Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Spring Air Brings First Warblers!

Yesterday, amidst the 6" of freshly fallen spring snow, a dozen or so Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers flitted around our yard from suet feeder to suet feeder. The males are in their gorgeous breeding plumage: Deep blues and greys with bright yellow splashes on their heads, chest and on their butts (hence the casual term "butterbutt").

The females (below) are more drab, but still a beautifully-marked bird. And, perhaps more importantly: A very welcome reminder that warbler migration is actually underway and we'll be seeing more species over the next few weeks. It's been a long, long winter!

At first glance, the females might appear brown or grey, but they have bluish streaks throughout the feathers (visible in the above photo). They're really a beautiful mix of colors.

In addition to our suet feeders, they're feasting on peanuts. Both Yellow-rumped Warblers and Pine Warblers have a wider diet than many other warblers, allowing them to be some of the earliest returning migrants.

And, for my international viewers joining in on Wild Bird Wednesday, the Amer. Ornithologists' Union (AOU) has not followed the IOC (International Ornithological Congress) in re-splitting the four "yellow-rumped" warblers into individual species. Here in The States, we still have the "Myrtle" in the eastern half and the "Audubon" west of the Rockies.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Snowy Fox Sparrows

Yes, I said "snowy." For most of the Midwest it's been a really LONG winter. I've been watching fellow bloggers post images of butterflies and moths, blooming flowers and migrating warblers. Keep it up, please - you're helping me keep the winter blues away!

Another thing that helps with long winters like this, is the opportunity to observe migratory birds a bit longer as they hunker down to wait out the weather.

In addition to the hordes of juncos currently mobbing our feeders, we've had a large flock (20+ birds) of Fox Sparrows hanging around.

Fox Sparrows are "scratchers." They scratch back on the ground, giving a short hop as they do it, to uncover and loosen seeds. It's been really fun to watch them do this in 4-5" of snow. They scratch. Look down at the snow. Scratch again. Nope, still snow. Keep scratching!

We've been distributing bird seed all around the yard under our spruces and pines, giving the birds some cover while they forage. Two days ago there were hundreds of robins hanging out under the trees, escaping the icy rain.

But getting back to the beautifully-marked Fox Sparrow... I think they look like a cross between a thrush and a sparrow. The russet tail and the large splotchy neck and chest remind me of a Hermit Thrush. And the way the splotchy pattern runs down their sides reminds me of Ovenbirds. Size-wise, they're one of the largest sparrows, half again as big as a House Sparrow but not quite as large as the Harris's Sparrow.

And, while this isn't a very good photo, I'm going to include it simply because it's an opportunity to see its crest. Most people don't realize that Fox Sparrows have a small crest similar to Tree Sparrows:

It's also a chance to see the slate gray coloration on the sparrow's nape and sides of its head. Western Fox Sparrows have more gray with very little russet color.

Most of these beautiful birds will be gone in the next week or so, continuing their migration from the southern U.S. to upper parts of Canada and Alaska. Flocks of the western Fox Sparrow breed throughout the Rocky Mountains as well.

One of the best parts of having these large sparrows around? They have a beautiful song! I've been cracking my kitchen window open just to enjoy their songs. Larkwire has a nice recording.

Well, I'm off to enjoy other more tropical bird posts, all part of Wild Bird Wednesday. Be sure to visit the other bloggers to see what they've been up to!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ruddy Turnstones on The Cape

Thought I'd share some more photos from our East Coast trip this past fall as part of Wild Bird Wednesday. One of the birds that we saw daily on the beach at our Cape Cod rental was the Ruddy Turnstone. There was a small flock of a dozen birds that combed the beach and the rocky breakwall throughout the day.

They were in their non-breeding plumage, which is a soft mottled brownish grey. I love how soft they look and the contrast with their bright orange legs.

The color patterns on their backs are beautiful and when in flock they make a stunning image. Well, they do if you can capture the image (goal for 2013: practice inflight photography!). There's a lovely photo on this blog, 6th image down.

As coastal birds, Ruddy Turnstones nest FAR into the Arctic Circle and migrate along the coasts down to their wintering grounds in California, Central America, the Caribbean and South America.

And, they live up to their name. Constantly flipping rocks, shells and seaweed clumps to find tasty morsels:

While this image isn't the best quality due to the light angle, it's one of my favorite images from the Cape Cod portion of our trip. I snapped it one evening while sitting on the breakwall. The turnstone was curious and stayed in that spot for quite awhile studying me. I love the sparkly quality of the photo and whenever I look at it I can smell the briny sea air...

(be sure to check out all the other great posts for WBW!)