Home improvement projects are keeping me inside lately, so here are a few images from dog walks and the bird feeder.
Two species have brought fledglings around recently. Both were visiting bird feeders, but for different reasons.
A Cooper’s Hawk with two young visited my neighbor’s feeder the other evening. Low light conditions only allowed this photo of one of the babies. They were constantly screaming and crashing through the branches, so I don’t think their hunting trip was successful.
This is that long awkward time of year between winter and spring. The big winter flocks have broken up, but the spring migrants haven’t returned yet. As I have said before, there is always something to see, but we have to find simple pleasures until the full decadence of spring migration commences in a month or so.
On a recent sunny day, this Varied Thrush perched outside the living room window. I don’t often see this species in sunlight. They are usually muted by the gloom of a rainy day or the shadows of the forest.
Northwestern Garter Snake, Tualatin Hills Nature Park. I am making the identification based on the small head, although I am not completely comfortable differentiating Northwestern Garter from Common Garter.
We are in that late winter season when birding seems to slow. I don’t know whether there are actually fewer birds around this time of year or we have just already seen the local winter residents so they don’t hold our attention. In any case, the best birding is usually found in and around wetlands. Here are some recent shots from area wetlands from the past couple of weeks.
In honor of the winter solstice, in a month that brought Portland 7″ of rain, here are a few dark grainy images from recent weeks.
The universe has conspired to keep me out of the field for far too long. My one link to sanity, if you can actually call birding sanity, is the activity at the bird feeders.
The Portland area has seen a massive invasion of Pine Siskins in recent weeks. Numbers at my feeders have tapered off in the past week, but the nyjer feeder is still popular. This photo shows six Pine Siskins, a colorful male Lesser Goldfinch, and an American Goldfinch peeking around from the back.
This little guy has been the avian star of our property for the past month. There seems to be an irruption of Mountain Chickadees in western Oregon this year, with many reports from the Portland area, and some from as far as the coast. Even when he is turned away, he stands out from the common Black-capped Chickadees by his gray back and the narrower band of black on the nape.
The white stripe above the eye is the characteristic field mark for this species. Most reports of Mountain Chickadees in the area have been of birds with thick white eyebrows and white lores, which suggests birds from the eastern half of Oregon and into the Rockies. This bird has a narrow white brow and black lores, suggesting a bird from the nearby Cascades. While it is tempting to assign birds to subspecies (especially since Mountain Chickadee might be split into two species in the future), David Sibley warns against trying to make such distinctions, as there is a lot of overlap of characteristics between subspecies. His essay on this topic can be seen here.
Exciting changes continue at Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61). This photo is from the drying lake bed of Fernhill Lake. Low water levels this summer have created some great shorebird habitat. Notice the clump of cottonwood trees that have sprung up already. The construction (note the equipment in the background) will create rocky waterfalls that will cool and aerate the water that flows into the lake. I will be leading a free tour of the site on Saturday, October 6, at 10:00 AM as part of the Birds and Beer at Fernhill Wetlands event. Click on the Classes page for more details.
In addition to creating shorebird flats this summer, the low water levels are also helping to purge the lake of carp, which compete with birds for aquatic prey and muddy the waters with their feeding habits.
On this visit, a flock of Lesser Goldfinches was working the weedy patches. It is always a treat to get close looks at these birds.
The coming weeks should see increases in sparrows, shorebirds, waterfowl and raptors.
For the past few weeks I have been enjoying a large flock of Pine Siskins at my feeder. But as often occurs during years of high siskin numbers, I started noticing a few sick birds. So I stopped feeding for a few days. With the feeder empty, the large flocks of birds dispersed, reducing the risk of disease spreading from bird to bird.
Packing birds into unnaturally high densities at a bird feeder can create risks for the birds we are trying to help. While many of us enjoy feeding birds and other wildlife, it is important to do so mindfully. We have to be aware that feeding birds is something we do for our own entertainment, not something that the birds actually need. My feeder is outside my window for the sole purpose of drawing birds in close so that I can enjoy watching them from the comfort of my home. If the feeder wasn’t there, the birds would do just fine. It is my responsibility to be aware of how my bird feeding impacts the birds.
It was reported recently that Scotts Miracle-Gro was selling bird food treated with pesticides known to be harmful to birds (see story here). A few years ago, it was revealed that sunflower farmers in the Dakotas have taken such measures as destroying cattail marshes and poisoning and/or shooting birds to reduce the impact of blackbirds feeding in their fields. These stories illustrate how the seemingly innocuous hobby of feeding birds can have broader implications. We need to know where the food comes from and what is in it.
My feeder is filled again and, with the large flock of siskins gone, other species are becoming more visible.
A pair of Lesser Goldfinches (female above) has been visiting the garden lately to feed on rainbow chard. Goldfinches eat a lot of foliage, in addition to seeds and buds. This vegetarian diet makes goldfinches poor hosts to cowbirds, whose young require plenty of insect protein to grow and thrive.