Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Cold, Soggy Spring

Yep, it's been a while. Apologies for not posting earlier, but I've been really busy. Thankfully, it's for a good reason this time, rather than illness. While the weather has suggested that we're still stuck in late March, the past month and a half has given us an exciting array of visitors.

One of the most interesting stories (in most of Western Oregon, not just our backyard) has been the abundance of Western Tanagers (above). Many people in Eugene and Portland are reporting large flocks of them. While I have not seen flocks, we had quite a few visitors (mostly males) from late April through mid-May. I learned that tanagers enjoy suet, which is always good to know (that gives one extra incentive to keep the suet feeder filled during migration). They are absolutely beautiful birds and we are fortunate to have seen so many this spring.

Also in the Not Expected category was the large number of migratory sparrows that we hosted in late April. I've never hosted this many sparrows before. In the last week of April, we hosted a flock of 20+ White-crowned and at least 5 Golden-crowned Sparrows. My guess is that the combination of cold weather and high precipitation added to the snowpack in the foothills, temporarily delaying them from moving to their breeding ground. In addition, we hosted a Fox Sparrow, a Lincon's Sparrow, and a second Chipping Sparrow (the first visited in late March). It was, by far, the best sparrow spring we've ever had.

A Fox Sparrow forages through spilled sunflower seed.

The first yard Lincoln's Sparrow that we've hosted in three years hung around from late April through early May.

The second of two Chipping Sparrows to visit the yard this spring.

One of 20+ White-crowned Sparrows that frequented the yard a month ago.

While most of the sparrows (except for the Chipping) were on their way out, many other species moved in earlier in the month. The first of these were the Black-headed Grosbeaks that typically move though in large numbers during the first week of May. They did not show up in the large flocks that we witnessed last May, but their numbers have still been appreciable. Moreover, a couple of them are still visiting on a regular basis three weeks later. This is somewhat unusual, but I'm not complaining. Orange-crowned Warblers were also unusually numerous and conspicuous up until a couple of weeks ago.

Other migrants have made more brief appearances, including a Hammond's Flycatcher, at least one Wilson's Warbler, a number of Warbling Vireos, and a brief appearance by a female Calliope Hummingbird. Calliope Hummers are unusual in this part of the state, but will sometimes hang out in the western part of the state in the spring if the high desert is still cool and soggy. This happened last year and it's not surprising that we're seeing Calliopes again with the Cascade snowpack being over 200% its average level. And just this morning, three Tree Swallows were circling our tiny backyard at eye level. I had never seen that before.

A second-year male Black-headed Grosbeak stops in for some sunflowerly goodness.

A male Orange-crowned Warbler forages for insects. Unlike most of my photos, the orange crown is actually conspicuous here.

This Hammond's Flycatcher was hawking insects in my neighbor's backyard earlier in the month.

A bad photo of a Warbling Vireo, perched high atop my neighbor's apple tree.

With all of this exciting migratory action, I would be remiss if I didn't discuss the year-round yard regulars. Black-capped Chickadees have once again raised a brood in the nesting box near our front door. The hatchlings can be heard "cheeping" for food throughout the day, even when the window is closed. Due to my hectic schedule, I have not been able to get photos of the parents yet. Red-winged Blackbirds are visiting the feeders frequently, as they did last summer. At least one pair of Brewer's Blackbirds are visiting regularly now as well. Unfortunately, Starlings and their fledglings are ransacking the suet, as they typically do at this time of the year. I let my suet feeder empty for a week to encourage them to disperse. After refilling it this morning, over half of the cake has already been eaten. Perhaps I'll let it sit empty for a couple more weeks.

A handsome male Brewer's Blackbird struts around the yard.

One of many regular female Red-winged Blackbird stops in for a snack.

The finch family has also put in a strong showing this spring. We still have a few Pine Siskins hanging around, which is unusual because they tend to breed early and almost always do so up in the foothills. They did breed somewhere near our previous residence, so it would not be a shocker if our plentiful supply of nyjer and sunflower encouraged a pair to do so again. Along with our usual strong showing of American Goldfinches, the Lesser Goldfinches that returned earlier in the spring are still showing up at the feeders semi-regularly. House Finches have been bringing their fledglings to the feeders for at least a week now, and I've also seen an uptick in House Sparrows over the past month. Unfortunately (but understandably), we did not see any Evenings Grosbeaks this month. Oh well, you can't have it all.

This male Lesser Goldfinch makes our dilapidated trellis look a little nicer.

A male Western Tanager enjoying suet... before the Starlings showed up.

That's it for now. As we enter the slow (but sunny and enjoyable) part of the year, I hope to see something interesting soon. A Western Wood-pewee, perhaps? We'll see...