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Posts Tagged ‘bird watching’

We have taken to building a fire in the portable fire pit (my husband’s “gift” for 25+ years of labor, upon his retirement). A glass of wine, the pop of sap igniting, the sun dipping below the tree line to the west: the garden birds make their last mad dash for the bird bath, freshly filled. We talk about abstract thing, our neighbors, the bees we encourage to live in our yard, the butterfly identification book I lost somewhere and recently replaced, and any news of grandchildren I learned through Facebook or Instagram.

My husband does not have a smart phone. He doesn’t trust Facebook. I am a recent convert to the world of smart phones, and Facebook is my little garden of friends (some real, some imaginary, some I’ve only met online). Grandchildren live too far away for us to see them on a daily basis, so when our children toss out tidbits of information (Korinne wants anything unicorn for her birthday; Eli came in 3rd for his weight division in wrestling), I relay the photos and stories to my husband.

The birds have taken over our lives now that we have no dags to patrol the yard and protect us from these tiny feathered creatures: I change the hummingbird feeders out once a week, usually to the scolding clucks of a female Anna’s: Hurry up, Human, I have babies to feed and bugs to catch! I don’t know where the hummingbirds nest.

One evening, three pairs of spotted towhees entertained us as they made their way back and forth across the yard, chasing each other. Things have settled down now, and our resident nesting pair seem to have chased off the interlopers. Their nest is under the bramble pile where we were going to build a dog run, so very long ago. Dusk falls, and the male hops out from under one of the espaliers to the Spanish lavender, then onto the rim of the concrete bird bath. This is the favored bird bath, and he takes his time, dipping, splashing, shaking out his feathers. A robin scolds from somewhere, impatient for its turn.

One evening after work, I busied myself pulling weeds in the front yard. A white-crowned sparrow scratched the sidewalk under the bird feeder. That’s a new visitor: I usually see them in parking lots, along hedgerows, but not in our yard. But this year, our song sparrow is absent, and perhaps this opened the door for the white crowned? I caught him in the Hawthorne, fluffing out his feathers from a dip in one of the lesser-used bird baths. My camera, however, was not so quick, and I had to follow him to the espalier.

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He made his escape quick, a camera-shy resident.

The Bewick’s wrens surprised us this season by moving into the garage. They built their nest behind the radio, on one of the shelves just above the garden tools. It’s an old detached garage, more of a shed than a place to park a car, and there is a gap between the side door and walkway.

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The wrens come out, hop along behind the garbage and recycle bins, onto the fence behind us. They flit into the Hawthorne and catch bugs. Across the back stoop, down into the leafy forest of peonies, milkweed, asters, and Dragon flowers, and around to the garage door, again. They are easily as friendly as the scolding hummingbirds, but much quieter and stealthy in their coming and going.

Another evening, and it is one of the neighborhood robins in the bird bath, ducking and splashing, and rolling in the fresh water just as the sun sets.

We watch, safe by our fire. Soon, darkness will come, and birds will retire. The swallows make their last dips overhead before they are replaced with the bats. Mosquitoes have not yet hatched out, and so we sit, sipping our wine, watching our birds.

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A little bird came to visit.

My husband and I leaned back in the lawn chairs as the sun dipped below the trees and houses to the west of us and the shadows stretched across the yard. This is the time of evening when the backyard birds return to the fold. The song sparrow will fly from rhododendron to Hawthorne and over the the filbert. The robins will chirp noisily from the giant old tree in the neighbor’s yard, asking us to move so they can come down and take their evening baths.

Tonight, the spotted towhee hopped along under the espalier apple trees, then over to the Spanish lavender, hunting small insects. Some evenings, he will hop up onto the bird bath and take a dip, but perhaps we were too close this evening. He worked his way trough the day lilies and into the Hawthorne before flitting over to the rhododendron. He back-tracked the same way.

