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...

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