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Saturday, November 30, 2013

This week in birds - #90

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

Photo by Luke Seitz, courtesy of American Bird Conservancy.

The common name for the American Bird Conservancy's Bird of the Week is "Fool Hen." It got the name because its first defense when threatened by a predator is to freeze in place until the threat is almost upon it. Then it bursts into flight, which may startle the predator enough to allow the bird to make its escape. Those who observed this action apparently saw it as a foolish strategy. But maybe the Fool Hen gets the last laugh, because it is thriving, its population stable.

The bird's proper name is Spruce Grouse and it lives in the cold, cold North, mostly in Canada but occasionally dipping into the northernmost United States. It is a bird of the coniferous forests, especially those that feature dense undergrowth of shrubs such as blueberries. True to its name, one of its favorite foods is spruce or other coniferous needles.

Spruce Grouse are at home in the trees and prefer to walk along tree limbs or on the ground rather than fly. An interesting feature of the bird is that each fall they grow "snowshoes"—short fleshy bristles called pectinations—on their toes, which help support the bird on snow and probably help to grip slippery branches as well. These bristles are shed each spring.


Those magical white owls made famous by Harry Potter, the Snowy Owls, are making their annual incursion into the northern United States. Snowy Owls are normally birds of the High Arctic and birders get very excited when they venture farther south.


Tomorrow is the first day of December, which means that Christmas Bird Count season is almost upon us. This will be the 114th CBC. If you are interested in participating this year - and why wouldn't you be? - the Audubon website will help you find a count that is taking place near you.  


Researchers have determined that Barn Owl nestlings are able to recognize their siblings' calls. Clever little owlets! 


The bonobo, formerly called the pygmy chimpanzee, is probably the least well-known of all the great apes. It is also one of the most severely endangered. It is rapidly losing space to encroaching human populations and activities in its home range of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


It seems hard to believe but apparently some Californians mistake Turkey Vultures for California Condors! Now, vultures are much smaller than condors, and, typically, they are found in groups, whereas condors are usually solitary. But they are both black and they both have naked heads, so, yeah, I guess there is a certain family resemblance


The UK had a particularly wet and cold spring in 2012 and it was especially hard on birds, but studies show that urban birds actually fared much better than their country cousins during that season.


The effects of climate change in the Galapagos Islands  threaten the continued existence of the flightless Galapagos Cormorant. The warming of the ocean's waters near the islands' coasts is adversely affecting the cormorant's food supply, which in turn affects the bird's ability to breed successfully.


An editorial in the Seattle Times makes an argument for keeping some totally natural wild spaces in urban parks. Actually, that seems like a no brainer to me.


Those who are only familiar with the domesticated varieties of turkey may be surprised to learn that Wild Turkeys can actually fly. True, they are not equipped for long distance flying, but they are perfectly able to execute explosive take-offs and fly for short distances, sufficient to escape predators. Not unlike their cousin, the Spruce Grouse, actually. 


The male Laysan Albatross is a philandering rascal that will mate with as many females as he can, but he only participates in raising one chick. So his other "wives" with their chicks will often pair up with another female albatross which will help to raise their chick.


The okapi, also known as the "forest giraffe," has joined the growing number of animals on the Red List of Threatened Species. This wonderful animal is the national symbol of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a close relative of the giraffe and is endemic in rain forests, but its numbers have declined drastically to the point that it is now considered endangered, just one step away from extinction. Poaching and habitat loss, as well as the presence of rebels, illegal miners, and elephant poachers are all threats to the okapi's survival.

For the compilation of this Red List, the status of 71,576 species was assessed. Of that number, 21, 286 were found to be in danger of extinction. 


Around the backyard:

I was unable to complete my regular observations for Project FeederWatch last weekend because of heavy rains and very cold weather. We had over three inches of rain during the period. This weekend's conditions look a lot more promising and I am eager to see what will turn up at my feeders.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Say goodbye

(Cross-posted from The Nature of Things.)

I've often written here and elsewhere about the plight of the Monarch butterflies and of the bees. They are iconic insects that can be recognized by most people, even those that are fairly ignorant about other insects, and they are hugely important cogs in the ecosystem.

The migration of the Monarch is a tale which borders on the magical. A fragile insect which makes the long trek all across the continent from Canada to Mexico is something which catches people's imagination as a thing that is really quite marvelous.