The Bewick’s wrens have set up housekeeping inside the garage, and must have little peepers hatched now. We are very quiet when we have to go into the garage to remove or replace garden tools, careful not to disturb the hidden nest on the shelves just above the tools. The wrens hop in and out through the gap in the side door of the garage, safe from marauding cats. They work their way along the ground around the garbage dumpster, then the yard debris bins and the recycle bin, coming out behind us (Oh! So clever! Humans didn’t see us!). They then flit to the top of the fence before dropping back to the ground or flitting over to the Hawthorne to hunt for insects. The Hawthorne is every bird’s favorite refuge.

A little brown bird flew into the yard and landed first on the glass patio table, then on the grass beneath it. Don said, “Hello, little pine siskin.”

It suddenly made a short flight to just under his chair, then up onto his feet and sandals. There, it looked surprised: we weren’t just another set of bushes, but we were flesh and blood, and human! Startled, it flew away to the Hawthorne: a little bird that came to visit.

 

 

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I have been meaning to do another bird post for some time now. This has been the Year of the Back Yard Bird for us and I find it a bit of a victory. When we purchased this house, the yard was devoid of animal and insect life. I remember sitting in a lawn chair and bemoaning the fact that there were no bees, butterflies, or even neighborhood birds in the yard.

We began planting bird- and insect- friendly flowers. We put out the bird feeders. We added bird feeders, bird baths, and hummingbird stations.

It worked!

Not all of the birds we see are visitors to our yard, however. Some of them are mere fly-bys, like the Osprey.

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He never came close enough for a good photo, but I could hear him calling as he circled in the up-drafts above the cliffs below us. A bigger zoom lens and I might have been able to capture him, but I will settle for this.

I have seen osprey much closer. I used to watch them fish the ponds below our rural home, before we moved into town. Once, I witnessed a young osprey catch a big Kamloops Rainbow Trout – the fish was nearly as big as the bird and the bird scarcely made it to the top of a fir tree to eat his prize.

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From March – October, the Turkey Vultures catch thermals above the cliffs. They migrate south in October and return in March.

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They came closer than the osprey did, but they were still pretty far away, circling over the edge of the cliffs.

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I think they are beautiful birds, even if they are quite ungainly on the ground. And they poop on my house.

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The hummingbirds have filled us with so much joy and laughter this summer. I need to refill all of the hummingbird feeders tomorrow because these little insectivores really suck up the energy drinks!

If you’re curious (and I know you are): boil 2 cups water for 2 minutes. Dissolve 1/2 cup sugar into the water. Cool and pour into a feeder. I actually boil 8 cups of water – that’s how many hummingbird feeders I have added to my yard.

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We have had a trio of Scrub Jays and a single Stellar’s Jay hanging out in the yard. The Stellar’s spends most of its time in the hazelnut with the neighboring Eastern Fox Squirrel, trying to open unripened filberts. I caught this Scrub Jay enjoying the evening’s last rays.

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This girl flew through our backyard, just feet from where I was sitting on the lawn chair, taking a breather from yard work. She kept peeking around the tree to see if I was going to come any closer.

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Convinced I was harmless, she came out into the open and feasted. She’s a she: no red moustache.

The real reason I wanted to do a bird post was this guy.

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He was hanging out with his two siblings, trying to rob the suet feeder and eating seeds knocked out of the feeder. There’s something terribly odd about him and I grabbed my camera to capture some images.

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This is one of the siblings, a normal looking Western Scrub Jay.

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And my bird. The lower part of his beak is twice as long as the upper half!

I did some research on deformed bird beaks and came up with some studies in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska – and in the United Kingdom – of a sudden rise in birds with deformed beaks. There’s no explanation for the sudden increase: they’ve studied environmental causes and come up dry. I couldn’t find a lot of information after 2010 and most of it was tied to studies by the USGS in Alaska. (that’s my link, not an advertisement)

I researched avian keratin disorder and came up with the same links and some research papers, but it’s pretty boring reading. Something is causing birds to grow abnormally long, twisted, or curled beaks. The studies seem to concentrate on chickadees, but jays are certainly among the birds affected. They don’t live long, lacking the ability to properly preen and care for their feathers.

British Trust for Ornithology

Wired Science

You can do your own search if you are interested. I am keeping an eye on my Scrub Jay friend. So far, he is still around.

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