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.


birdles said...

Thanks for your blog. I just happened across it . I live in Eugene as well and have been seeing a number of birds this week. We live near the base of Hendrick's park. Today I'm certain I saw a Townsend's Warbler. It was hanging out by my window feeder so I got a good look at it. Have you seen these in our area this time of year?

BJG said...

Thanks for reading my blog. Townsend's Warblers are regulars in Eugene in the winter and tend to frequent urban areas. They typically arrive in October/November and hang around until mid-April or so. I typically host one or two in my backyard each winter. They love suet.