Sunday, February 28, 2021

Purple Finch

A Purple finch appeared at our feeder on 23 February 2021. A bird in this plumage may either sex, since males take two years to molt into their burgundy plumage. Somewhat oddly, this bird was eating suet—Purple finches usually eat seeds. This individual appeared to be sick, showing signs of mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, a bacterial eye infection found in House Finches and other birds. The disease is not invariably fatal and affects other species to varying degrees. If you look closely, you can see this bird’s head and rump feathers are stained yellowish, typical of the western race that occurs from British Columbia to Baja California. (The eastern race breeds across Canada and into the northern and northeastern United States.)

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglets are common residents in Washington. Mountain populations disperse to lower elevations during the winter, when they are probably joined by migrants from the Canadian interior. These kinglets are found across much of North America and winter across almost all of the United States. I banded this individual on 26 February 2021. At first glance, this bird’s yellow crown seemed to indicate this bird to be a female. Actually the bird is a male, with its scarlet crown feathers almost completely hidden by the yellow ones. Determining kinglet gender should be done with care.

Friday, February 26, 2021

American Robin

Being such a common bird, robins’ beauty tend to be overlooked by many birders. I photographed this bird on 23 February 2021 in Olympia’s West Bay Park. The grass was spangled by rain droplets from a recent storm and robins were prowling for worms. Robins are here all winter, but they have become more noticeable the the last couple of weeks. Note the lack of obvious white spots on this bird’s outer tail feathers, making it one of the western races of robins—which I guess is no great surprise, considering how far west we are.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Red-breasted Merganser

I was delighted to photograph this Red-breasted Merganser on 23 February 2021 in Budd Bay off Olympia. This encounter was my first for the year, which is odd, since I’ve been on the lookout for one and saw dozens in January and February last year. Drake Red-breasted Mergansers have such flamboyant head feathers. Craik et al. (2020) wrote, “Its spectacular asymmetrical nuchal crest appears incongruous with symmetry elsewhere in nature.” Well, I’m not sure about that, but his merganser was definitely having a proverbial bad hair day when it turned to have its back to the wind.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Canada Jay

These photos, taken on 20 February 2021, are not the most wonderful images. I share them because this record is only our second for this jay since our moving to Olympia. Erika and I found two or three birds near Kennedy Creek in nearby Mason County. The second photo shows a jay throwing itself off its perch, later opening its wings to land on a nearby branch. 

Canada Jays are birds of northern North America and the Rocky Mountains. They survive by caching reserve food supplies under tree bark and, using their sticky saliva, beneath lichens. Stranger yet, Canada Jays breed in the late winter, even by early February. They are known to incubate eggs when outdoor temperatures are as low as -30˚ C. They do not attempt second broods when the weather is warmer. Strickland and Ouellet (2020) suggest that Canada Jay populations are declining in the southern edge of their range due to global warming causing the jays’ food storage to spoil.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Varied Thrush

Another Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)—one of our favorite birds—this one from our backyard on 19 February 2021. I assumed that they are closely related to American Robins, but most ornithologists place Varied Thrushes in a genus of their own, Ixoreus. Other researchers merge Ixoreus with Ridgwayia, the Aztec Thrush of Mexico, into the genus Zoothera, which mostly occurs in Asia (George 2020).

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Canvasback

On 19 February 2021, Erika and I finally got back outside—no snow, only a threat of rain—and walked along the western shore of Capitol Lake in Olympia. We were surprised by the paucity of ducks, but we did see one interesting one. Even in poor light, this duck is obviously a female Canvasback—note the long, sloping, “ski-jump” shaped forehead and bill. Canvasback numbers fluctuate with weather (lower numbers in dry years) and hunting pressure. In 2001, numbers were 18% below those of 2000, but 3% above their 1955-2001 average. Canvasback numbers have recovered since very low numbers in the 1970s and 1980s (Mowbray 2020).

