Tuesday, August 30, 2011

An Auspicious Beginning

Sometimes I like to think that I have some sort of "magic touch" when it comes to attracting birds, but the reality seems to be that Eugene's natural habitat and geographic location are more responsible. When we moved into our last house, the yard of which did not contain a single tree, I was concerned about the immediate habitat's ability to attract birds. I was rewarded with two Golden-crowned Sparrows on the day that we moved in and an unusual visit from a White-throated Sparrow the following week. The next fall and winter were banner years for Varied Thrushes, Purple Finches and my favorite, Evening Grosbeaks. Apparently the surrounding area was good enough to overcome that. In contrast, our new home is surrounded by ample mature deciduous and coniferous trees, fruit-bearing trees, and shrubbery. So I'm pretty optimistic about our new yard. And what I've observed during our first month here has justified my optimism.

As mentioned in the previous post, Bewick's Wrens (above) were observed around the yard once or twice at the beginning of the month and we were hoping that they would be regulars. I'm happy to report that they are indeed heard calling almost every day. Given that they're year-round residents, I'm optimistic that they'll hang around. Red-breasted Nuthatches and Chestnut-backed Chickadees have also been regulars in the yard, visiting the feeders and bath daily.

A Red-breasted Nuthatch snatches a sunflower seed.

A Chestnut-backed Chickadee stops in for a drink of water on an unusually-hot August day.

A few new species regular to the area have also appeared recently. In the middle of the month a single male Lesser Goldfinch was observed. It was soon joined by others, including four fledglings a week later. Last week a Downy Woodpecker stopped by for a bite of suet. We will most likely host many more in the next couple of months.

It's the beginning of migration and we've seen more than our share of movement over the past couple of weeks. A week and a half ago, a male Black-throated Gray Warbler briefly stopped in the yard to forage for insects in the photinia bushes. Unfortunately, I wasn't fast enough with the camera. Just an hour later, a male Wilson's Warbler (above) stopped in. It foraged through the same general area, and was present for a good 15 minutes. It was an exciting morning, as it's rare that two migrating warblers visit on the same day, much less within an hour of one another. Black-headed Grosbeaks have been coming through the yard since the second week of August and at least one is still visiting. These are mostly adult females (the males have already moved south), though I have seen at least one hatch-year at the sunflower feeder.

This migrating female Black-headed Grosbeak loads up on calories for her trip South.

This hatch-year Black-headed Grosbeak watches mom feed while waiting his/her turn to use the feeder.

Many other migrants have passed through recently, including a Willow Flycatcher, a Western Wood-Pewee, a Swainson's Thrush, and even a low-flying flock of Canada Geese (a sure sign that summer is on its last legs).

A male Lesser Goldfinch feeds on nyjer on a warm August morning.

Shortly after the adult Lesser Goldfinches found our feeders, they brought their young to the yard.

This American Goldfinch is one of the most frequent birds in the yard. Fledglings have been observed in the yard recently as well.

The August mini-heat wave appears to be over (knock on wood), as I type this on a cool, breezy, overcast afternoon. As summer continues to lose its grip, the yard will become much more active. I hope to have many more stories and photos to share later next month.

Monday, August 15, 2011

New Digs

We're finally moved in to the new place. Aside from the house being a major upgrade, the property itself is much more bird-friendly. We now have a lot more trees and shurbs, including a massive 80-ft-tall black walnut in the front yard, a mature cherry tree along the back deck, and a magnolia tree in the corner of the backyard. Also near that corner area are five arborvitae and two large photinia. Perhaps most importantly, the neighbor's yard is a long, narrow (~150' x 40') lot that is almost entirely a garden surrounded with overgrowth. Species include apple, plum, black walnut, arborvitae, hemlock, and a few others. The surrounding yards also contain two 60' maple-like trees, one of which has almost engulfed a large spruce. There are also three 150' douglas firs two yards away. So not only will there be ample cover for forest-dwelling sparrows and warblers, but the fruit-bearing trees will also likely attract species such as Cedar Waxwing.

Thus far, we've been treated to a couple of species that we haven't hosted with any regularity since our location when this blog began. These include Red-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees. While my guess is that only the former species breeds locally, the habitat here is good for both and it's nice to see them again. Crows are also much more abundant in this area. They wait for cars to run over/break open fallen walnuts in the street and then dine on them. Hummingbirds (both Anna's and Rufous) are in large abundance here, seemingly more so that at our other residences. Other, more "regular" yard visitors have included Western Scrub-Jays, Black-capped Chickadees, Bushtits, House Finches, House Sparrows, and American Goldfinches.

A Rufous Hummingbird makes an early evening visit to the nectar feeder.

The Anna's Hummingbird is currently one of the most frequent yard visitors.

A female Black-headed Grosbeak feeds on sunflower seed on an early August afternoon. Black-headed Grosbeaks are slowly making their way south right now.

This male House Finch enjoys a drink on a warm, dry mid-summer afternoon.

We are delighted to host Chestnut-backed Chickadees once again.

This female Red-breasted Nuthatch stops in for a sunflower seed. We are also overjoyed to see these guys again.

The one downside to this yard, as you may have noticed from some of the pictures above, is the mediocre photo quality that I'm getting at the feeders. This is mostly because the feeders are set back in a shaded area of the yard. Unless I were to put them in the sunny middle of the yard (which would look silly), I'm not going to get awesome photo quality at this distance (30-40'). So I may have to invest in a hunting blind to get closer to my subjects. We'll see.

It's only mid-August, but I've seen some evidence of local and migratory movement. As shown in the photo above, female Black-headed Grosbeaks were semi-regular last week (though not so much this week).
A mature Sharp-shinned Hawk (most likely a female) attempted to nab one of these grosbeaks last week. During our first week here, a pair of Bewick's Wrens were foraging through the neighbor's bushes. We may see more of those in the winter. While Turkey Vultures circling overhead are relatively common out here in the summer, I was surprised to see an Osprey take a few circles over the neighborhood recently. I imagine that it is feeding from the nearby Willamette River.

Well, that's about it for now. As migration ramps up over the next few weeks, I'm sure that I'll have more stories to tell (and hopefully photos to share as well). Until then...