Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winter Birds Return

It's been a while since my last post, which of course means that I was incredibly busy at work. I'm on break now and, though slightly handicapped with my laptop in the shop, finally have some time to share the recent goings-on.

One of the telltale signs of winter is the Varied Thrush. These Robin-like birds flee the mountains when snowfall covers the ground. They may be absent from the lowlands in the winter if the snowfall is insufficient, but we were fortunate to receive a significant amount of precipitation last month. Since the last week of November, we've been hosting 2-3 males in the backyard. They enjoy sunflower chips.

The past few weeks have been particularly good for finches as well. Thanksgiving morning brought us two Evening Grosbeaks (above) and a pair of Purple Finches. Purple Finches are uncommon winter visitors, and are much more likely seen in October, March, and April. Evening Grosbeaks are even less common, but both species have nonetheless visited multiple times in the past few weeks. This is already shaping up to be a very unique winter.

This male Evening Grosbeak has been visiting much more often than expected...

... as has this male Purple Finch.

A female Purple Finch inconspicuously forages through spilled sunflower seed.

While finches and thrushes have been the big news recently, winter warblers have also been frequenting the yard in increasing numbers. Yellow-rumped Warblers have been hawking insects from the trees for several weeks now, but only recently have they begun frequenting the yard for suet. We're currently hosting at least two regulars: one "Audubon's" subspecies and one "Myrtle." The Audubon's is a real territorial jerk and chases other warblers and kinglets out of the yard (he's not so successful with the starlings). The other winter warbler is the Townsend's. Some years are better for others when it comes to Townsend's (last year wasn't so great), so I was very happy to see a female at the suet feeders twice last weekend. I even managed to snap a poor photo of her.

Our not-so-friendly resident "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler prepares to snack on some suet.

This less obnoxious and much prettier Townsend's Warbler enjoys suet in the squirrel/starling-proof feeder.

And I would be remiss at this point if I didn't discuss our Warbler of the Year: the American Redstart. This vagrant female has been visiting the yard semi-regularly since the first week of November, and continued to do so through the beginning of this month. But I have not seen her since the beginning of the month. So who knows if she's moved on, or if I just haven't been looking at the right times.

At least one Ruby-crowned Kinglet has been appearing semi-regularly recently. He/she appears to be more interested in hawking insects than the suet feeders at this point. This past Saturday, one was foraging for insects that were hiding from the rain under our awnings. Interestingly, a bird that's often misidentified as an RC Kinglet - the Hutton's Vireo - made a surprise appearance two days ago. Hutton's Vireos are year-round residents, but are far from regular yard visitors. So that was a nice surprise.

While speaking of finches earlier, I forgot to mention that we're still seeing a ton of Pine Siskins (above). They're showing up in flocks of 20-40, and are going through nyjer like it's going out of style. Their numbers seem to have diminished somewhat this week, so that may be changing soon. Still, I have never seen a showing of Siskins like this before. The closely-related American Goldfinches have been quietly flocking in number of approximately a dozen or so. Lesser Goldfinches have been few and far between.

Starlings are pests, but very good-looking pests.

Northern Flickers have made a comeback, and have even driven some of the Starlings away.

Woodpeckers, absent for most of October, have made their usual winter comeback. Downies are regulars again, with at least one male and one female frequenting the yard. At least one male Northern Flicker (above) has also become a semi-regular. It's nice to see both back in the fold. Somewhat surprisingly, Red-breasted Nuthatches have been absent since October. I have also not seen any "proper" winter sparrows recently (aside from the 10-20 Juncos that forage here).

Well, that's it for now. Have a Merry Christmas and I'll be back sometime in January.