Sunday, September 25, 2011

Goldfinch Fatigue

Given the way that they flock at this time of the year, I've always associated the month of September with American Goldfinches.  And it's gotten to the point where I sometimes refer to it as "Goldfinch Month."  By approximately mid-September, flocks of 40-50 "AMGOs" at my nyjer and sunflower feeders are commonplace.  Towards the end of the month, their numbers reach or exceed the century mark (I counted 91 in the backyard five minutes ago).  While I appreciate having goldfinches at my feeders (especially the males in their bright yellow breeding plumage), they begin to wear on me at this time of the year.  Not only does it cost me about $25 a week to keep my feeders filled at this time of the year, but much of the spilled seed begins to grow mold and I'm actually forced to excavate and dispose of infected soil and seed under my feeders to keep the area from becoming an avian bioharzard.  (Always a fun time on a Saturday afternoon.)  Thankfully, in a few weeks, the large flocks will thin out significantly and I can return to appreciating the smaller portions of goldfinches.

In the midst of this goldfinch blitzkreig, there have also been a few exciting recent sightings.  A couple of them have literally emerged from the flocks themselves.  On two separate occasions over the past week, I've spotted lone Pine Siskins foraging with them.  Siskins often join flocks of other finches to forage for seed in late summer and fall.  Interestingly, another individual that I stumbled upon while photographing one of these goldfinch flocks was a female Black-throated Gray Warbler.  This was pure coincidence, as warblers do not forage with finches.  Black-throated Gray warblers trickle out slowly in August and September during their fall migration.  I imagine that this individual was the last that I'll see in the yard until May.
One of the many large American Goldfinch flocks that have been hitting up the backyard recently
This female Black-throated Gray Warbler stopped by briefly in the middle of the month
Other notable migrants over the past month have included two visits from at least one female Yellow Warbler and a few visits from transient Warbling Vireos.  An unusual Black-headed Grosbeak that strongly preferred to feed terrestrially (most use feeders) hung around the yard for at least a week and a half, which is unusual during migration.  This individual appeared to be healthy, and hung around until September 9th.  I have not seen a Rufous Hummingbird for at least two weeks.  Some are known to hang around into early October, but I doubt that I'll see another one until March.

This unusual Black-headed Grosbeak hung around the yard for a good week and a half

This female Yellow Warbler was spotted in the neighbor's apple tree at the end of August
Other interesting sightings include a Steller's Jay from last weekend.  Steller's Jays breed in the general area, but not locally in this part of the city.  They typically move from their conifer-dominated breeding grounds (typically outside of town) to other locales in September and October.  A Northern Flicker was observed calling from the top of one of the neighbor's trees at the beginning of the month, but it took until this morning for one to actually visit the feeders.  Interestingly, this individual was a mix of Red- and Yellow-shafted subspecies.  I see mixed-race individuals from time to time (mostly in the winter), but they seem to have gotten more common over the past couple of years.

In terms of local year-round species, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees have been representing in relatively high numbers over the past month.  Chestnut-backed Chickadee numbers, on the other hand, have fallen.  Their movements tend to be unpredictable, so I'm not terribly surprised.  A hatch-year male Anna's Hummingbird has  become a permanent fixture at the nectar feeder, and hopefully he'll hang around for the winter as well.

This hatch-year male Anna's Hummingbird appreciates all of the work that I do maintaining the nectar feeder

This mixed-race Northern Flicker was the first suet visitor of the season
A Red-breasted Nuthatch checks out the neighbor's roof
Chestnut-backed Chickadees have tailed off recently.  Perhaps we'll see more later this fall.
The fall weather moved in last night (along with rain), so changes are definitely afoot.  In the next post, I should have reports of juncos and possibly some southbound sparrows as well.  Perhaps I'll get lucky with some more exotic species, as I did last fall.  See you in a few weeks.