Posts Tagged ‘birdwatching’

The imposed lock-down that kept most of us home over the summer proved to be a boon to the hobby of back-yard birding. There were reports that birds changed their songs in some cities, and other articles about how loud the birds seemed as traffic noises dwindled in some cities (not here!). We certainly heard and saw more birds as we had little else to occupy our lazy summer afternoons when it was too hot to work and too nice to be inside the house. We positioned patio chairs around the lawn to maximize both sunshine and shade, as well as the view about our yard and flower beds.     

                  This was another summer without a dog or cat: the pup we looked forward to in May was a miscarried pregnancy. Wild birds took this as a boon, as did the squirrels: Eastern Fox and Eastern Grey, both invasive to urban areas of the Western United States. We settled in after the morning chores were finished (weeding, planting, digging out new flower beds) and popped the top of a beer to watch the birds and the antics of our invasive clowns, grey and red. We were never disappointed.

                My husband and I hail from very different political backgrounds but what we have in common is out love for the outdoors, insects, arachnids, flora and fauna, and birds. He grows vegetables. I grow flowers and herbs. He fills the birdfeeders with black oil sunflower seeds. I render pure suet down to pour over mounds of dried mealworms and red pepper flakes, eschewing the commercial suet fillers which are filled with GMO corn chips and other things birds neither like nor eat (and which attract the damn squirrels). I boil the nectar and clean/refill the hummingbird feeders as quickly as the little buggers empty them. He studies and names the myriad of native bees and bumblebees my flowers attract. We both stalk the spiders hoping for a award-winning photo opportunity.

                Mid-summer found a pair of chestnut-backed chickadees checking in to the little ornamental bird house I have hanging from a Shepherd’s hook next to the Hawthorne. We weren’t certain when they actually moved in so it was hard to gauge how far along the eggs must be. Then I could hear the tinniest little dee-dee-dee from within the bird house next to my head. (Yes, I meant tinniest, but tiniest will also do.) We tried to calculate how far along the babies were. They fledged on an afternoon when my husband was out of town, but I was sitting next to the bird house playing on my cell phone.

                During the weeks that followed, the crazy little birds flew back and forth between us, often narrowly missing our heads on the wobbly little wings. They didn’t fear us: our voices were ever in their ears from before their hatching. Three tiny daredevils. Two proud chickadee parents.

Maiden flight

                The scrub jays brought their fledgling into our yard. We made a platform feeder for the crows (which, sad to say, mostly avoided our yard this summer as last years’ fledglings all died of Avian pox). This platform was a boon to the scrub jays with their loud squawking praises for the bounty of peanuts as they raced the squirrels for the prizes. One afternoon as we sat with our back to the Hawthorne, we were startled by an unearthly scream. We jumped up as the Hawthorne shuddered and an angry sharp-shinned hawk beat its wings in a backstroke to get out of the mess of inch long thorns. It flew up and out of our yard. Inside the heart of the Hawthorne, the scrub jay fledgling huddled having just escaped with its feathers intact.

                We saw fledges of nearly every backyard bird: golden-crowned sparrow, Downy woodpecker, Northern (red-shafted) flicker, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco, Lesser Goldfinch, Anna’s hummingbirds, bushtits, black-capped chickadees, and even this year’s crows. The Bewicks Wrens, which only last year raised their young inside our garage, eluded us (they were here but not as visible). So, too, the Spotted (rufous-sided) Towhee.

                Overhead, we watched bald eagles and turkey vultures each their young to catch thermals. The osprey young had a harder time with thermals and often dropped to just over our home on the bluff before they caught the rising air and could slowly circle up to dizzying heights, ever chirping. The eagles are by far the largest of the big birds. Red tailed hawk and owls sometimes migrated through the neighborhood, the hawks screaming their eerie call.

                A week ago, we saw the first of the turkey vulture migration south. Fifty plus birds caught thermals and soared, single file, overhead. Two days ago, during a break in the October rains, we watched in awe as three other kettles of turkey vultures (or buzzards) catching thermals and racing south for the winter. (Kettle=flock or group, but specific to vultures.) They will return in March.

                We are preparing the feeders for the winter. Many of our small birds over winter: song sparrow, junco, bushtit, both chickadees, Townsend’s warbler, white-breasted nuthatch, red-breasted nuthatch, Downy woodpecker, scrub jay, and Anna’s hummingbirds. We will have a dog next summer, and perhaps a cat. It will be a very different birding year.