The Monarch's migration is particularly important and is cause for celebration in Mexico where the butterflies have traditionally wintered. A story in The New York Times this week ("The Year the Monarch Didn't Appear") emphasized that important cultural link.
On the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly to the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico on that day. They are believed to be souls of the dead, returned.
The story in the Times goes on to report how that return on November 1 did not happen this year. The Monarchs did not return then. It was only a week later that they began to straggle in in record-low numbers.

Last year saw the lowest ever recorded numbers of the butterflies to winter in the Mexican mountains at about 60 million. So far this year, only about three million have shown up. Some Monarch experts express fears that the spectacular migration of the colorful insects could be about to end. What a loss that would be!

Think of the Passenger Pigeons which in the early part of the 1900s blotted out the sun for days with their mass migrations. And yet, before the century was one quarter gone, humans had completely wiped out the species. Passenger Pigeons were extinct. Could the same thing happen to Monarch butterflies?

There are several factors that are related to the decline in Monarchs, as well as in bees and in insects in general, including the ones that birds depend on in their diets.

Perhaps the number one enemy of the butterflies, bees, and other insects is the profligate use by farmers and gardeners of nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids which kill indiscriminately. But even if those insecticides were no longer used, butterflies and bees would still be in trouble.

A huge problem for insects, as indeed for all animals, is the loss of native vegetation, i.e., the loss of appropriate habitat, across the United States. Typically, all the native plants in an area may be uprooted and destroyed for housing developments, roads, shopping centers, parking lots, etc. The landscaping that replaces them may consist of  imported, invasive species that the local wildlife cannot utilize. Thus it becomes a food desert for those critters.

Another problem is the prevalence of farming with Roundup. This is a herbicide that kills virtually all vegetation except for crops that are genetically modified to survive its application. As a result of its usage, millions of acres of native plants, including milkweed, the plant on which Monarchs are completely dependent for the nourishment and survival of their caterpillars, have been wiped out.

Of course, another big challenge which bees, in particular, face is disease. Viruses and parasites may weaken them to the point that they are not able to overcome the other stressors in their lives - for example, flying farther afield to find food when the supplies closer at hand have been wiped out.

The plight of the butterflies and bees is getting more press and more attention from the public and there are a number of organizations that continue to try to educate us about the need to preserve native vegetation and to plant native plants in our landscapes. Gardeners across the country, for example, are being encouraged to plant more milkweed in their gardens to try to compensate for all the native vegetation that has been lost to the bulldozer or to Roundup.

It is hard, if not impossible, to replace all those millions of acres that have been lost. One is chilled by the thought that in our lifetimes we might have to say goodbye to the Monarch butterfly, as our forbears did a century ago to the Passenger Pigeon.

But meantime, keep planting that butterfly weed. It is better to light one candle, however small, than to curse the darkness or to give in to despair for the fate of the beautiful Monarch. 

Female Monarch on milkweed.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

This week in birds - #89

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

Photo by Bill Hubick, courtesy of ABC.
It isn't often that American Bird Conservancy chooses a Bird of the Week that is a resident in my neighborhood, but this week they have. It is the cutest (in my opinion!) and perkiest of the nuthatch family, the little Brown-headed Nuthatch. The Brown-headed Nuthatch loves old pine trees in an open mature forest and it finds plenty of those in my neighborhood. My next door neighbors have about seven or eight pines of over 100 feet in height in their backyard and they are often visited by the nuthatches, as well as warblers. In the late afternoons, I love to sit in my backyard and monitor the activity there. There's always something going on.

The Brown-headed Nuthatch is one of the few birds that is known to use a tool. It will use a piece of bark to pry up tree bark to get at insects.

This bird is a resident of the Southeastern United States and its population is decreasing because of logging and the fragmentation of its habitat, as well as fire suppression. Fires actually help to create the optimal habitat for the little birds.

They may be decreasing in some areas, but they seem to be doing very well in my neighborhood.


It's the time of year when we usually see stories about Wild Turkeys in the news and this year is no exception. The turkeys are an avian success story as they have recolonized many of the areas that they have been pushed out of in the past by human developments. One of those places that they have recolonized is New York City!


And still more about turkeys. It is well known that Benjamin Franklin wanted the Wild Turkey to be the symbol of our country. He thought it was a much nobler and more courageous bird than the eagle and he made an impassioned defense of his choice, but, in the end, his argument did not carry the day, and so we have the Bald Eagle as our symbol.