Friday, February 19, 2021

Oregon Junco

Before the snow storm, I planned to post this image of an Oregon Junco and to discuss the “nightmarish,” “turbulent” history of the species (Nolan et al. 2020), Oregon Juncos are one of 15 races, of what were recently considered to be five species. Now all are named Dark-eyed Juncos. Eight of the western races were referred to as Oregon Juncos. Eastern birds were named Slate-colored Juncos. The bird in the photo, banded on 3 February 2021 in Olympia, probably, is either J. h. oreganus, J. h. shufeldti. or J. h. montanus. The snow storm, on 12 February 2021, brought plenty of juncos to our feeders. Several were unexpected visitors at the suet, an odd food sources for these seed-loving birds.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Fox Sparrow


Erika and I spied a Fox Sparrow under the feeders during our 13 February 2021 snow storm. Note how dark this individual is, typical of the Pacific Northwest races of this species. You can’t see it from this image, but this Fox Sparrow carried a band on its left leg, presumably a bird I ringed last fall.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Anna’s Hummingbird

On the morning of 14 February 2021, I trudged out to the hummingbird feeder in our backyard. I brushed off the snow off the holes on the feeder top and brought the feeder indoors to rise the ice out the the feeding holes. As I carried the feeder back to the pole from which it hangs, an Anna’s Hummingbird flew up, perched on the feeder, and took a long sip of the sugar-water inside the feeder. I stood still, wishing I had my camera and a third hand to take a photo. This male visited later in the morning.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Varied Thrush

The “best” birds at our feeds during our 13 February 2021 snow storm were a half-dozen Varied Thrushes. These robin-sized birds fed at and below the seed feeders. We were surprised to see a few give the suet a try.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Bewick’s Wren and Townsend’s Warbler

Also at the suet feeder during our 13 February 2021 snow storm were a Bewick’s Wren and a female Townsend’s Warbler. Both species divided their time between the seed and the suet feeders. Note that both birds are banded.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Townsend’s Warbler

The first image is of a Townsend’s Warbler among a Bushtit mob. Note the number of banded birds. I recently wrote that the Townsend’s Warblers, by apparently following the bushtits, found the suet at our backyard feeder. This photo was taken on 12 February 2021 at the beginning of a snow storm that lasted three days, leaving a foot of snow.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Pied-billed Grebe

A Pied-billed Grebe on 4 February 2021 at the Billy Frank Jr Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. These grebes are opportunistic feeders. When they capture fish, the bird often pinches the prey, killing the fish by damaging the fishes’ internal organs. During this process, grebes may drop and pick up their prey. Grebes are also able to remove spiny fins before the fish is swallowed whole—head first (Muller and Storer 2020). 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Anna’s Hummingbird

Erika and I almost never see more than one male Anna’s Hummingbird at our feeders at a time. When two birds to appear, one or the other male aggressively chases the other away. Anna’s Hummingbirds spend a lot of perched time. Sitting there, the male turns his head from side to side, flashing his iridescent head feathers, signaling his dominance to other hummingbirds. This male guarded Erika’s garden on 5 February 2021.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

American Coot

This American Coot showed off its lobed toes to prove that coots are not ducks. Instead they are in a family that includes rails. Erika and I took this photo on 4 February 2021 at the Nisqually national wildlife refuge. Waterfowl may be already moving north—or, perhaps heading further south? We seem to be seeing fewer geese and ducks but more coots as the year progresses.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Western Meadowlark

I am not used to finding meadowlarks perched in trees. I usually think of them in pastures, perhaps on fence poles or atop small bushes. You can tell that this bird is a Western Meadowlark. Note that the yellow on the sides of the face extend above the base of the bill. Also it helps that Erika and I were in the Billy Frank Jr National Wildlife Refuge near Olympia, Washington (on 4 February 2021). Western Meadowlarks are birds of the West. Eastern Meadowlarks tend to be eastern. Generally. Both species are found in large parts of the Southwest. Eastern Meadowlarks are also found from Mexico well into South America. Western Meadowlarks breed east and overlap with the eastern species in the northern Great Plains, Minnesota, even as far east as western New York. Both meadowlarks winter through much of the central United States and northern Mexico. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

A Plethora of Dunlin

On 4 February 2021, Erika and I spied a huge flock of Dunlin resting off a shallow spit of a flooded field in the Nisqually national wildlife refuge. I guessed that the flock contained 200 birds, but I added an additional 100 after seeing two more flocks and other Dunlins feeding in the grass at the edge of the pond. My estimate of total numbers could easily be three times too low. I believe the birds were attracted to the area by the winter tide being exceptionally high. The mud flats that usually host sandpipers lay well below water. In the photos, the relatively long, and somewhat down-curved Dunlin bills can be observed. These sandpipers breed around the world’s arctic shores, wintering south to South America and southern China, Indonesia, India, and northern Africa.  Dunlins are an abundant migrant and winter resident in Washington—some non-breeders even summer here.  

