Saturday, May 18, 2013

Restrained Migration

Despite our unusually sunny, warm, and dry weather from late March through the first week of May, spring migration seems to have gone in slow motion this year.  Or at least that's what my yard has experienced.  My first-of-the-season Orange-crowned Warbler didn't appear until mid-April (late March is more typical).  My first Rufous Hummingbird didn't show up until the third week of March - about a week later than usual - and I've seen very few hummingbirds since then.  Very strange.  However, things began to pick up in mid-April and I managed to get a few decent photos.

Mixed warbler flocks are a harbinger of spring.  And while it took a while, I was finally rewarded with a nice flock of Orange-crowned and Black-throated Gray Warblers (above) on a sunny afternoon in mid-April.  I was not only able to spend 20 minutes taking photos on my back deck, but also got some much-need Vitamin D!

If I'm lucky, I see something really cool and unexpected every spring.  Last year, it was a Swainson's Thrush that hung out for about a week, feeding on ivy berries in the neighbor's yard.  This year, it was a Townsend's Solitaire that hung out in my neighborhood for two days in late April.  Townsend's Solitaires breed in the Cascades and typically winter in Central Oregon.  However, smaller numbers winter annually in Western Oregon.  This was the first time that I've seen one in this part of the state.

This Townsend's Solitaire hung out in our walnut tree for a couple of days in late April.

An Orange-crowned Warbler forages through vegetation in the neighbor's yard.

In addition to the solitaire, other members of the thrush family have moved through the yard recently.  In the early morning of 4/21, a Hermit Thrush was observed in the magnolia tree in the backyard.  Earlier this morning, a Swainson's Thrush was seen foraging through the neighbor's mature maple trees.

Flycatchers and vireos are two other families of neotropical migrants that tend to be conspicuous during April and May.  While I was not as lucky with them as last spring, both did represent earlier this month.  My first Warbling Vireo sighting was on 5/4, a good week or so later than usual.  I never seem to get good photos of this species, as they tend to stay higher up in trees that have already leafed out.  The other migrant species of vireo that shows up during spring, Cassin's Vireo, rarely shows up to my yard.  Hammond's and Pacific-slope Flycatchers are the typical species that arrive in mid-April.  Unlike last spring, I did not spot either species in the yard.  However, early May rewarded us with a few Western Wood-pewees.  When moving through, pewees like to hawk insects from high up in the cluster of Douglas Firs and Silver Maples a couple of yards over.

A Western Wood-pewee searches for insects from high atop this maple branch

This Swainson's Thrush was foraging with a flock of 10+ Western Tanagers

Back in April, sparrow movement was very evident.  At this time of the year, White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows move out of the valley on their way to their breeding grounds.  Golden-crowned Sparrows are true migrants that breed in Western Canada and Alaska.  White-crowned Sparrow movement is a little more complex, as two different subspecies move through at this time of the year.  The local subspecies, pugetensis, is a year-round resident here.  Subspecies gambelli overwinters in the Southwest and breeds in Alaska and Western Canada.  I spotted a few gambelli White-crowned Sparrows last April, but this year was surprised to only see a single pugetensis.

A breeding plumage Golden-crowned Sparrow forages for spilled seed before moving northward.

This subspecies pugetensis White-crowned Sparrow hung around for a few days.

This White-throated Sparrow was is of two that overwintered in our neighborhood.  White-throated Sparrow numbers have increased dramatically in Western Oregon over the past decade or so.

Grosbeaks have been avoiding my feeders for some reason this year.  Black-headed Grosbeaks typically stop in for a bite when they arrive in early May.  While I've seen and head them singing in and around yard this month, they've stayed up in the trees.  Evening Grosbeaks are loud and gregarious at this time of the year.  They usually feed on the the seeds from my neighbor's maple trees.  While this year has been no different in that regard, I have not seen a single individual at my sunflower feeder.  No fun.  Hopefully that will change this fall.

A bad photo of a male Western Tanager

One of the last overwintering Varied Thrushes from mid-May.  I look forward to seeing them again in November.

Migration is just about over and the yard is becoming quiet again.  However, I will be making a few trips later this spring and will post the photos in future posts.