Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Reaper Cometh...

Lots of new and interesting visitors over the past two weeks, including a peek at the avian food chain...

Hosting an injured bird is always bittersweet. On one hand, you feel sorry for the poor fellow. On the other hand, you feel good that you're able to help prolong the life of an injured creature. But then you get that sinking feeling that it's on borrowed time, and that the other shoe could drop at any second. It's an awkward situation. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a Scrub-Jay that looked like it was going through some sort of extreme molt. Something was up with its primaries and secondaries (outer wing feathers). Closer inspection showed evidence of a wound, so it's likely that this bird was a victim of predation (most likely from a cat). The jay could fly, but barely, and spent most of its time hopping along our fence, which it used as a springboard to the neighbor's apple tree, where it often roosted. It primarily fed off of cracked corn at our ground feeder.

Late yesterday morning, I noticed a very large figure looming against the gray sky, near the top of the apple tree. My binoculars revealed an adult Cooper's Hawk (above). Surprisingly, after all of the other birds scattered, the injured jay sat perched a few feet below in the same tree. It eventually made an awkward dart for another neighbor's bushes and the hawk followed. After curiously staring into the bushes for a minute, it went in. A few minutes later, the hawk flew across the yard with a large blue and gray mass in its talons. It was somewhat sad to see our jay go, as I had grown fond of him/her out of pity. But at least its demised helped support another bird higher up on the food chain.

Our injured Scrub-Jay (note the injured wing). R.I.P.

A Red-winged Blackbird stops in on a rainy day.

A female/first-year male Purple Finch (background) and female House Finch (foreground).

We've been treated to a couple of new visitors lately. A first-time yard visitor for us out on the West Coast arrived earlier in the week: a male Red-winged Blackbird. They tend to prefer marsh area, although they'll wander a bit in the winter and are actually relatively common in the winter/spring in the Eastern half of the country. A couple of days later, we were treated to our first Purple Finch at our new residence. This female/first-year male (they look extremely similar) was around for about 10-15 minutes before flying off. We also began hosting Downy Woodpeckers not long ago and they have become relatively regular since then. In addition, an occasional Ruby-crowned Kinglet has been seen poking around.

It's nice to see Downies again!

One of two regular Northern Flickers.

Well, that's about it for now. I'm going to be crazy-busy for the next few weeks, so this will have to suffice until then. See you next month.

An (Avian) Pox on Your House (Finches)!

We've recently been hosting numerous House Finches with a myriad of diseases. Barf.

We were hit with the House Finch Disease Trifecta two weeks ago: Avian pox (above), conjunctivitis, and salmonella. At this point, approximately six infected birds have been spotted. Not fun. I took the sunflower and nyjer feeders down for a week, and all of the infected birds were back three days later (except for the one with salmonella, which is likely deceased). These appear to be neighborhood birds, and aren't likely to go anywhere any time soon. Double barf.

Unfortunately, House Finches are so inbred that they're susceptible to just about everything. They spread disease like flying petri dishes.

A male House Finch with salmonella.

Taking naps in strange places in the middle of the day. I don't think that this guy lasted very long.

The feeders are back up, and I'm just hoping that disinfecting them every week will be enough to keep these maladies from spreading. We'll see.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Things have really picked up here over the holidays, including our first woodpeckers!

After over a month and a half of no woodpeckers (not even a Downy!), we were rewarded with TWO Northern Flickers last weekend. This was somewhat surprising, as Downies are more prevalent than Flickers in urban/suburban areas with minimal mature trees. Even more surprising is that one of them was a Red- x Yellow-shafted "Intergrade" (a hybrid of the two subspecies). There are not exactly unheard of out here, but it was a nice surprise. I hosted a similar-looking intergrade juvenile at our previous residence (2 miles away) this summer and am wondering if this is the same bird.

A Northern Flicker stops in for some suet. This individual appears to be a regular now.

An "Intergrade" Northern Flicker. Note the small red mark on the nape. This individual very well may be the same one that we saw at our previous residence this summer.

But Flickers aren't the only story here. A pair of Mourning Doves graced us with their presence a week and a half ago. Some of you Easterners may wonder why I consider this noteworthy, but these were actually the first two first yard Mourning Doves that I've hosted here. They're far from uncommon, but their numbers are far lower here than in the other half of the country. I'm actually somewhat surprised that they haven't returned.

This past weekend was extremely active, owing to a massive amount of flocking. There was a mixed flock of 300+ Starlings and Robins in the neighborhood and, at one time, approximately 200 Starlings in the backyard. Fortunately, that only lasted for a day, and the Starlings appear to have completely moved on (knock on wood). However, it was nice to listen to the calls of Robins for a few days. An added bonus was a small flock of Cedar Waxwings last Saturday. They did little more than perch and occasionally feed in the neighbor's apple tree, but they were a treat nonetheless.

FeederWatch Data for Fall/Winter 2009. Overall, things are looking up.

Starlings invade the suet feeder! Thankfully, only for a few days.

A flock of Waxwings help ease the Starling surge...

...and Robins are always a good time.


Our "usual suspects" are still out in full force. These include our numerous Juncos and Bushtits, American Goldfinches, House Finches, White- and Golden-crowned Sparrows, noisy Scrub-Jays, our ultra-aggressive Yellow-rumped Warbler, and the elusive-but-regular Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The only downer thus far was the discovery of a House Finch with Avian Pox this morning. Hopefully that doesn't spread.

Our not-so-friendly Yellow-rumped Warbler is happy to have the feeder all to itself.

If you have peanuts, you'll have Scrub-Jays.

Our resident White-crowned Sparrow feeds on millet and cracked corn.

Actual visual evidence of our elusive Ruby-crowned Kinglet!

I had the opportunity to get out of the yard recently and photo a couple of passerines. The rain and fog hampered my efforts somewhat, but I was able to get really nice photos of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Brown Creeper...

Well, that's about it for now. I hope that you had a good holiday and here's to a wonderful 2010!