Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Empty Nest

We're now "officially" at the beginning of summer, and the yard avifauna certainly reflects that. Yard activity was hopping at the beginning of the month, and is now extremely slow. And while the lack of activity is disappointing, it's typical for this time of the year. Thankfully, the constant overcast skies and rain have also dissipated.

Nesting Black-capped Chickadees were one of the big stories of May. At the beginning of the month, "Chee, chee, chee!" noises began to emanate from the nesting box. As we had suspected, the chickadee pair had not only laid eggs, but had successfully brought hatchlings into the world. After about a week, the calls morphed into a wheezy, more chickadee-like "Cheez, cheez, derr!" (They grow up fast, don't they?) At that point, I thought that they would fledge soon and began looking for signs of them hanging outside of the nesting box and acclimating to the "real world." But the young stayed secure inside as their parents continued to bring grubs and small insects to them. Then one morning, I no longer heard the calls of the young or saw their parents. By the end of the afternoon, it became obvious to me that they were all gone. So what happened? Did a predator scare them off? (A Western Scrub-Jay carried out an unsuccessful "kidnapping" attempt earlier in the month, though it did not appear to rattle the parents much.) I wanted to open up the nesting box to check, but feared that the juveniles would still be hunkered down inside and that the parents may abandon the nest. Finally, after about a week of seeing zero activity, I pulled my ladder out of the garage and took a look inside. What I found was a very neat little "pad" of a nest (below), constructed mostly of moss and down. But no dead fledglings, and not even a stray egg shell. Needless to say, I was quite relieved that they all (apparently) fledged successfully. It would've been nice to get a few pics of the kids, but their successful brood and survival are what really matter.

As I alluded to in the opening paragraph, the past month has been a real sea-change. Early on, Black-headed Grosbeaks were braving the rain and constant overcast skies daily for the sunflower feeders. Now, I'm lucky to see the occasional Red-winged Blackbird, Scrub-Jay, or American/Lesser Goldfinch. I even had to let the suet feeder run empty for week-long stretches twice this month, as starlings were inundating the yard and going through as much as a suet cake per day! (Since putting a fresh cake in two days ago, I've been lucky so far... knock on wood.)

A male Black-headed Grosbeak feeds on cracked corn on an early June afternoon.

This male Red-winged Blackbird has been a fixture since April, and continues to visit multiple times per day.

A Western Scrub-Jay surveys the yard.

A pair of Lesser Goldfinches dine on a warm, sunny afternoon.

Despite the relative dearth of interesting species this month, a we have seen a few notable surprises. The first was a Willow Flycatcher, who spent an afternoon hawking insects from our fence. Empid flycatchers are always tricky IDs, but the lack of a significant eye ring was a relatively easy diagnostic field mark in this case. If I'm unfortunate enough to wake up prior to sunrise and happen to crack the living room window, I can often hear swallows feeding on insects outside. But I was pretty surprised to see a Violet-green Swallow swoop right under the awning outside of our kitchen on a Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago. Western Wood-Pewees have also been calling from the trees recently.

Juvenile "regular" species have also been coming to feed and bath in the yard. These include Anna's Hummingbirds, Western Scrub-Jays, House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, and Bushtits. (Interestingly, I have not seen the juvenile chickadees that hatched on the other side of the house.) At least one pair of American Goldfinches has been visiting daily, and I imagine that their offspring will eventually visit as well (they breed much later in the summer).

A Willow Flycatcher enjoys a hard-earned meal.

This fledgling Western Scrub-Jay enjoys a drink of water on a warm afternoon.

Now we head into the Dog Days of Summer. (Though the mercury is still struggling to hit 70 out here, so I'm not anticipating another week in the 100's at this point.) This is the snoozer time of the year for yard birds, but you never know what you'll encounter. At the very least, male Rufous Hummingbirds will begin their migratory movement towards the end of July. (I have not seen a Rufous Hummer for almost a month now, indicating that none are nesting nearby.)

So have a good 4th of July weekend and I'll have more later in the month.