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Bushtit Video

When the Bushtits hit the bird feeders, they are like a swarm of tiny, twitching rodents. Bushtits are foliage gleaners, consuming small arthropods and spiders. Bushtits and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, which can also be seen in this video, have similar feeding niches. At our feeders, the Bushtits are especially attracted to suet cakes, while the chickadees seem to prefer seed. In the second photo, the Bushtits are feeding next to a Townsend’s Warbler. Since the Bushtit influx, the warblers began feeding at both the seed feeders and the suet.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Bushtit

Bushtits are perhaps my favorite birds here in Washington. For one thing, they are odd creatures, the only New World member of the family Aegithalidae, the Long-tailed Tits of Eurasia. Bushtits travel in large flocks and often nest communally, with flock members, most often unmated males, but also females or immature birds, helping raise the young even of often indirectly related bushtits. 
I band many Bushtits in our backyard. These photos were taken on 2 and 3 February 2021. Banded Bushtits, presumably mine—shiny new bands always on the birds’ left leg— have been reported to me a couple of times. These reports suggest that Bushtits enjoy relatively large feeding territories. Over the past year, banded Bushtits were seen about a half mile south and a mile east of our yard.


Thursday, February 4, 2021

Northern Mockingbird


Last month was among the ten most rainy Januarys in Olympia records. That’s pretty wet. Thus, on 2 February 2021, I did not bring my camera with Erika and me when we chased a Northern Mockingbird reported from a nearby backyard. I guess my iPhone is not a replacement for a real camera, but better a poor photo than no documentation at all. The mockingbird hung out deep within and holly hedge and made occasional forays to a backyard feeder. Usually mockingbirds occur north only to southwestern Oregon. Wahl et al. (2005) report four nesting records from central Washington, but write that, even there, the species is rare. Only a few dozen records exist across the state. Interestingly, Bill Tweit told me that in the early 1990s, a mockingbird spent about two weeks in the same neighborhood as the one we found.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Herring Gull

I called this bird an immature Herring Gull. I found it on 27 January 2021 at KGY Point, which sticks out into Budd Bay in the Olympia Harbor. The bill is not very swollen at the tip, the back is coarsely checkered, abd the dark wing tips are faintly white-tipped. Just as I was thinking that gulls are not impossible to identify, Bill Tweit raised his eye brows at the pale-brown color of the folded secondary feathers. Most, but not all, Herring Gulls have darker brown secondaries. Bill suggested that this bird may be a hybrid Herring x Glaucous-winged gull, known as the Cook Inlet Gull. The hybrid’s head should be stripped. Since I am not sure I can see that field mark, I am content to call this bird a Herring Gull.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Northern Flicker Hybrid

I banded an interesting woodpecker in our Olympia backyard on 30 January 2021. At the net, I assumed this bird was a Yellow-shafted Flicker. The wing and tail feathers sported bright yellow shafts. The red “mustache” stripe running from the bill and the red back of the head (nape) gave me pause. Yellow-shafted Flickers have black mustache stripes—red stripes are a mark of Red-shafted Flickers. On the other hand, Yellow-shafted Flickers have red napes, while Red-shafted birds lack a contrasting colored nape—not red or black. Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted flickers are now considered subspecies of Northern Flickers. This bird is clearly a hybrid between the two races—hybrids are not uncommon and are one reason for their merge into a single species. The hybrid zone between these flickers runs across the midwest and then northwest from Montana to Alaska. A hybrid in Olympia probably hatched well north of here.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Red-breasted Nuthatch

I migrated from an Android phone to an iPhone 12. Generally I am happy with the move. The Apple focusing software seems superior, as you might note in the image of a Red-breasted Nuthatch—a recapture in our backyard on 29 January 2021. I am excited to try for dragonfly photos this spring. Now if I can only figure out how to make the new phone ring when the phone is locked. Often callers are sent directly to voice mail.