Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring Migrants Cometh

Migrants have finally made their way into town, and brought some beautiful (albeit brief) weather along with them. This typically-exciting time of the year has not disappointed.

Rufous Hummingbirds (above) typically arrive on the Oregon coast in late February, reaching the Valley in early March. Males typically arrive first, followed closely by females. We've seen them in the yard as early as the first week of March, but this is highly variable. Our first yard Rufous was spotted on the 19th, and both sexes have been visiting both the nectar feeder and the flowering bushes regularly since. Anna's Hummingbirds are still around occasionally visit the nectar feeder, but are busy nesting for the most part. In general, March-May is a great time period for Rufous Hummers and I hope to procure several more photos over the next two months.

While certain species are expected during migration, it often brings pleasant surprises as well. And this Spring did not disappoint. On Saturday, we hosted a Chipping Sparrow (above), a new yard species. I have read reports of others in the area, and get the feeling that (1) they're not typical in other people's yards either and (2) their migration is unusually-concentrated in this area this year. I have not seen this individual (or any other) since, and am therefore glad to have snapped a few decent pics.

In other migration news, this past Friday morning brought our first-of-the-year Orange-crowned Warbler. This individual has been foraging through our bushes and our neighbor's apple tree every day since. I was somewhat surprised to see one this early. I typically do not see them until early- or mid-April, but late March is well within their normal arrival time. I suppose that we got lucky this year. We have gotten lucky with winter sparrows again, at least in the short-term. On Saturday a White-crowned Sparrow visited our yard (the first in over three weeks). We have also picked up an additional Golden-crowned Sparrow.

An Orange-crowned Warbler forages through one of our many bushes.

A Golden-crowned Sparrow enjoys a pleasant Saturday afternoon.

The White-crowned Sparrow returns!

And like every action, there is a reaction. When summer hummingbirds, sparrows, and warblers arrive, winter residents like Juncos begin to file out. Over the winter, we'd typically host 7-12 at at time. At this point, it's difficult to find more than 3 or 4 foraging through the yard at a time. Our two Yellow-rumped Warblers have also been visiting the yard less frequently, presumably due to increased natural food sources. Most of our American Goldfinches have molted into summer plumage at this point as well.

A male American Goldfinch in his Summer Best.

Female American Goldfinches are also busy molting.

In other news, Pine Siskins and Lesser Goldfinches have been making occasional visits. The (adult female?) Cooper's Hawk that took out our injured Scrub-Jay has been visiting occasionally as well. Our friendly male Red-winged Blackbird has been stopping in every now and again, but we have not seen a Spotted Towhee in some time. Downy Woodpeckers have picked up in number recently, while Northern Flickers have dropped off (heading up into the hills to breed?).

A Lesser Goldfinch (right) stops in for a bite...

... and a Pine Siskin joins in the fun as well.

A Downy Woodpecker energizes on a cold morning.

We should be seeing more migrants soon, culminating in Wilson's Warblers and Black-headed Grosbeaks in early May. In the meantime, we may see more migrating sparrows (Fox and Lincoln's), wrens, and Cassin's Vireos. We're definitely looking forward to the next two months.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Changing of the Guard

Old Man Winter appears to have finally bitten the dust. Outside of the occasional very light frost, it's definitely Spring now. And with early Spring comes all sort of fun migration and movement.

One of the most obvious change-of-the-season signs is the molt of the American Goldfinch male from drab yellow/brown to bright yellow, with black cap to boot (above). The females also molt to a less brown hue, but this is less easily recognizable. In addition, our Yellow-rumped Warblers have also been molting into breeding plumage. Two are regularly present now. While some species become more numerous at this time, many exhibit the opposite behavior. Bushtits have decreased their flock size (from 15+ to 4-7) and Anna's Hummers are near-sparse at this point, indicating that they're pairing up for breeding. Our trust White-crowned Sparrow, present every day from early December, has been a no-show since the beginning of the month, indicating that he/she has moved on to breed elsewhere. Dark-eyed Juncos are still present in respectable numbers (5-7 at a time), but definitely lower than what we saw in November-January. They'll slowly trickle away and will be mostly gone at the end of April.

A male Dark-eyed Junco enjoys some peanuts. If they like what you're feeding, Juncos will gladly eat above ground.

One of the last photos of our winter resident White-crowned Sparrow.

A male Yellow-rumped Warbler molting into breeding plumage.

A male House Finch relaxes in between trips to the sunflower feeder.

A Bushtit with pollen all over its face.

In addition to the change-of-the-season fun, we've hosted a number of unusual native-winter species as well. This past Saturday afforded both a Cooper's and a Sharp-shinned Hawk in a 7-hour period! They were most likely attracted to the bustling goldfinch activity, and almost certainly our excess of diseased House Finches (which they've done a great job of ridding us of). Over the past couple of weeks, we've had multiple visits from a male Red-winged Blackbird and at least two different Spotted Towhees. Neither are "regular" visitors, but you can count on seeing them at least once a week. A lone Pine Siskin also showed up with a flock of ~20 goldfinches last weekend.

An adult Sharp-shinned Hawk waits patiently for a meal.

A Red-winged Blackbird feeds on sunflower seed in the morning fog.

A Pine Siskin dines with a flock of American Goldfinches.

That's about it for now. We're still waiting on our first Rufous Hummingbird and a possible Purple Finch or two. We'll see what the latter half of March brings...