Posts Tagged ‘juncos’

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

dark-eyed junco

dark-eyed junco

Steller's jay

Steller’s jay

varied thrush

varied thrush

It’s that time of year again: the Great Backyard Bird Count! I’ve been putting out extra goodies for the birds and faithfully counting–or trying to count–each feathered friend that drops by. It’s as much a challenge as ever to get an exact count of juncos that blend into the winter ground and chickadees that flit in and out, so that I can’t tell if the one at the feeder now is a new bird or the one I just counted. The big birds are easy–the jays, flickers, varied thrushes. But those little gray and brown guys–whew! And then there are the “missing in action”–the birds I know are around somewhere, but that won’t come by to be counted. The cute little bushtits haven’t dropped in yet. One downy woodpecker visited the suet feeder today, but the hairy woodpecker hasn’t been by. I only have robins because I took a walk and saw them down the street.

There’s still one more day left, so if you want to take part, throw out some birdseed and see who shows up. It really is great fun watching the birds interact as they gobble down the food–some of them are real characters. Give it a try! And here are some of the ones I saw today, filmed through the window, so please excuse the blurriness.

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snowy woodsThe first tiny flakes danced and twirled across the sky like dust blown by the East Wind. After awhile they began to settle into little drifts in sheltered areas where the wind couldn’t blow them about. By evening the wind died down, but the snow kept coming, covering the brown winter earth with a cool blanket.

snow on cedar













Morning light reflected off the whiteness, all fresh and new. I ventured out before work–glad that I work at home–to take pictures and enjoy the magic. It rarely lasts long around here. We threw out extra sunflower seeds for the birds (and nuts for the jays and squirrels), trying to find places where the seeds wouldn’t just sink into the soft snow. The flower boxes on our porch worked pretty well, once the little sparrow types noticed.junco in the flower box








ice-covered twigs

Then came the ice. Sleet, then freezing rain, coating everything within its reach. The fluffy snow gained a crunchy coating. Every twig and bud became encased in crystal. And again the birds gathered–the shrieking Steller’s jays, varied thrushes, flocks of juncos and sparrows of various types, energetic chickadees, and, of course, the squabbling starlings. Two Anna’s hummingbirds chased each other in and out of the porch area, battling for control of the hummingbird feeder. It was quite a show!ice-covered azalea buds


Life goes on in the snow and the ice. And I watch as the fire in the woodstove merrily crackles and pops, and water for tea heats up in the kitchen.  Beauty comes with the cold, but I’m still glad that I’m not a bird.

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Naches Peak Trail, Mt. Rainier, anemone seed heads   “On a clear summer or crisp fall day, this might be the finest day hike in Washington,” the trail guide said. (Day Hike! Mount Rainier by Ron C Judd with Seabury Blair, Jr.) I would have to agree.Mt. Rainier, Mountain Ash, Naches Peak Trail

My husband and I set off on September 4, as the morning sunshine lit up the white fuzzy heads of Western anemones. Meadows all along the route held the remnants of what must have been a riot of color just two or three weeks before. Now a few asters, some lupine, and an occasional monkey flower by a stream remained to hint at summer’s beauty. Dwarf mountain ash held bright orange fruits, and huckleberry plants hid sweet, blue treasures under their leaves. We munched as we walked.

Tarn on Mt. Rainier, Naches Peak TrailOn a larger scale, the views were magnificent. Jagged rocky peaks surrounded us, a few with patches of snow still accenting their slopes. Blue mountain tarns reflected stately fir trees and white clouds. Peace descended upon us in the silence, broken only by the caws of a crow, the chipping of juncos in the trees, and the hushed murmur of a cool breeze.Mt. Rainier, 2013, Naches Peak Trail

An uphill climb brought us face to face with Mt. Rainier itself. Sadly, clouds veiled its peak, and we could only glimpse the white skirts of snow on the lower section. We stopped to rest on a rocky area, where a friendly chipmunk—or perhaps a ground squirrel—agreed to pose for me.

Chipmunk, Mt. Rainier, 2013 Then on back down, past Tipsoo Lake, an opal set in an emerald field. Over one more ridge, then down to the truck, with enough huckleberries in my pack for a lovely pancake breakfast.Tipsoo Lake, Mt. Rainier, 2013

“How can people see this beauty and say there is no God?” my husband wondered. I couldn’t answer.

