Monday, December 17, 2012

A Hawk-induced Lull

The late-November wave of fall migrants has finally subsided and the yard is in something of a lull at this point.  This happens every December, but this year it has been exasperated by the presence of not one, but TWO Cooper's Hawks in the neighborhood.  We had very high numbers of Pine Siskins (flocks of up to 80) from October through late November and this undoubtedly attracted the local accipiters.  A large mature female Cooper's has been in the area since at least last November, and I was somewhat surprised to see an immature Cooper's in the neighborhood early last week.  I was able to get a good, long look (and photographs) of this individual on Saturday.  My guess is that it's an immature male, as it's no larger than a crow.  (This individual is noticeably smaller than our regular mature female, and male accipiters are smaller in size than females.)  However, it's also possible that it's a hatch-year bird that hasn't reached its full size yet.  So who knows.  Anyway, it's cool to have two Cooper's Hawks in the neighborhood, even if they occasionally scare some of the other birds off.

This mature female Cooper's Hawk was recently joined by...

...this immature Cooper's Hawk.  Both are busy attempting to make meals of juncos and siskins.

While the presence of hawks has kept some of the regulars away recently (woodpeckers, in particular), life has otherwise marched on.  Winter sparrows have begun to filter in nicely over the past month.  Three to four Golden-crowned Sparrows been visiting semi-regularly over the past two weeks.  The first Song Sparrow in at least a month appeared briefly last weekend.  Interestingly, we are still hosting two White-throated Sparrows (one of each morph type).  While White-throated Sparrows are common winter feeder birds over much of the Eastern two thirds of the country, they were considered "uncommon" to very uncommon" in Western Oregon up until recently.  Oregon Christmas Bird Count data from 1990 to 2000 showed a significant increase in reports.  Even after adjusting for increased CBC participation over this time, the number of birds reported per count hour has approximately doubled over that time period.  I've hosted two in each of the past two winters and at least one in three of the past four winters.  Many others in Western Oregon have also reported WT Sparrows at their feeding stations.  I would say that their winter status in this part of the state is now more like "uncommon to locally abundant in preferred habitat."  WT Sparrows are particularly conspicuous at this time of the year because they readily use feeders in urban areas.  Interestingly, I have no yard sightings of the supposedly more common White-crowned Sparrow this winter season.

These white-striped morph (above) and tan-striped morph (below) White-throated Sparrows have been regulars at the feeders for the past couple of weeks.

The other regular member of the sparrow family, the Spotted Towhee, has also been regular since October.  At least one male and female are at the feeders daily.

Other regulars have included Red-breasted Nuthatches, a species that was very spotty last winter.  They are one of my favorites and I've really enjoyed their presence.  The fruits of the neighbor's large apple tree, which the local Cedar Waxwings inexplicably ignored back in October, have attracted a handfull of Varied Thrushes and at least one Townsend's Warbler. These species both tend to stick around for the course of the winter to eat suet and other traditional bird food, but they're content to exploit natural food sources at this point.  Yellow-rumped Warblers (both subspecies, but primarily "Myrtles") are also here regularly, feeding on both suet and the berries of our wax-myrtle shrubs.  (Sadly for them, I plan to remove these overgrown wax-myrtles this spring.  Hopefully they don't hold it against me.)  Ruby-crowned Kinglets have been semi-regular over the past few weeks, and I've seen their Golden-crowned cousins more often than usual over the same time period.  Chestnut-backed Chickadees, always somewhat erratic, can be found at the feeders every now and again.

This male Spotted Towhee is one of at least two individuals who regularly feed on the cracked corn that I sprinkle on the ground.

A "Myrtle" subspecies Yellow-rumped Warbler stops in for some wax-myrtle berries.

Species that we've seen less of than usual include Downy Woodpecker, American Goldfinch, House Finch, and Bewick's Wren.  (Though I often hear Bewick's Wrens singing from the tops of trees in the neighborhood when we get a rare interval of sunshine.)  We have not been visited by an Evening Grosbeak since early November and no Purple Finches have visited since spring.

This hatch-year female Anna's Hummingbird appears to have a shorter-than-usual tail.  At first, I thought that it may have been a female Calliope.

