Of Spring

Well, the seasons they are a' changin' again. The sun is still above the horizon at 5:30 pm, temperatures hit 60 degrees twice last week, and some of our feathered friends are looking a bit different.

One of the first signs of Spring is the molt of the male American Goldfinch, transitioning from its drab yellow/brown/green winter colors to its well-known bright yellow and black cap. The one pictured above, taken over President's Day weekend, was the only obvious case. Today, there are at least three males that are this far advanced in their molt. One of our two Yellow-rumped Warblers has now revealed itself to be a male (it's difficult to distinguish gender in winter plumage). The stronger gray plumage (below) can be compared to the tan/brown winter plumage.

Yellow-rumped Warblers. Top: A male in breeding plumage. Bottom: A winter plumage individual.

As Spring approaches, early movement also brings new species to the yard. We were pleasantly surprised to see a female Spotted Towhee (below) foraging for seed among the rhododendron bushes. Having lots of brush cover around the yard (and the ground feeder), I'm somewhat surprised that it took this long for one to show up! But late is better than never, and we feel fortunate to host what we do.

As discussed previously, diseased House Finches (avian pox, conjunctivitis, salmonella, you name it) have been a problem this winter. At one point, we were hosting approximately six diseased individuals. Thankfully, the disease has not appear to spread much (no other species with pox or conjunctivitis have been seen). And, as mentioned two posts ago, predators have been taking out the diseased birds. Two of the more sickly House Finches are gone and I don't believe that I've seen more than two diseased birds at the same time for a couple of weeks now. An individual suffering from the worst case of avian pox that I've ever seen was put out of its misery by a Sharp-shinned Hawk just a week and a half ago. Fortunately, this problem appears to be working itself out.

A female House Finch with a horrible case of avian pox on the eye. She was mercifully put out of her misery by an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk (below) the day after this photo was taken.


A Robin enjoys a sunny Friday afternoon (yes, I've moved the lawn since).

Despite the changing seasons, they're changing slowly and it's still February. Therefore, our winter "usual suspects" are still around, including our many Dark-eyed Juncos, our two Golden-crowned Sparrows, and our loyal White-crowned Sparrow. After nearly disappearing for over a warmer-than-usual week, our flocks of 15+ Bushtits are back. Other regulars include Scrub Jays, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and of course the ever-present Anna's Hummingbirds. Our two species of woodpecker (Northern Flicker and Downy Woodpecker) are still semi-regulars.

A White-crowned Sparrow feeds on spilled sunflower seed on the back deck.

A Golden-crowned Sparrow forages for seed.

More to come in a couple of weeks, when I should (hopefully) have a report of the first Rufous Hummingbird of the year. Laters.

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