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Steller's jay  This past weekend was the annual Great Backyard Bird Count. Whenever I could find the time, I stood by the window, looking out at the dogwood tree that holds a seed feeder, suet feeder, and bird bath. The GBBC asks participants to count the birds at their feeders–or in their backyards. Then you enter your count at their site, and it can be compared with thousands of others from around the world. The number to enter for each species is the greatest number you can see at one time. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is when it comes to the big birds–the jays, crows, woodpeckers, and those nasty starlings. The little birds are another story completely.Bushtit flock

First there are the chickadees. First, because they show up at the feeder before I can even get it hung up in the morning. However, chickadees are perpetual motion machines, never staying in one place for more than a few seconds. And we have two species of chickadees. Try to get an accurate count of those little guys as they whip in and out of the trees and feeders! The bushtits aren’t much easier, although they are awfully cute for plain, little gray birds.

BushtitThen there are the sparrows and related little birds. Juncos, finches, etc. All kind of brown, perhaps with some stripes. House sparrows, house finches, golden-crowned sparrows, white-crowned sparrows… A person could get dizzy trying to keep up. At least the towhees are easy to tell apart from the others. And the lone varied thrush that pecks quietly at the seeds on the ground.downy woodpecker and starling

And how about those birds that show up the day before the GBBC and then disappear, only to reappear the day after. The stinkers! And that single Eurasian collared dove that dropped in for the first time the day after. Why couldn’t it have come a day early? Is it really cheating if I add a couple of birds from the next day?? Then there’s that leucistic sparrow-type bird. If anyone can tell me what it is, please do. I am not quite certain.

leucistic sparrow-type birdTime to turn in my lists and add my tiny bit of data to the Great Backyard Bird Count. It is nice to be a part of such a great program–even if the birds don’t always cooperate.

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A Few More Birds

Even though the Great Backyard Bird Count is over, I have a few interesting birds I have not yet posted.  Like those Eurasian collared doves, a new species for my life list. They showed up for the first time during the count, but it sounds like they are sticking around. Every day since then I have heard their mournful “Hooo…hooo…” echoing from nearby trees. Such a ghostly sound–appropriate for these pale birds, I suppose. They finally settled in under the feeder long enough for me to take their pictures.

And then there was another odd junco. Thanks to Birding Bunch, I now know that this junco is leucistic. That means it has feathers that should have pigment, but don’t. In this case, tail feathers. Only the very outer ones should be white, but this little guy’s tail is mostly white. I got this neat picture by accident. 🙂

And today’s last visitor to the feeder is quite an odd duck… one with soft fur and a fluffy white tail, in fact. This was the first time I ever saw it grazing under the feeder.

Isn’t nature fun? Always something new and exciting!

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Action at the feeder

What an exciting day at the feeder! I didn’t have to work this morning, so I devoted extra time to the Great Backyard Bird Count—and it was definitely worth it. I saw 23 different species, including some I don’t see every day, such as the red-breasted sapsucker, white-crowned sparrow, and pine siskin. Most of the regulars showed up. No bushtits today, unfortunately—I was hoping to get a picture of them swarming the feeder. But lots of others, including a new bird for my life list: the Eurasian collared dove. A flock of about ten landed in a nearby tree and then began dropping, one by one, down to the ground under the feeder. I had to look them up in my bird book, but once I did, the identification was simple. I just wish I had my camera out then!

The birds seemed especially feisty today. (Was it something they ate??) Little birds flitted in and out of the feeders, regular as widgets on an assembly line: juncos, sparrows, finches, nuthatches, chickadees. As I tried to get an accurate count, they played musical chairs, and I could never be certain if the new individual I saw was really the same one I had just counted on the other side of the bush.

Starlings tried to dominate the suet feeder, but the flicker shouldered them out of the way. Two starlings got into a squabble, rolling around on the ground together, pecking at each other, until both took off to other places.

Scrub jay gathering nuts

Then came the jay wars. The jays had been getting along, but then I tossed a bunch of birdseed on the ground. The nuts in it seemed especially attractive to the jays. The scrub jay came in and jammed 2-3 nuts in its mouth, then flew off to eat them. It came back to find a Steller’s jay moving in on its lunch. The scrub jay chased the Steller’s jay, which tried to elude the attacker by flying into the middle of the dogwood tree. Every time it landed, the scrub jay went after it again. The two did loop-the-loops through the tree, until the Steller’s jay gave up and flew off. For a bit. As soon as the scrub jay crammed its mouth and took off to eat, the Steller’s jay returned, this time with reinforcements. The two Steller’s jays gobbled up nuts as fast as they could. No flying off to eat for them; much too inefficient. When the scrub jay returned for seconds, it was not pleased. It chased one Steller’s jay and then the other. The smart Steller’s just waited for the scrub jay to take off with its mouth full and returned yet again. Finally an uneasy peace settled in—perhaps the nuts were gone by then and there was nothing to fight over.

Fun times at the bird feeders! I can hardly wait for tomorrow.

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or If at First You Don’t Succeed

The squirrel came bounding across the yard and hopped up into the dogwood tree. There two choices awaited it. Should it go for the suet feeder, close to the trunk and easy to hold onto? Or would it be sunflower seeds today? That would involve a little more work, some gymnastics, and perhaps, a bit of luck.

The squirrel sat there on the branch, seemingly deep in thought. Then it pattered out on the branch holding the seed feeder. Another stop to think. A junco watched as the squirrel started down the wire to the feeder, then pulled back up. Was it worth it? For a moment, it pondered strategy. Then it tried again, slipping down the wire, back feet tightly grasping the branch above, hanging upside down next to the feeder. It carefully slid down the wire until the back feet held onto the top of the feeder.

Finally it could reach the seeds. Front paws grabbed the feeder, picking out little black nuggets. It ate a couple, reached back for more. Oops! Back feet slipped, and down went the squirrel. It plopped to the ground, dignity injured, but otherwise apparently unhurt. Okay, maybe it would just eat seeds off the ground for a bit, take the safe route.

But keeping a squirrel out of a tree is like keeping politicians off the stage. Not going to happen. Soon, confidence recovered, the furry guy was up there again, plotting its way to dinner.

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I love to watch the birds at the feeders outside my window. Each species has its own personality. The Steller’s jays sweep grandly in and dominate—until a flicker shows up and chases the jays from the feeder. The starlings come in noisy hordes, the bushtits in friendly little flocks.

The chickadees are especially friendly and easy-going. The chestnut-backed seem a bit friendlier than the black-capped, but neither is particularly shy. They can get a bit demanding when I don’t keep up with my feeding chores. But when the feeder is filled with good, black oil sunflowers, the chickadees flit about in the dogwood tree where the feeder hangs. One will zip in, grab a seed, and fly to a perch nearby to eat it. Then another swoops in. They patiently take turns, each picking up a single seed and eating it before coming back for more. Occasionally two or three will land on the feeder at the same time, but no one gets pushy.

The juncos aren’t quite so obliging. They don’t like to share the feeder, particularly with other species. They flap their wings at interlopers and seemed annoyed that others would want to move in while they are eating. Still they are models of courtesy compared to starlings. Starlings will share if they have to, but you can’t make them like it. They squawk and flap about on the suet feeder, greedily grabbing big mouthfuls of food.

However, for a true show of dominance, the squirrel is definitely tops. He’ll hang by his tail over the seed feeder, gobbling down as much as he can before he loses his grip on the branch above and has to drop off. Or curl his well-fed body around the suet feeder so no bird has a chance of sneaking in.

And meanwhile the polite little chickadees eat their seeds one at a time, cheerfully sharing and enjoying life, one moment at a time.

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Hungry Birds

Chestnut-backed chickadee and underside of red-breasted nuthatch

The birds are hungry today. I barely got the suet feeder hung back up before they came swarming in, filling the dogwood tree with their chirps and twitters. First three or four chickadees–chestnut-backed and black-capped. Then a red-breasted nuthatch, floowed by a pair of kinglets.

Red-breasted nuthatch

I rushed inside to get my camera. The kinglets had left, but new birds kept arriving–a song sparrow, a couple house finches, a flicker, a scrub jay, juncos. They swept in and out of the tree and the feeders faster than my camera could catch them.

Black-capped chickadee

Grab a sunflower seed and fly off to eat it; peck a bit of suet, then zip away. In and out of the autumn-colored dogwood they went, as my frantic camera clicked. Hungry birds getting ready for the winter.

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I first noticed the little bird hopping about in the dogwood tree near the suet feeder. One of my usual visitors, a chestnut-backed chickadee flew past it to grab some suet. And then the fun began. The new little bird began chasing the chickadee. From one side of the tree to the other. Then to a nearby bush. And finally the poor chickadee escaped to the brush across the yard.

Apparently satisfied, the new bird settled in to peck at the suet, then look for insects in the tree. What was it? Not the usual junco or house sparrow. Small, in winter colors, hard to identify from quick flashes through the branches. I watched more closely until I saw a flash of yellow. Ah. The yellow at the base of the tail was a dead giveaway: the yellow-rumped warbler. Formerly known as Audubon’s warbler, but merged with the myrtle warbler into one species. (I hate it when they do that, and I have to learn new names.)

The chickadee returned. The warbler chased it again. Up, down, around, until the chickadee again retreated. Each time that little chickadee tried to return, the warbler went crazy. And yet juncos and house sparrows munched on sunflower seeds nearby, totally ignored by that warbler. What did it have against chickadees? Was there prejudice among birds? I never did figure it out. Eventually I crept out to try to get a photo of the warbler with the yellow backside, but it would not cooperate. Warbler and chickadee both disappeared into the gathering dusk. Another one of nature’s little mysteries.

(not my photos)

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