Evening Grosbeaks (above) may just be my favorite bird. Growing up in the Midwest, I would hope and hope that a flock would show up to my sunflower feeder on a winter day. Alas, it never materialized. I didn't have a chance to see one until moving to the Pacific Northwest... and getting one to visit the backyard is an even greater challenge (especially if you live in an urban area). Fortunately, the conifer seed crop in the Central Cascades was bad last fall, and this forced many seed-eating finches into the Valley. This irruptive movement allowed us to enjoy semi-regular Evening Grosbeaks from October into January of last year. Without the benefit of a massive seed crop failure, I figured that my chances of seeing one any time soon were very low. So imagine how surprised I was to find FOUR males perched in my neighbor's tree this past Saturday morning. They visited the feeders throughout the day but, in true unpredictable Evening Grosbeak fashion, I have not seen them since.
This past Sunday, I was pleasantly surprised to see a female/immature male Purple Finch foraging on spilled sunflower chips. Purple Finches are unusual but regular winter season visitors. However, they tend to appear in backyards mostly when moving out of their local wintering habitats in March or April (or, less commonly, when moving out of their breeding habitats in October.) That said, I have hosted January Purple Finches over the past two years, so I'm not shocked. In other finch news, flocks of 50+ Pine Siskins have been dominating the yard for the past two weekends. If I didn't know any better, I'd think that this was a second consecutive irruptive finch year.
A Purple Finch feeds on spilled sunflower chips
Flocks of 50+ Pine Siskins forage under the sunflower feeder
Varied Thrushes winter West of the Cascades in numbers that vary yearly. These numbers can range from a bona-fide irruption (last winter) to few or none (2009-2010). Local snowfall can trigger movement out of the Cascade foothills, and this appears to be what happened a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully, the "snow refugees" have decided to stick around for a while. At least four have been regularly visiting the yard since mid-January, and I'm very thankful for them.
A male Varied Thrush forages through the backyard on a January afternoon
Although I have not seen many of the "normal" wintering sparrows (Golden-crowned and White-crowned), I have been very fortunate to host two White-throated Sparrows over the past month or so. And both continue to visit the millet/cracked corn ground feeder. We continue to host at least two Spotted Towhees as well.
This tan-striped morph White-throated Sparrow has become a regular
Dark-eyed "Oregon" Juncos continue to represent in appreciable numbers, though more modest since November
Other species of note include a recent uptick in Downy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker numbers. At least one Chestnut-backed Chickadee continues to visit regularly, and I was also pleased to host two Red-breasted Nuthatches this past weekend. They had been scarce for some time. Yellow-rumped and Townsend's Warbler numbers have fallen off slightly, though both species continue to visit the suet feeders multiple times per day. Our local Bewick's Wren (who refuses to pose for a photo!) has also been visiting the feeders very frequently.
Interestingly, American Goldfinch and House Finch numbers have been ridiculously low this winter. I'm not complaining - just a little confused.
One of two Red-breasted Nuthatches that returned to the feeders after a long absence
A Varied Thrush forages in the back corner of our yard. Note how well he blends into the dark blue and orange of the decomposing leaves.
A temporarily-uncommon American Goldfinch stops in for some sunflower seed. Note the molt to black feathers on the cap - spring isn't far away!
I'll leave you with a summary of my FeederWatch counts for the first half of the winter season. Not bad...