The Justice Department has brought its first case against a wind power company because of its causing the deaths of protected birds. It won the case against Duke Energy which has agreed to pay one million dollars to a group of conservation groups and to make changes in the way it operates to try to minimize such deaths in the future.


There has long been a suspected link between the practice of fracking to extract oil and gas and the increase in the number of earthquakes in the areas where fracking occurs. Now a seismologist in Oklahoma is proposing a study to prove the truth (or not) of that suspected link.


Did you ever wonder about the success of the invasive House Sparrow? I mean, it isn't just in North America. The European bird is now resident in practically every country of the world. Scientists have learned that one of the reasons for their success is that they are able to alter their immune systems to attack the pathogens that are endemic in the area that they are invading.


David Sibley creates wonderful field guides and he has a new one that is coming out in March. The current issue of BirdWatching has an interview with him in which he discusses the changes he has made to the guide in the new edition.


Grist has a list of the top ten politicians that get money from fracking interests. Unsurprisingly, three of the top ten are from Texas and at the very top, by a considerable amount, is Rep. Joe Barton, R-TX.


A study involving White-throated Sparrows shows that these birds are able to predict weather changes and will adjust their behavior according to the barometric pressure.


The Northern Spotted Owl continues to be a bird of great concern to conservationists. Several conservation groups have called on the forest service to protect the bird's habitat from post-fire logging.


Invasive plants may become  less robust and their detrimental effects lessened over time, but they are also most likely to be displaced by other invasive plants.


Birds seem to be wandering farther and farther afield, perhaps in an attempt to expand their range or maybe they are just lost. Lately, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher has been found in Philadelphia, of all places, and a Lark Sparrow has turned up in a Delaware state park.


Around the backyard:

Woodpeckers have been hitting the suet hard this week.

 Here, a female Red-bellied flashes just a bit of that red belly that gives her her name.

A little male Downy climbs the post to get to his favorite suet bar.

There are now at least two Rufous Hummingbirds in my yard - the one I showed you yesterday on the feeder outside my office window and this one.

This also is a female and she typically sits in the same perches as one of the females who spent the winter with me last year. I tend to think it is probably the same bird, although, of course, I can't prove it.

Bird activity in the yard is still rather subdued and things do not look promising for my third session of FeederWatching this weekend. The cold and wet weather will not be an ally.

Friday, November 22, 2013


It's a chilly and drizzly day here. The temperature was 50 degrees F when I got up this morning and it has been falling since. It's presently in the 40s and seems even colder.

I've spent most of the morning in my office/library working at my computer. At one point, I looked out my window to see a female Rufous Hummingbird feeding at the nectar feeder I had hung there. Then she perched on top of the feeder post and I was able to snap a couple of pictures.

 As she ruffled her feathers against the chill, "Brrr!" she seemed to be saying. "Where did yesterday's 75 degrees go?"

Rufous Hummingbirds are well equipped to handle cold weather, even colder than the 40s, so I'm sure she'll be just fine. But I know just how she feels. If I had feathers, I'd be ruffling them, too!

Monday, November 18, 2013

FeederWatching - Week 2

My second session of observations for Project FeederWatch was still pretty quiet but marginally better than last week. I increased my species count by two, to 16, and added some new species that I had not seen last week. Here is this week's list:

Northern Mockingbird
Blue Jay
Tufted Titmouse
House Sparrow
Carolina Chickadee
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Pine Warbler
Chipping Sparrow (!)
American Crow
Downy Woodpecker
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Bluebird
Carolina Wren
Northern Cardinal 
Rufous Hummingbird
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  

The biggest surprise to me was that Chipping Sparrow. It seemed awfully early to be seeing this wonderful little bird, so I checked my records, and, indeed, the earliest date I had seen one in my yard previously was December 17. So this little guy was at least a month early.

No doves of any type showed up this week. A flock of about a dozen White-winged Doves flew over the yard, but didn't drop in so I couldn't count them.

My most exciting discovery of the day, rivaling the Sparrow, was another bird that I wasn't able to include in my count. It was a single American Goldfinch which flew over the yard, but didn't stop. He was also almost a month earlier than my previous earliest sighting of this species in the yard. Time to stock up on nyger seed and get those feeders filled and ready.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

This week in birds - #88

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

(I've missed several weeks of this regular post because of my recent illness. I'm glad to be able to do it once again.)