Last week, we welcomed a new yard bird: a Pacific Wren.  It was traveling with a mixed flock with a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Chestnut-backed Chickadees.  I saw it briefly in the neighbor's ivy patch and it was gone by the time that I got my hands on a camera.

Well, that's it for now.  I hope to continue to enjoy what we're currently hosting, and I hope to also see a couple of new species.  Have a Merry Christmas (or Happy Hanukkah, or whatever you celebrate) and I'll see you next year.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Winter Birds in Full Force

We've just emerged from a four-day series of winter storms that dumped more than 4" of rain on us.  So much for that drier-than-usual fall.  Accompanying this typical winter weather has been our typical array of winter birds, some in higher-than-expected numbers.

Varied Thrushes, such as the female shown above, breed in higher-elevation coniferous forests and become opportunistic foragers in the fall and winter.  For numerous reasons (some of which are not well understood), they often invade the lowlands in October and usually make an appearance in urban areas at this time of the year.  It's not uncommon for them to not show up at feeders until December or January (or not at all).  The individual shown above was one of two that were feeding on the abundant apples still hanging from our neighbor's tree.  (Apples that the local Cedar Waxwings strangely left almost untouched last month.)  When the apples run out, I'm sure that these individuals will begin foraging underneath the feeders.

We've been very lucky with Evening Grosbeaks over the past copule of years.  Even more erratically opportunistic than Varied Thrushes, Evening Grosbeaks were (apparently) forced into the lowlands in late 2010 due to a poor conifer seed crop in the Cascades.  For whatever reason, they have been conspicuous in the area in the fall/winter and occasional feeder visitors.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a lone female (below) at the feeders a couple of weeks ago, and have heard small flocks flying overhead in the early mornings over the past week.  Hopefully we'll get another strong showing of them at the feeders this winter.

This female Evening Grosbeak was a pleasant early November surprise

One of four migrant Golden-crowned Sparrows that enjoyed a pre-storm feast last weekend

While Evening Grosbeaks are my favorite winter visitor, I also look forward to the influx of migrant winter sparrows in the fall.  With the exception of Song Sparrows and Spotted Towhees, most members of the sparrow family do not nest in the area and can only be reliably spotted in the urban lowlands between October and May.  One of the more prominent is the Golden-crowned Sparrow.  Golden-crowned Sparrows breed in Alaska and Western Canada, and then invade the Pacific Coast in the fall.  There are winters where I do not host them until March or later, but I've been lucky so far this winter season.  The first showed up in late September and I had an unusual four in the yard last weekend.  Interestingly, I'm also currently hosting a White-throated Sparrow.  White-throats are common winter residents in much of the Eastern portion of the country, but the wintering population out here is comparatively small.  Despite this, they've recently become one of my most common sparrows over the past couple of winters, surpassing the more regionally-numerous White-crowned Sparrow and even the very common Song Sparrow.  I have no idea why this is, but am not complaining.

Also in the "unusual" department, a Steller's Jay hung around the neighborhood for at least the first half of November.  Steller's Jays can be found in the coniferous hills on the outskirts of town year-round, but are relatively rare in urban areas in the summer and tend to be transient in these areas outside of the breeding season.  I typically see one or two go through the yard in September or October, and that's it.  So seeing two in September and hosting one for two weeks in November was definitely out of the ordinary.

This Steller's Jay hung around the neighborhood for the first half of November

The presence of Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the yard typically means that winter is upon us

When you see the "usual" flock of chickadees and bushtits at the time of the year, it's a good idea to grab the binoculars and look for accompanying warblers and kinglets.  Late November is when I typically see a flock of Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets forage through the yard.  They came a week early this year.  GC Kinglets are notoriously difficult to photograph, as they are tiny, constantly moving, and tend to forage relatively high up in trees.  I typically have better luck with RC Kinglets (above), though they're not easy subjects either. With this mixed flock, a Townsend's Warbler was also observed foraging high up in one of the neighbor's Douglas Firs.  At least one Yellow-rumped Warbler (a migrant Myrtle subspecies individual) has been hanging around the yard for the past month or so - mostly hawking insects, eating berries from my wax-myrtle shrubs, and occasionally picking at suet.

As far as "regular" yard visitors go, Pine Siskins have been out in full force.  Between 60 and 80 have been at the feeders over the past two weekends.  These numbers are about twice what I typically experience during the winter season.  However, other finches have been either absent or in very low numbers.  Over the past few weeks, I've been able to count the number of House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches at the feeders on one hand.  And I'm not sure if I've seen an American Goldfinch since October.