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This is the time of year when I most love our backyard. Sixteen years of labor comes to fruition, and the flowers bloom, the beds are temporarily whipped into almost-weedless state, birds have their nests, and the bees are warming up to all the blossoms. This year, we have no dogs or cats, and while that is strange to contemplate it has been a boon for backyard bird watching.


Bewick’s wren decided to move into our shabby single car 1940’s garage. The fledglings left the nest about a week ago, as evidenced by the bird guano on the garage floor (and everything else). They abruptly left on Wednesday, when no one was watching. The nest remains tucked in behind the radio and some other dusty shelf ornaments, but the birds are gone.

Spotted towhee has at least one fledgling in the yard (I included that crazy captured from the newel post – Towhee is hard to photograph!). Towhee loves the multiple bird baths in the back yard.

Song sparrow loves the options, too, but has been highly elusive of late. One year, when Murphy was a pup, Song sparrow had a nest in the Camellia. Murphy killed the fledglings as soon as they hit the ground. I cried. My husband reminded me it is the circle of things, and I hated him. Murphy is gone now, but Song sparrow remembers and no longer nests in our yard.


The juncos have been silent. They’re all paired up right now, and tending to nests. We catch a glimpse here and there. I saw two bushtits today, but no more, which means they are also sitting on nests and waiting for the fledglings to be able to join together in their joyful little mobs.


Crow found the bird bath in the back yard. I washed a robin’s leg and claw out of it yesterday, and today I washed something murky brown out of it. I don’t hate crow, I just wish he knew he wasn’t a raccoon, and doesn’t have to wash his food… in the bird bath.


The band-tailed pigeons are flocking now. There’s always a sentinel in the now-dead lodge pole pine out front, keeping an eye out while the rest clamber over the bird feeder, jockeying for position. I love their colors in the Spring: the subtle changes of rosy breast feathers against the gray.


We had a shy black-headed grosbeak come by this week. They aren’t really bird feeder birds, but they will pause while they move north along their migration route, and before the elm trees go to seed.

IMG_4173The house finch is a permanent resident.


Anna’s hummingbird is also a permanent resident. She’s happy to have real flowers, but won’t hesitate to tell me what she thinks of slothfulness if the hummingbird feeder runs dry. We had two fledglings come through the backyard this weekend: skinny little birds still figuring out how to balance on the feeder, and completely unafraid of us.

I sat in the lawn chair this evening and looked out over my several flower beds and the vast expanse of ‘lawn’ that is really just mowed wild grass, wild geraniums, tiny yellow flowers, and clovers. Green played upon green, shadows danced. The birds came and went, intent on their business, but always with an eye cocked toward me. There are no dogs or cats here, now, and the birds seem to know this.

It’s the trade-off for not having a pet: my garden is full of avian life that is increasingly unafraid of me. My heart is at peace with the 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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There’s something about the first snowfall of the year (that sticks to the ground) that makes it magical, even when that first snowfall is in February when the rest of the Northern Hemisphere is sick and tired of snow. I recall how much I hated February snow and slush before I moved to the Willamette Valley. We get some of our best snowfall in February, here in the lower end of the valley, and I now look forward to February snow.

That is, as long as I am not at work, don’t have to drive on any of the Interstates, and it falls on a weekend.

They closed the office on Friday: instant three-day weekend. I didn’t have to worry about calling in and saying I wasn’t making the 23-mile drive after all. Score that for this snow: I didn’t get caught up in the normal gridlock for more than the normal amount of time, I didn’t have to call in, it came as close to a weekend as one could hope for, and I could just enjoy the snow.


Harvey, of course, was delighted, and declared so loudly.


I had to trim the hair between his toes and up the backs of his legs because of the ice balls, but otherwise he is a snow dog.


Any time it is below the freezing mark, we switch out the hummer feeders: two in the house to thaw and two outside for the birds.


This is well appreciated by our native Anna’s hummingbirds which overwinter in the valley.


It is also appreciated by a couple black-capped chickadees and this Townsends Warbler.


Where is that buzzy bird? This is *my* feeder and it better not try to move me!


