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...