Thankfully, other species are representing in usual or higher-than-usual numbers.  I'm seeing more Dark-eyed Juncos (12-18) than usual.  Red-breasted Nuthatches are frequent, with the more elusive Chestnut-back Chickadees being erratic, but still around.  Woodpeckers (both Downy and Flicker) are also regular weekend visitors.  And after taking a seeming leave of absence last month, Anna's Hummingbirds are very frequent once again.

This immature male Anna's Hummingbird is one of at least three that frequents the nectar feeder

One of just a few House Finches that have been frequenting the feeders this fall

Given what I've heard regionally, this winter appears to be our best shot of seeing a Red Crossbill or Mountain Chickadee at the feeders.  The latter has been popping up at numerous feeders in Western Oregon recently.  I'll keep my fingers crossed!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rainy Days are Here Again

It's been said that October starts out as one season and ends up as another.  That is true here, as it is everywhere, though the transition is typically a more subtle change from sunny and dry to occasionally overcast and drizzly.  What we've experienced over the past couple of weeks is much closer to full-force winter: nearly-omnipresent overcast skies and ample rain. By the end of the month we'll have amassed close to 5", almost twice what we typically experience in October.  Not surprisingly, the local avifauna is also in full winter mode.

Many of our typical winter customers, such as the Golden-crowned Sparrow shown above, have already come through the yard.  A wave of Townsend's Warblers came through earlier in the month.  There is a population that moves through the area in October, followed by another population in November that overwinters in the area.  The former population is not always visible, so I was lucky this year.  On the same day (10/6), a late Western Tanager was observed making its way through the neighbor's silver maple.  Interestingly, a White-throated Sparrow (white-striped morph) took up residence in the area last weekend.  White-throated Sparrows are very typical winter visitors out East, but not so much out here.  There is a population that winters on the coast, but they're hit-and-miss here in the Willamette Valley.  Over the past week, Varied Thrushes have also been occasionally heard calling near sunrise.

A White-throated Sparrow makes a somewhat unexpected October visit

We've had several recent hawk visits as well.  Earlier in the week, a Red-tailed Hawk was mobbed by several local crows (and a gull) while soaring high over our yard.  Red-tailed Hawks are very common in the Valley farmlands but much less common in the city.  I imagine that the large flocks of starlings and robins have drawn them into the city limits.  A large female Cooper's Hawk has also been visiting the feeders this weekend.  This very well may be the same individual observed earlier in the year.

This "Myrtle" Yellow-rumped Warbler stops in for some suet

One of many Cedar Waxwings that have flocked around the neighborhood over the past month

Our October "regulars" have been out in full force as well.  Many of the "Myrtle" subspecies Yellow-rumped Warblers that breed in the interior West make their way to the Pacific Coast in October.  This month was typical in that regard.  At least two individuals have been visiting my wax-myrtle shrubs and suet feeders.  Our neighborhood also hosted the typical early/mid-October Cedar Waxwing flocks.  These typically included 20-40 waxwings, which were often associated with a few starlings and/or robins.  Spotted Towhees are also back.  There is at least one male and one female in the area now.

A male Spotted Towhee feeds on cracked corn

This "Slate-colored" Juco was a bit of a surprise.  I typically host one per winter, but it usually doesn't show up this early.

American Goldfinch numbers have fallen back to what is expected in winter.  However, Pine Siskins have been especially abundant this month.  There was a very large fallout a couple of weeks ago, with over 75 counted at the feeders in the middle of the month.  This fallout appeared to include most of the western portion of the state.  Numbers have dwindled since then, but I'll typically still see 10-15 at the feeders at a time.  House Finch numbers have been on the low side, and I have yet to see a Purple Finch.

American Goldfinches (top) and Pine Siskins

Siskins have been the dominant finch this month

Well, that's about it for now.  Hopefully November will bring us more Townsend's Warblres, our first White-crowned Sparrows, and possibly something interesting like an Evening Grosbeak.  We'll see how it goes...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

"The Autumn Wind"

Alright, I'm back.  It's been almost a month and a half since my last bird-related post and, at this time of the year, that's a season's worth of change.  Since late August, the hot and dry dog days of summer have given way to occasional showers, breezy evenings, falling leaves, and lows near 40 degrees.  Most of the neotropical fall migrants, such as the Wilson's Warbler shown below, have already come and gone.  We're now beginning to see montane breeders move into the area.

