Sunday, October 9, 2011

King County 10/9: Backyard Birds

First visitor to the new sunflower seed feeder today
Okay, it is ever so humble, but I thought I'd watch the backyard today.  I was getting the kids into the car to make a run to Fred Meyer for groceries, and thinking it was time to get a new feeder, and some more sunflower seeds;  Into the Douglas Fir in front of me flies a Hutton's Vireo!  These birds are common enough in King County, I guess, but I don't run into them that often, and have only had one encounter with them in the backyard before today.  Time to get that feeder filled!

There have been posts online from people noting that birds are 'moving'.  I've seen some of it lately - sparrows, and ducks coming in, and some of the odd fall birds coming through - so I got home, filled up the feeder and stared...

Black-capped Chickadee
Birds don't know that you filled up the feeder, so it was mostly just listening for a bit: Evening Grosbeaks, American Robins, and my favorite birds - Varied Thrushes! - were all singing, but not paying visits.  Not so much as a chickadee.  I'd heard that playing recordings of chickadees could bring them in to visit the feeder, so I left my phone playing "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" while I cut up the chicken from the store and got the bones going for stock. 

I came back and... nothing.  I turned off the phone and watched for a bit, and finally, the first visitor!  Black-capped Chickadees aren't a rare bird by any stretch of the imagination, but it was nice to see one and imagine it thinking "Oh yeah... this is the guy that used to fill his feeder for us!".

American Crow
More heard birds - Steller's Jays, American Crows, American Goldfinches and a Red-breasted Nuthatch.  I even had some Golden-crowned Kinglets high in a tree that was just out of view from the back door.  Then a couple little birds flitted in: a Ruby-crowned Kinglet (which actually sang a little, not just the check-check call) and a Yellow-rumped Warbler! 

Yellow-rumped Warbler
At this point, I should explain how bird excitement works in my yard.  There are abundance codes for birds depending on where you are.  These are published for different birding areas, but I decided today that I had been using the same idea with birds in my yard:  A '1' means a bird is pretty common.  If you're paying attention at all, you'll see them - like the Black-capped Chickadees in my yard.  A '2' is a bird that is certainly less common, but not too surprising - like the Red-breasted Nuthatches and Varied Thrushes.  Yellow-rumped Warblers are definitely a '3' - I see them every year, but they're pretty rare for me.

Golden-crowned Sparrow
As I kept watching, a few sparrows came through - Spotted Towhee (1) and Dark-eyed Junco (1).  House Sparrows actually hang out almost constantly in my front yard, and are also a solid '1'.  Then I had two Golden-crowned Sparrows (3!).  The added excitement here was that I don't think I've ever had them in the fall - almost always during the same time in the spring for about a week - late April/maybe early May.  White-crowned Sparrows usually stop by about the same time, and a few years ago, I actually had a Harris' Sparrow at the feeder at the same time.  That one is pretty rare in the county, and I won't expect another!

Red-breasted Sapsucker
Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Starlings and a few Northern Flickers had me up around 20 species for the back yard for the day.  I went and checked on the chicken stock, then came back out and watched the corkscrew willow that had the feeder hanging from it.  A woodpecker flew in on the main trund - Red-breasted Sapsucker (3!).  I tried to get it in focus, and it jumped around to the other side of the tree, but finally let me get a picture. 

Some House Finches flew overhead, and an Anna's Hummingbird zipped through the yard - 22 species for the day in the back! 

I was thinking the other day that this year is about taking three things (maps, calendars, and pictures of birds) and seeing the things they represent first-hand.  Seeing the words "Aeneas Valley" on a map was mildly interesting.  Seeing the Aeneas Valley was awesome - in the sense that the word was meant to be used.  Seeing pictures and drawings of Black Terns was nothing compared to watching them dive and pluck their food from the water.  Seeing the day on my phone, my computer, change from 10/9 to 10/10 will have little affect on me.  Seeing a rare visitor to my yard one day, and not another tells me that days are passing - things are 'moving'.

Getting close to the end of the year, and I can feel nature about to press the big 'RESET' button.  Maybe it's not so sudden, but the sum of all of the changes in sunshine and warmth are going to bring us back to a day much like the one in back in January when I started this whole chase.

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