This snow brought us a bird that I haven’t had in my feeders for a long time: Audubon’s Warbler (the western version of the Yellow-rumped Warbler). So pretty!


I had to keep brushing the snow away from this feeder, which is frequented by the ground birds: Spotted Towhee and the Dark-eyed Juncos, among others. The Towhee was out there, but refused to cooperate with a photo.


We had four Varied Thrush come in. I felt sad for them because they won’t go into the backyard where the other ground feeders were, but it hopped around on top of the snow out front, looking for spillage from the front yard feeders.


So when I put our peanuts for the jays, I tossed out mealworms, too. The thrush ate the peanuts first. Who knew?


“Baby! It’s c-c-cold out here!” Dark-eyed Junco takes five.


The Northern Flicker (formerly Red-shafted for the red feathers in it’s tail) paid a visit. This is a female (no red “moustache”).


There’s always the requisite “our house in the snow” photo that has to be taken. Snowfall like this is rare (last time was four years ago). A photo taken from the right angle gives the impression that we live out in the woods and the tall Douglas firs that stand in neighbor’s yard and line the busy side street give the appearance of forest.  We don’t: there was a lot of traffic on the side road: sledders, skiers, snow-boarders, and cars. And people walking dogs.

Harvey had to go for walks. We walked in the middle of the street on the side roads so he wouldn’t have to wade in the deeper snow.


The Retired Man crossing the street to take a photo with me.


8-9 inches of snow fell over two and a half days, which isn’t much – not even for here – but it is plenty.


Snow makes ordinary things interesting.


Lawn chair frames – used as plant supports in the summer – become works of art in snow.


Or frames for icicles to form on.


Speaking of icicles… This fallen one looks like a murder weapon!


The bird house on stilts becomes a cozy cabin.

The freezing rain began falling around 4 this afternoon. It will be interesting to see what tomorrow brings in terms of freeze or thaw.


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I would have bird-watched anyway. Having no Internet only impeded in the posting of photos, vignettes, and uploading my feeder counts for Project Feeder Watch.

I have four weekends of feeder counts to turn in, but it’s all right. I can do that in less than an hour’s time.

For fun, however, here’s a sample of my bird sightings for the past 4 weekends:

European Starlings. It hasn’t been cold enough to send the pests south. Ironically, what we consider a pestilence and a nuisance bird in the Americas is a bird in serious decline in its Native habitat.


There are two of them in the suet. They are striking birds in the winter, but I still dislike them. Not to worry: the size of the male Pileated Woodpecker on the other side of our little Lodgepole Pine Tree is enough to shoo the starlings off.


Pileated Woodpecker. We have at least three that come to the feeder on a regular basis: one female and two males. One male has more white on the “shoulders” of its wings and we think it is the offspring of the mated pair. It’s guess work.

Anna’s Hummingbird. I have succeeded in keeping a pair nearby this winter! It has been a mild winter so far, but Anna’s Hummingbirds overwinter in the Willamette Valley regardless. This is the first time I have had regular hummingbird visitors over the winter.


Black-capped and chestnut-backed chickadees.(That’s a territorial Pine Siskin in between the chickadees. The one on the left is a Black-capped and the tiny one on the right is a chestnut-backed)

Dark-eyed juncos.


Red-breasted nuthatch.

Steller’s Jay – the western version of the Eastern Blue Jay.

Western Scrub Jay – a striking bird that is not nearly as blue as the Steller’s or the Eastern, but is still very pretty. And very animated.

House finch.

Purple finch.

Northern Flicker (used to be known as the red-shafted Flicker in the west or the yellow-shafted in the east, but is now considered a single bird with color variations).

One female Ruby-crowned Kinglet. She over-wintered here last winter, too.

One Townsend’s Warbler, most likely the same one that has been here for two winters in a row.

A bazillion Bushtits.

013Band-tailed Pigeons, the only Native North American Pigeon and not to be confused with the common “Rock Dove” you see sitting on statues in parks. (They’re waiting for the Squirrel Family to get out of the feeder.)

003Rufous-sided Towhee.

American Crow.

A pair of Downy Woodpeckers, but never at the same time. One male and one female.

Fox Sparrow.

American Goldfinch.

001 (2)Varied Thrush which is a mountain bird but will show up in my yard when the snows come low.

The Squirrels. I think we have five or six regulars now. This year, we have a pregnant female coming to the feeder. I haven’t seen Captain Jack (the one-eyed squirrel) in a long time.

014 (2)

And we have a family unit: parent and two siblings. All are invasive Eastern Fox Squirrels although we used to have a Native Douglas Squirrel that came. I think the neighborhood cats got it. 😦


And the Pine Siskin, which is an irruptive bird. That means you never know when they will visit your feeders, stay for the winter, or disappear altogether from the area.

One morning, I noticed a Pine Siskin that would not budge from the feeder and did not attempt to chase any other birds. I finally took a step ladder out and climbed up to check on it. I wore gloves (my mother’s voice was booming in the back of my head: “Birds carry lice and disease! Do not pick up dead birds!” She usually said this when we had a funeral for a dead bird we picked up on the side of the road).


The Siskin didn’t even flutter against my hand, but it looked up at me with pain-filled eyes. I told it that it could not die in my feeder, but I had a nice dry spot on the porch, in a flower basket.


It huddled there and died there.


They are such tiny birds. My heart broke. I cry when anything dies and this was no exception. Experience told me that I could not save it and experience told me that it would prefer to die in the wild.

A couple days later, on Christmas, I noticed a second failing bird in the feeder. This one fluttered half-heartedly against my glove. I put it in the same planter, but it fluttered to the base of the steps.

016 (2)

My Christmas guests did not notice it there, gasping for air. But I kept an eye on it and I knew when it passed from this life to the next.

017 (2)

Tomorrow I am taking down the feeder and cleaning out the area around the feeder. I stumbled onto an article about Salmonella and Pine Siskin deaths.

The article is from a 2008-09 irruption of the active little birds, but I recognized that I have a problem. For starters, we have an irruption of the fickle little birds and then I have two die in a week. I am concerned about the other bird species that come to my feeder, especially the Band-tailed Pigeon.

I foresee a lot of bleach and cleaning over the weekend so we can start 2013 free of bird disease. I hope.

Meanwhile, I buried both bird under a fern. They died free, not inside a cardboard box. And that is how it should be.

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I am an amateur bird watcher. For the past few years, I participated in Cornell University’s “Project Feeder Watch”. I would love to expand my bird feeders around the yard but I currently keep them relegated to the dying Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta subsp. latifolia) that graces our front yard.

We have a large picture window that looks out on that pine tree and the feeders. Sometimes I slip a camera lens between the slats on the wooden blinds and I attempt to take photos of the birds with my 18-55mm lens. And sometimes I get some nice photos that I can crop and enlarge.

Most of the time, however, I capture window reflection or the camera doesn’t zoom in close enough and the birds in my lens come out blurry. My dream is to have a camera with a better lens and maybe even to have a bird cam mounted on the tree to capture images of the birds are they come and go.

The big birds are the easiest ones to photograph. the digital SLR can locate them and focus. It’s the little birds I have the most problems with. They flit. They aren’t large enough to trigger the DSLR autofocus. The window reflection blurs the image.

The rhododendron leaves in front come into focus leaving the bird slightly out of focus. I would have liked this shot, too: Townsend’s Warbler is a bright little yellow-and-black bird.

Today, I lucked out on photos. I was in and out the front door at the same time that several very small and very hungry little birds were congregating on the suet. The little birds were less worried about me. At one point, the Red-Breasted Nuthatch I was sneaking up on not only flew off, but it flew at me and came so close to my head that I heard its wings flutter and felt the air move!

As a result, I got some of the better photographs of small birds that I have ever managed to take with the 18-55mm lens.

The Nuthatch gives me a “Who Me?” look as I slowly approach the tree, camera on.

A moment of hesitation as it decided whether to take flight from me. It was the next moment when it buzzed my ear, going toward the rhododendron for cover.

Three birds at once: two Chestnut-backed Chickadees and the Nuthatch.

Three Chestnut-backed Chickadees at once. They are so much smaller than the Black-capped Chickadee and so much more agile. The Black-capped rarely (if ever) bothers with suet while the Chestnut-backed is a huge fan of suet).

“Hold ON!!”

Who is staring at whom? If the bird had a camera whose photo would be on a blog?

Face it, the bird has more “poster” appeal than I will ever have.

It was a great day to photograph wild birds. I only wish I had a better lens set-up. I want to get so close you can see the mites on the feathers…




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