Neotropical migrants moved through the yard in modest numbers this summer/fall.  The only warbler species that I observed were a couple of Wilson's (above) and an Orange-crowned.  No Yellows or Black-throated Grays this season.  A few Western Tanagers moved through the neighbor's large silver maples, though did not visit our suet feeder or bird bath.  Other neotropicals included a Pacific-slope Flycatcher and a Western Wood-pewee on the same day (8/31) and a Black-headed Grosbeak that tied last year's late record (9/9).  I have not seen a Rufous Hummingbird since mid-September.

This Black-headed Grosbeak was observed on the late-ish date of September 9th

A Western Tanager prepares to move south.

This female Rufous Hummingbird was photographed in mid-August.  Adult females and juveniles frequented the nectar feeder throughout August.

Two additional types of movement are commonly observed at this time of the year.  The first is the dispersal of local (and semi-local) breeders.  One example of this (which I interpret as the "official" end of summer) is the first transient Steller's Jay visit, which typically occurs between early September and mid-October.  (It was September 30th this year.)  Steller's Jays breed in coniferous areas (especially higher-elevation areas) on the outskirts of town, but can be surprisingly difficult to find around down, even in the winter.  Cedar Waxwings also tend to be out-of-town breeders, but return in large flocks in the early fall.  They've been roaming the neighborhood in increasing flocks over the past couple of weeks, and I observed at least 40 this morning.  Northern Flickers returned from their breeding grounds in early September, as usual, and have since been visiting the suet feeder daily.  Pine Siskins have returned a little earlier than I expected.  Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Bewick's Wren, and Song Sparrow numbers have also increased significantly as of late.  One particularly interesting find a couple of weeks ago was a Brown Creeper, a new yard bird!

This raucous Steller's Jay stopped by the yard to sample numerous goodies last Sunday.

A Red- x Yellow-shafted "intergrade" Northern Flicker (note the red mark on the nape and the salmon coloring under the wings) eyes the caged suet feeder.

This very alert Cedar Waxwing is one of many that is currently flocking in the neighborhood

One of four Pine Siskins that is currently flocking with the local American Goldfinches

We've been hosting larger-than-usual numbers of Chestnut-backed Chickadees lately

Movement by montane (Cascades) and northern (Canada) breeders is also underway.  Most of these species (Townsend's and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, etc.) are not observed in the yard until late October or November.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to see the first-of-the-year Golden-crowned Sparrow foraging under the feeders this past Saturday.  Dark-eyed Juncos begin to move into the Willamette Valley in small numbers in mid-September, with increasing numbers the following month.  I typically do not host them until October, but there were a few under the feeders last week.

This male "Oregon" Dark-eyed Junco arrived a litter earlier than expected this fall

A truly wretched photo of a Golden-crowned Sparrow.  This photo was taken in poor lighting, shortly after sunrise.  This individual was also molting, and the gold coloring on the crown is just barely visible.

And, of course, there are the locals.  This fall has been a little abnormal in that some of the "regular" finches are in relatively low numbers.  I usually host flocks of 70+ American Goldfinches at this time of the year.  I didn't see flocks of over a dozen until last week and the low 50s was my highest count.  House Finches are also representing in very small numbers right now.  Lesser Goldfinch numbers are pretty typical this year.  Red-breasted Nuthatches have been regulars for the past month and a half now and I'm hoping to see them more regularly this winter.  Downy Woodpecker numbers have been very modest this fall, but I'm optimistic and they'll be more frequent in the upcoming weeks.

One of our regular Red-breasted Nuthatches stops in for sunflower seed

Sometimes feeders attract more than birds and squirrels.  This individual, named "Poo-poo Robert the Mouse" by my two-year-old (guess who's potty-training right now?), is an occasional visitor to our ground feeder.

So that's where we stand right now.  I hope to see our first Ruby-crowned Kinglet and possibly a Purple Finch later this month.  Until then...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fall Planting

While technically still on hiatus, I thought that I'd share some photos of our recent fall planting...


Deer Fern (Blechnum spicant)

"Longleaf" Oregon Grape (Mahonia nervosa)

Pacific Ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus)

Black Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata)

Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa)


More accurately, these are species that are not native to the Willamette Valley of Western Oregon...

Saskatoon Serviceberry (Amelanchier alinfolia).

Golden Currant (Ribes aureum gracillimum).  The gracillimum variant is native to California.

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia).  This the replacement plant for my Sitka mountain-ash, which succumbed to fire blight this summer.  As members of the rose family, Toyon are also susceptible to bacterial and fungal blight infections, but I will be treating it chemically during the dormant season.

As these get established over the winter, I hope to observe and photograph many interesting birds.  I'll be back with a bird-related post in a couple of weeks.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Going On Hiatus

After three unsuccessful attempts to get myself to finish a blog post over the past week, I've decided to take some time off.  My heart just isn't in it right now and I need some time to recharge my batteries.  (Plus, there isn't a heck of a lot going on in the yard.)

I'll leave you for now with this picture of one of two juvenile Robins that visited unexpectedly last weekend.  (Unlike out East, Robins are not common here in areas away from bodies of water in the summer.)  I hope to have pics for you soon.  See you in a month or so.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Familiar Faces Return

This summer may have been the most uneventful on record.  Regular summer feeder birds such as American Goldfinches, Lesser Goldfinches, and House Finches were only sporadically present.  Thankfully, birds that did not nest locally are beginning to make their way back, some en route to their warmer wintering grounds.

One of the more interesting recent observations is the return of the Black-headed Grosbeaks.  A movement of them came through yesterday, and I've hosted both sexes of adult, as well as a first-year male, over the past 24 hours.  Black-headed typically arrive here in early May, breed near rivers or streams, and disperse in July.  Males (above) are typically on their way south by now (the one that I photographed this morning may be the last I see until next year).  Females and fledglings hang around for most of August and are usually completely gone by late September.

This hatch-year male Black-headed Grosbeak was the first post-breeding yard visitor of the season.

This male Red-breasted Nuthatch is one of two that's been visiting the feeders frequently since late July.

I'm also very happy to report that at least two Red-breasted Nuthatches have been frequenting the yard for a good week and a half now.  RB Nuthatches are very tame, acrobatic little guys that don't breed in the area and are even very spotty visitors in the winter.  For some reason, the second half of summer is the only time that they're reliable feeder visitors.

Lesser Goldfinches, who have been rather spotty visitors this summer, have made a big comeback this week.  A local pair has recently been visiting the nyjer feeder, along with its fledglings.  I presume that this is this pair's second brood of the season.

A male Lesser Goldfinch extracts nyjer seed... feed its hungry offspring waiting above.

 A "horned" fledgling House Finch acquaints itself to sunflower seed.

Fledgling House Finches have been frequent visitors for the past month or so.  These young'uns are easily distinguished by their "horns," which are long downy feathers that they originally grew as nestlings.  After a little while, the "horns" fall out and they look like regular House Finches.

Juvenile Western Scrub-Jays have also been representing in large numbers.  I counted seven juveniles in the yard one day.  As much as I like them, it's nice that they've dispersed a little.  They're quite raucous, especially when a perceived threat (predator) is nearby.

This boisterous fledgling Western Scrub-Jay feeds on cracked corn.

Some other interesting sightings included an adult Northern Flicker foraging through our court with two juveniles.  Chestnut-backed Chickadees have been around semi-regularly for a good chunk of the summer.  I spotted my first post-breeding Rufous Hummingbird (a female) two weeks ago and have observed a juvenile male at the daylilies since then.  I've also been hearing Bewick's Wrens calling from the neighbor's yard recently.  Hopefully I'll be able to get photos of these latter two species sometime soon.

This adult male Northern Flicker was seen foraging terrestrially with two of its offspring.

Black-capped Chickadees have been one of the few regular visitors this summer.

This male American Goldfinch is likely in the early stages of nesting.  In a month and a half, we'll host up to 100 of them at the feeders.

Well, that's it for now.  In the next few weeks, I should be seeing migratory warblers and flycatchers moving through the area.  Wilson's Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Yellow Warbler, and Western Wood-pewee are the best bets for my neighborhood.  I hope to have photos to share.