Photo by Jack Jeffrey, courtesy of ABC.

The diminutive Elepaio is one of many native Hawaiian birds that are seriously endangered. Many of them, including the Elepaio, have been decimated by invasive species like the black rat. This little insectivorous bird has only 1261 individuals remaining and the population is decreasing. It is endemic to the island of Oahu and its preferred habitat includes a variety of forests with tall canopies and well-developed understories.The Elepaio is the American Bird Conservancy's Bird of the Week.


The results of a 14-year study of shorebird migration prove that, indeed, the early birds do get more worms and their chicks are more likely to survive. The study indicates that many birds of the northern hemisphere are shifting their migration patterns and arriving on their nesting grounds earlier in reaction to climate change. 


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has weighed in on the proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating System, and the foremost federal wildlife agency says it's concerned about the impacts the project would have on wildlife ranging from eagles to lizards to monarch butterflies. Their caution is spurred by the discovery of a mysterious "funnel effect" that is causing numerous deaths of birds at another similar solar facility.


The Scientific American's "Extinction Countdown" blog explores the reasons that the western black rhino is now extinct.


A study of deforested areas of the Amazon rainforest has proved that birds that are locally extinct in the areas will actually return there as the forest regrows. But it can take a decade or two for this to happen.


There is an avian radar tracking device that is used in other countries to help planes avoid mid-air collisions with birds. Why has it not been adopted in this country? Instead, we continue killing birds or hazing them to drive them from areas around airports. Radar would certainly be a much more humane way of handling the problem.


We know about Red-winged Blackbirds, but did you know that there is also a redwinged grasshopper? Apparently there is and it is a very interesting critter.


What is more important - residents' views of the landscape or the safety of endangered California Condors? At least five of the endangered birds have died as a result of being electrocuted after landing on electrical power lines. Now, California's Pacific Gas and Electric Company, in response to conservationists' requests, are considering replacing the lines with insulated wires that would protect the birds, but some residents are objecting that the wires are ugly and would obstruct their views. Maybe those residents need to reexamine their priorities.


A study indicates that at least 600,000 bats were killed in wind turbines in the continental United States last year. Conservationists and industry specialists are considering several alternatives which it is hoped will alleviate the problem.


Ancient climate change some 11 to 16 million years ago featured a prolonged cooling period in the Antarctic which scientists believe may have helped to speed up penguin evolution to create the 18 different species which survive today.


An interactive map from the University of Maryland illustrates the change in global forests during the period 2000 to 2012.


The U.S. government crushed six tons of elephant ivory this week as a symbol of it commitment to stopping the trade in ivory and the slaughter of elephants that is necessary to obtain that ivory.


One of the unexpected consequences of returning gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park is that there are now more berries for the grizzly bears to eat. The wolves prey on the elk which compete for the berries. Fewer elk mean more berries left for the threatened bears.


Around the backyard:

The winter visitors continue to straggle in. This week I saw my first Pine Warbler of the season. Other birders in the area have reported the presence of our other two "winter warblers," the Yellow-rumped and the Orange-crowned, but I haven't seen either in my yard yet.

The beautiful Pine Warbler.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Crossley ID Guide, Britain & Ireland by Richard Crossley and Dominic Couzens: A review

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The unique Crossley ID guide series continues with this volume covering the birds of Britain and Ireland. This beautiful book covers all the regularly occurring birds in Britain and Ireland. Several of them will be familiar to American birders, even those who have never traveled to either location. This is especially true of the shorebirds and raptors, many of whom are international fliers.

These guides are geared toward beginner and intermediate birders, but even advanced birders will find their approach to identifying birds an innovative one that will not bore them.

Richard Crossley's method is to use actual photographs of each species of bird in many different poses and place them against a background which shows appropriate habitat for that species. In many ways, it combines the best of the traditional field guides which use paintings of the birds to emphasize their most noticeable field marks and the newer guides that use photographs of birds. His method allows one to see the bird in naturalistic poses within the type of habitat where it would be expected to be found. It really leaves very little excuse for not being able to identify that bird.

The images and settings of the birds are accompanied by a concise text provided by Dominic Couzens, one of Britain's leading nature writers.

