Sunday, May 16, 2010

Feast Or Famine

The past month has been interesting, alternating rapidly between rapidly-exciting and mind-numbingly boring. I can't say that I've ever witnessed a spring migration like this before.

The most exciting find was a female Calliope Hummingbird, first observed in late April. This rare migrant spends its summers in the inland mountain/desert regions of the Western US, from Eastern British Columbia, to Western Wyoming, and south into the Sierra Nevada range. Interestingly, they've been all over the Willamette Valley this year and nobody knows why. A couple of weeks after this female was photographed, a male made an appearance, followed by a second female a couple of days later. What a treat.

On the eve of the Calliope sighting, I noticed a small-ish bird hawking insects from the neighbor's apple tree. After numerous failed attempts, I finally got a couple of decent photos through the thick foliage and discovered a flycatcher of the Empidonax genus (they're rather difficult to identify). With significant help from Dave Irons and Shawneen Finnegan, my tentative ID of a Hammond's Flycatcher was confirmed. This was a lifer for me, and not something that one sees in the backyard every day. A few days later, I woke up to see another small bird hawking insects from the same tree. A long peek through the binoculars revealed a more familiar species: a Cassin's Vireo. Again, not something that one sees in the yard every day. Migration is such an interesting time of the year.

An out-of-focus Hammond's Flycatcher feeds on insects.

An elusive MacGillivray's Warbler forages in the cover of our Rhododendron bushes.

A Black-headed Grosbeak inconspicuously snacks on cracked corn just before dusk.

The excitement of migration carried over into May. After getting off of work early one Friday afternoon, I was able to observe a male MacGillivray's Warbler foraging for insects in our bushes. I had hoped to get a better photo, but my two-month-old vomited formula all over the couch in the middle of this sighting, so I'm left with the "meh" picture shown above. Upon hearing of a "fallout" of Black-headed Grosbeaks and Western Tanagers last Tuesday, I decided to keep an eye on the feeders as I worked that evening. I looked up at about 7:45 and, sure enough, there was a very quiet male Black-headed Grosbeak at the ground feeder. I haven't seen one since, but they're still moving through at this point and I may get lucky again.

This male Red-winged Blackbird has morphed into something of a regular.

Anna's Hummingbirds are still out in full force. Their offspring are also beginning to appear.

Downy Woodpecker numbers have held steady this spring.

One of two Western Scrub-Jays that frequent the yard.

Migrants haven't been the entire story. Many of our regulars- including Western Scrub-Jays, Black-capped Chickadees, American Goldfinches, and House Finches are still visiting multiple times per day. A Red-winged Blackbird has even become a regular. Interestingly, the finch numbers have fallen through the floor since early/mid April. It's unusual for us to now host more than a few House Finches or American Goldfinches at a time. Many other regular and semi-regular species, such as Bushtits, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Northern Flickers, haven't seen observed for over a month now. I can frequently look out the back window and see... nothing. It's not exactly shocking, as this is the time of year when natural food is becoming plentiful. But it sure does feel strange.

The other major piece of news is that the Black-capped Chickadees who were flying in and out of the nesting box near our front door last month are still doing so. At first, I had thought that they might simply be roosting there. But they're still going in and out during the middle of the afternoon, which almost certainly means that they've constructed a nest inside. I'm very hesitant to disturb them, so I'm going to wait for the fledglings to leave before I open it up to photograph the nest. I hope to have several fledgling photos in the next post.

Sitka Mountain-ash (Sorbus sitchensis)

Cascade Oregon-grape (Mahonia nervosa)

I've take the time (and invested the money) to plant some bird-friendly shrubs around the yard that yield berries in the late summer/fall. I have no idea if I'll get a crop out of either of these this year (they're still both pretty small), but we'll see. Somebody at some point will enjoy these.

And that's it for now. We'll see what the next month brings...

No comments: