Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fall Cometh

Signs of autumn abound. The sun is well hidden behind the horizon when the alarm clock sounds, and twilight sets in hours before bedtime. Temperatures dip into the 40s at night and struggle to hit 70 in the late afternoon. Some days are overcast, even rainy. Yes, our very short summer (it was still overcast and rainy in mid-June) is just about over. Thankfully, exciting events in the yard help compensate for it.

While migratory species such as the Yellow Warbler shown above have been prominent (and will be discussed shortly), the most conspicuous showing right now are the large flocks of American Goldfinches. "AMGOs" begin to flock in large numbers after their (rather late) breeding seasons ends. This is typically from mid-September through mid-October and, as we've seen before, they can really take over a yard at times. So I was rather surprised to see the flocking winter numbers (30-40) at the end of August. Halfway through the first week of September, their numbers were ranging from 30-70 at a time. I typically don't see these numbers until the end of the month or early October. Some of this could be attributed to the larger yard that we currently have, and/or the more open area of our new neighborhood. That said, I can't help but wonder if we may be getting an early winter this year. It's been cooler and more rainy over the past two weeks than what we typically experience at this time of the year. Of course, that's a small sample size, so who knows. Anyway, the AMGOs have been eating approximately $15 worth of sunflower and nyjer per week, and I've been refilling the feeders approximately three times per week. And, of course, sunflower shells are all over the ground now. That'll be fun to clean up. Lesser Goldfinches are still hanging around in small numbers.

While watching large flocks of goldfinches is nice enough, migratory species that stop by the yard are my primary source of enjoyment. And the past few weeks have not disappointed. Black-headed Grosbeaks, discussed in the last installment, had a very strong showing this spring/summer. As of five days ago, they were still passing through, though they'll be gone for good very shortly. A couple of weeks ago, we hosted a hatch-year. It was the first that I'd ever seen.

A rain-soaked juvenile Black-headed Grosbeak feeds on peanuts.

A male Wilson's Warbler forages through one of our butterfly bushes for insects, while...

... a female Yellow Warbler follows suit shortly afterwards

Migratory warblers are always a good time. Our most prominent "summer warbler," the Orange-crowned, made an appearance last month, but the best showings so far were from Wilson's Warblers. At least one male and at least one female have made appearances on five separate occasions since the very end of last month. I was very pleasantly surprised to also see Yellow Warblers stop by one days late last month. Both a female and a juvenile appeared on the same day. While I'm still holding out hope for a Black-throated Gray to move through, most of the summer warblers have moved south at this point. We'll likely see our wintering Yellow-rumped Warblers next month.

A hatch-year Yellow Warbler forages for insects.

Despite losing many forest-specific species (Brown Creeper, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Red-breasted Sapsucker) after moving out of our old neighborhood last year, I've been pleasantly surprised at the number of meadow/riparian species that have stepped in to replace them. These include the two warblers photographed above, and also flycatchers (both Empidonax and Tyrant). Earlier this year, Hammond's Flycatchers and Western Wood-Pewees were spotted hawking insects in the yard (the latter on multiple occasions). But the most prominent and surprising flycatcher has been the Willow. I don't know what it is, but migratory Willows have really taken a liking to our yard. We could've just as easily hosted the same number of Hammond's or Pacific-slope Flycatchers. Strange, but no complaints.

Willow Flycatchers will use anything for a perch, whether it be this old TV antenna thingy...

... or a thorn-covered rose tree branch.

A Steller's Jay surveys the scene before feeding on cracked corn.

Oddly enough, at least one of my old conifer-specific buddies seems to have followed me here. Steller's Jays (above) breed in the conifer-dominated hillsides around town, and even up at several thousand feet in the Cascades. Even at our old place, Steller's Jays only stopped by when they were en route to or from their higher-elevation breeding grounds (basically October, November, and March). So I was doubly-surprised to have seen two different individuals here in the yard several times over the past week (the last was just a few minutes ago). The fact that they seem to be moving out of their breeding ground (at least, locally) this early again suggests a possible early winter. The poor conifer crop that I've been hearing about in the Central Cascades may also be a factor. Downy Woodpeckers, who also tend to breed elsewhere, have also made something of a comeback over the past couple of weeks. There has also been a noticeable post-breeding dispersal of American Crows, and some of their offspring have been hanging around the yard. No nuthatches yet.

This female/juvenile Anna's Hummingbird has fewer Rufous Hummers to fight off nowadays.

A female Bushtit stops in for suet on a late summer evening.

A hatch-year American Crow (note the brown head) sizes up the yard.

Western Scrub-Jays are the second most frequent yard visitors at this point.

In other news, Rufous Hummingbirds have been slowly tailing off, to the point where I'm going to take down the second nectar feeder now. They should be completely gone by this time next month. Black-capped Chickadees and Bushtits are still abundant. House Finch numbers have remained approximately the same.

I'm going to be really busy with work soon, so this will likely be the last post for a month or so. Hopefully by then we'll host our first Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Townsend's Warbler, or Purple Finch. At the very least, Juncos should begin to move in from the hills. Until then...

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