This user-friendly guide features over 300 species. I have not birded Britain and Ireland and so I was somewhat surprised by that low number. There are more species of birds than that to be found in my corner of Texas in a year's time, but one has to remember that these are relatively small islands. The species that are represented here are those that one could likely see within the right habitats on those islands. 

The guide emphasizes size and shape of birds, as well as having images that demonstrate flight patterns, plumages, and unique behavior. It really is a very usable reference work and one that should find a home with anyone planning to do some birding in Ireland or Britain. For birders (twitchers?) living in that area, here is a new book for your bookshelves, one that will help you be a better birder. Highly recommended.

(Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher for the purposes of this review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.) 

Cross-posted from The Nature of Things

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Project FeederWatch begins...slowly

So, my first days of doing observations for Project FeederWatch 2013-14 were very, very slow. For a long time, I thought the only birds I was going to have to report were House Sparrows. But persistence paid off and eventually more birds did show up.

My total for the two days of observations was fourteen species. Only one of them was a bit unexpected.

Cooper's Hawk
American Crow
Blue Jay
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Rufous Hummingbird
Inca Dove
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Northern Mockingbird
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
Northern Cardinal
House Sparrow

My unexpected visitor was the Inca Dove. I don't actually see them very often in my yard any more, but there it was, the lovely little dove feeding under my feeders. It was the only species of dove that showed up in the yard on these days.

The most exciting moment of my observations was a dive bomb attack by the Cooper's Hawk which chased a flock of House Sparrows. I have to admit I cheered him on, but I'm not sure if he was successful in his hunt.

Only one Rufous Hummingbird showed itself while I was watching. It may be that all the others have moved on.

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet was the only strictly winter bird that I saw. I'm sure there must be others in the area, but they didn't reveal themselves to me.

I've been doing this citizen science project since the 2004-05 season and this was one of the slowest starts I've ever had. It will be interesting to see how the species total grows - or not - in coming weeks.

Are you doing Project FeederWatch this year? If so, how is your watching going?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day 2013

Thank you to all those who serve and who have served in the armed forces. We honor your service and your sacrifice.

Thank you also to their families and loved ones who support them and who make their own sacrifices.

This is your day. Enjoy!

Friday, November 8, 2013

From the archives: A murder of crows

There's not much happening in my yard to write about at the moment, and so, instead, here is a blast from the past - a post from the blog archives dated November 29, 2012. Enjoy!


Crows are present in my neighborhood throughout the year, but they tend to be mostly invisible for much of that time. In fall and winter, though, they become very much a part of the backyard bird scene. They show up in noisy, boisterous groups, called "murders" and often make themselves obnoxious to the other backyard birds.

I often see them patrolling the ground under my feeders, looking for fallen seeds. They even visit the birdbaths for a drink and an occasional splash.

They are large birds, with a wingspan that reaches almost 40 inches. That, along with their loud voices and their mischief-making personalities, makes them a dramatic presence in the yard

The American Crow is the much bigger cousin to our Blue Jay. Their personalities do have much in common. They both tend to be neighborhood sentinels, always on the alert for predators and quick to cry the alarm. Both birds are implacable foes to owls and hawks and will "mob" - i.e., gang up on them and harass them - whenever they find them.

I've seen a couple of examples of mobbing by the crows just this week. I've already written here about their harassment of a Red-tailed Hawk on Sunday and of how they chased a tiny American Kestrel that they dislodged from its perch. Yesterday, I saw three of them tackle that same Red-tailed Hawk again.

The hawk was lazily circling over my yard, probably looking for his lunch. The bird seems to have taken up winter residence here, probably attracted by the large number of very well-fed squirrels in my neighborhood. The crows had gathered in the neighbor's big pecan tree and were socializing and perhaps eating the pecans when they noticed the hawk. They immediately rose into the air and gave chase. I suppose I should say they tried to give chase. The hawk was singularly unimpressed with their efforts and continued his circling until he finally moved a couple of yards over and the crows lost interest and returned to the pecan tree.

Crows really are fascinating birds. As a family, they are considered to be among the most intelligent of all birds. The New Caledonian Crow, for example, has been documented to use tools in order to obtain its food. The intelligence of the American Crow may be proven simply by its survival and abundance. Many times throughout our nation's history men have tried to extirpate it, even going to the extreme of dynamiting its roosts, but the versatile crow continues to outsmart its enemies and to adapt to whatever living conditions it finds. Its natural habitat has long been woodlands, farms, and fields, but it has learned to thrive in towns and even cities.

