Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cough, cough...

Wow, it's been a full month since I've last posted! I typically blame work for such long absences, often justifiably. However, illness is to blame this time. I've been fighting a series of colds for the past two months, plus a short bout with the flu at the end of December. Last Thursday, I came down with a particularly nasty sinus cold and I lost most of my hearing in my right ear that evening. A trip to the doctor on Saturday revealed that I have an ear infection and probably a sinus infection as well. So I've begun my slow road to recovery via antibiotics. Since I took a nap this afternoon and don't have work tomorrow, I thought that this evening would be a nice place to pick up. But enough about me...

The past month has been quite lively, with an average of over 18 species per weekend in the yard. Much of this is due to the regional fallout of irruptive species this winter (Evening Grosbeak, Varied Thrush, Pine Siskin, etc.). Some recent species of note include a female Townsend's Warbler (above) who, despite the best efforts of our local "bully" Yellow-rumped Warbler, has been visiting the feeders semi-regularly since mid-December. Townsend's Warblers are one of my favorites, and their bright yellow plumage is a sight for sore eyes on the typical gray, overcast winter day here.

Surprisingly, Evening Grosbeaks (above) have visited on two of the past four weekends. Last weekend, a record five were recorded. As was mentioned previously, there was a poor conifer seed crop in the Central Cascades this year, and the influx of this very uncommon urban backyard visitor is almost certainly a result of this. A look at the past decade of FeederWatch results from the past decade shows that Oregon and Washington residents are seeing 2-3 times the normal number of Evening Grosbeaks this winter. Another pleasant surprise has come in the form of Purple Finches. I typically see movements of them in March/April (and sometimes October), but not often outside of those months. Over the current fall/winter season, I've hosted them every month since September and one mature male visited in consecutive weekends at the beginning of this month. I imagine that the same search for seed is responsible for this. And, speaking of irruptive finches, I would be remiss to exclude the Pine Siskins who were present in unusually-high numbers this fall. Their numbers have fallen off significantly over the past month, and I'm seeing approximately 5 at a time per weekend.

This mature Purple Finch hits up the sunflower feeder.

A Pine Siskin picks spilled nyjer seed off of the leaves of a bush.

The winter irruption of Varied Thrushes into the lowlands is a welcome sight, especially since this event is infrequent and unpredictable. Some years, you'll see them outside your window every morning. In others, you may not see them at all. This has easily been the best irruptive year since 2006/2007, where unusually heavy snowfall in November forced them out of the Cascades and Coast Range. The reason for their appearance this year is somewhat more complex, as they began showing up in Central Oregon in record numbers back in October. Whatever the reason, I've felt very grateful to see 3-4 in my yard every morning since late November. We have also been visited more frequently by Red-breasted Nuthatches recently. And I am also happy to report the first true "winter sparrows" of the year. A Golden-crowned Sparrow was briefly observed at the beginning of the month, but did not return. However, a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow showed the following weekend and has been a regular over the past two weeks. Whew... I was beginning to worry that the winter sparrows had abandoned us this year!

This male Varied Thrush forages through the lawn on a January afternoon.

The closely-related American Robins have also been appearing in the trees recently, but haven't come down to feed for some reason.

A juvenile White-crowned Sparrow forages through spilled sunflower seed.

Large flocks of Bushtits (25-45) have been the norm over the past month.

Common species have been making news recently as well. Bushtits (above) have been flocking to the suet feeders in unusually larger numbers this month. Part of this may be due to the freezing temperatures that we experienced earlier this month, and the lack of insects that accompanies such weather. Northern Flickers have been visiting more frequently than usual, and I was surprised to see three up in the neighbor's apple tree last weekend. Lack of natural food sources is likely the reason here as well. And a common summer visitor - the Red-winged Blackbird - has made something of a resurgence recently. Three were at the feeders yesterday, and I hope to see more of them in the coming months.

This (juvenile?) male Red-winged Blackbird braves the seemingly-omnipresent rain for a quick meal.

This "Myrtle" subspecies Yellow-rumped Warbler has become a regular, despite the best efforts of the...

... local bully "Audubon's" subspecies (note the yellow throat) Yellow-rumped Warbler.

This male Dark-eyed Junco perches atop one of the rhododendron bushes.

House Finches have been present in relatively high numbers recently. Thankfully, the number of diseased individuals has been minimal so far (knock on wood).

Well, it's getting late here. I hope to be back within the next few weeks, completely healthy and with more to report. Until then, here is a summary of my FeederWatch data so far this season...