Saturday, February 19, 2011

Still in Winter's Tight Grip

The past month has been interesting. For a while, the warm-ish temperatures, ample sun, and lack of rain suggested a possible early Spring. But, of course, the rain, clouds, cold, and misery returned and I suppose that we'll have to wait another month. But at least there have been some interesting avifauna in the yard.

The big story of the winter so far has been Varied Thrushes (above). In six winters out here, I've never seen irruptive numbers like this. At least five individuals visit daily and they're almost constantly here. I'm trying to soak this in and enjoy it because we probably won't have a showing like this again any time soon.

Other migrants have also made it over to our yard. A juvenile White-crowned Sparrow visited regularly from early January through early February. I haven't seen it in a couple of weeks, but such is the nature of migratory sparrows. Even more interesting was the appearance of an Orange-crowned Warbler two weeks ago. They winter in coastal Southern California and Mexico, as well as the far Southern inland United States, and typically do not make their way up here until the third or fourth week of March. This individual most likely overwintered here. It was here briefly on a Saturday morning, and was never seen again.

This juvenile White-crowned Sparrow hung around for a full month.

This rare Orange-crowned Warbler was seen briefly one morning, and that was it.

Other, less rare yard visitors have also been present. After a long absence, Pine Siskins made a comeback this weekend. Red-winged Blackbirds, regulars in the Spring/Summer, have also been calling from the neighbor's apple tree regularly and occasionally visiting the feeders. More interestingly, a Spotted Towhee visited us last Sunday. Spotted Towhees are regulars in this part of the country and rather abundant. However, they're not big fans of our semi-urban and cat-infested neighborhood. So it was nice to see one again. Their spunk, personality, and silly calls are welcomed on a dreary winter day.

A Spotted Towhee noisily scratches around for spilled cracked corn and millet.

This individual was most likely molting (note the ragged-looking tail feathers).

A Pine Siskin feeds on a dreary Saturday morning.

We've also hosted some handicapped individuals recently. A male Purple Finch hung out here for the latter two weeks of January. It looked perfectly healthy, but the right side of its lower mandible appears to be either deformed or damaged. That said, it didn't appear to have any difficulty chowing down on sunflower seed. Our other handicapped feathered friend is a one-legged Western Scrub-Jay. Fortunately, this individual has found a way to get by on one leg and has little trouble using our feeders. It may not reproduce, but it's able to live an otherwise normal life.

This handsome male Purple Finch looks perfectly healthy...

...but closer inspection reveals a damaged or deformed lower mandible. Thankfully, this guy is still able to eat normally.

This Western Scrub-Jay is missing its left leg. Yet, it also is able to function and live a semi-normal life.

Many typical yard visitors have also had strong showings over the past month. Our local woodpeckers are a prime example. Back in November and December, Downy Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers were more occasional than regular. They've made a strong comeback since last month, and I'm seeing both very regularly now - sometimes several times a day. Yesterday, I recorded five visits from at least one male Downy and four total visits from at least two Flickers. Robins have also been flocking in large numbers in the area over the past two weeks. Bushtits and Dark-eyed Juncos are still in relatively large numbers, suggesting that winter isn't going away quite yet. In addition to our normal "Oregon" subspecies Juncos, there are at least two "Slate-colored" Juncos in the yard as well.

This female Northern Flicker is a Red x Yellow-shafted "Intergrade" subspecies. These individuals often move from colder Central Oregon in winter for the our more temperate climate. It has mostly "Red-shafted" blood, as displayed by the lack of a prominent red mark on the nape and the lack of yellow feathers under the wings and tail. But note that the tail feathers are more orange than salmon. If you click on the photo and look very closely at the nape, there is also a faint hint of a dull red mark.

A raggedy-looking Downy Woodpecker hits up the suet feeder.

A female "Slate-colored" Dark-eyed Junco perches atop a Rhododendron bud.

The omnipresent Yellow-rumped Warbler sits atop one of our Pieris bushes, guarding "its" suet feeder.

A female Anna's Hummingbird enjoys sugar-water solution. This individual appears to be a juvenile, as it lacks a more prominent gorget mark.

While skies continue to be headache-inducing gray, there are some signs of Spring around the corner...

The male American Goldfinch in the center is molting into its breeding plumage. This photo was taken a couple of weeks ago, and some individuals are even more yellow at this point.

One of our local Song Sparrows sings its beautiful song from atop the fence. They've been doing this for about three weeks now.

OK, I've been waiting a while to take some video with my camera, but haven't had time until this weekend. (Thanks to my wife for keeping our daughter occupied on Saturday while I shot and edited.) The framing isn't ideal, as I use prime (fixed focal length) telephoto lenses, which have inherently superior optics to zoom lenses. So while I can always crop and frame with photos, I'm stuck at either 300 or 420 mm for video. (Perhaps I'll buy a lower-tier 70-300 mm zoom lens for videography at some point down the line.) Anyway, I managed to shoot three short movies this weekend. Enjoy...

Downy Woodpecker at the suet feeder, with brief cameos from a Black-capped Chickadee and a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Varied Thrush feeding on sunflower chips. The low-pitched grinding sound that you hear in the background is my lens' image stabilization mechanism, which I forgot to shut off.

Yellow-rumped Warbler at the suet feeder. You can also hear our 11-month-old banging around in the background.

Well, that's it for now. I'll return next month, hopefully with the report of our first Rufous Hummingbird. I'll try to include more video as well.

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