And I am here to testify that it is doing very well indeed in the suburbs. I'm quite happy with that. It would be a duller backyard without them. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Winter finches

(Re-posted from The Nature of Things.)

We call them winter finches. They are little songbirds that spend their summers in the boreal forests of Canada and north woods of the United States and then move southward to spend winters. Some of them make it all the way to the Gulf Coast.

The movements of winter finches, like the movements of most birds, are related to finding food. In years when there is a heavy crop of seeds, nuts, and berries in the north, relatively few of the little birds travel very far to the south. It is not the cold of winter that they flee. It is lack of food. As long as they have a sufficient supply of food they can survive the cold.

When the food crops fail or are less than normal, the lower 48 states can expect to see irruptions of birds such as Common and Hoary Redpolls, Evening Grosbeaks, Purple Finches, and Pine Siskins, as well as some of their fellow travelers like Red-breasted Nuthatches and Bohemian Waxwings. Those are very good years for birders throughout the country.

Now, of all these winter finches and irruptive passerines, the only ones that occasionally make it as far south as my backyard in winter are Purple Finches, Pine Siskins and Red-breasted Nuthatches. The last couple of winters in particular have been good ones for these visitors.

 A Pine Siskin that lingered into spring in my yard this year.

I look forward to those Pine Siskin winters. They are fun birds to have in the yard. But the forecast indicates that I probably won't be seeing them this winter. It seems that there has been a bumper crop of food sources in the north and that will probably keep the birds up there.

Oh, well, thank goodness for American Goldfinches. That's one "winter finch" that we can depend on to visit and how they do brighten our dullest season.

An American Goldfinch in April of this year is beginning to change into its breeding colors.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Where are my birds?

I've refilled my bird feeders and I spent some time outside this weekend in the glorious fall weather watching for visitors to those feeders. Mostly, I watched in vain. The yard continues to be depressingly quiet except for the occasional outbreak of chatter from the mob of House Sparrows. It seems that my ten-day absence from observing has brought major, if perhaps temporary, changes. The birds have fled.

This is not good timing, because I just got my reminder from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that Project FeederWatch begins next weekend. Time to once again count the birds that come to eat at our feeders or the plants in our yards.  Unless traffic picks up over the next few days, I won't have much to report.

Of course, birds at the feeders are always cyclical. They come and they go as wild food is or isn't available, but some of the backyard birds visit the feeders throughout the year and it is a bit disconcerting to see them with virtually no activity, no Northern Cardinals or Carolina Chickadees swooping in for black oil sunflower seeds or suet.

The thing about birds is they have wings and they fly. They fly to sources of food. No doubt "my" birds are still around close by and will put in an appearance again when they need a predictable source of food. At least that's what I tell myself. Being a birder is always an exercise in patience.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Up and about...sort of

Still on the mend from the nasty little bugs I've been fighting, I was able to go outside for a few minutes this morning for the first time in a week. (By the way, thanks to those of you who have expressed concern and good wishes. I am slowly improving.)

The first thing I noticed was how eerily quiet it was. I looked toward the bird feeder system in the back corner of the yard and I could see one reason for the quiet. Most of the feeders were empty. I wasn't up to refilling them today but maybe I will be by tomorrow. Or maybe I can inveigle my non-birding husband to do it for me.

From my seat on the patio, I did see my first Northern Cardinal in a week. She was a beautiful sight. I also saw several House Sparrows, a somewhat less welcome sight. There were a few Blue Jays flying around making a ruckus as Blue Jays do. And their bigger cousins, the American Crows were very active today. As were the squirrels.

I sat there for several minutes without seeing a hummingbird and had just about decided they had all moved on when I caught sight of some movement in the shrubbery along the back fence and looked to see a Rufous there. From my distance, I couldn't be entirely sure if it was a male or female, but it was pretty brightly colored and "rufousy," so I think it was a male.

I sat for a while longer, enjoying the feel of the sun and breeze on my face, and then, not wanting to overdo it, I got up to go back inside and stopped instantly when I heard a new voice coming from the back fence shrubbery. I listened for a minute and a smile spread across my face. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet! It's the first one I've heard this fall and it made my day.

I wonder how many other winter visitors have arrived while I've been lazing about on the sheets all week.