Monday, September 12, 2011

The Nest Generation

Despite the belated summer weather here in Seattle -- we just went through a record setting late September spell of nine over eighty degree days (after an almost nonexistent spring and unusually cool summer) -- the birds seem to know that fall is coming and they are changing their patterns.  I've seen a couple of species back around my yard in the past week that haven't been around much during the summer.

First -- a hummingbird.  Anna's hummingbirds were frequent guests in my yard all winter.  In fact, on very cold mornings I had to keep rushing outside to make sure that the feeders weren't frozen.  I got very good at thawing them out, and keeping two in rotations, one inside the house to stay warm, one outside for the birds until it got too cold.   

I haven't seen them much this summer, though.  Which seems opposite of what you would expect.  But Seattle is a city full of flowers (a blooming city, you could say) and I suspect that the hummingbirds just had plenty of food sources and didn't need my feeders.  Now, the blooms are fading and they're coming back.

At least this little gal is.  This is an Anna's hummingbird, and though it's not easy to be sure from the photos, probably a female and very likely a juvenile.  (You don't have much scale in the photos, but if you could see her in person, and you know Anna's at all, you'd realize she's pretty small.)

(Photo by my roommate Dan)
I also saw this week -- not in my yard, but at a nearby bus stop -- a busy flock of bushtits.  These guys are frequent visitors to my yard and suet feeder, and they have also been mostly AWOL during the summer.   I was happy to see them back -- they come sweeping in with lots of activity and chirping like a sudden rain squall, and then, just as suddenly they're gone.  Off down the road to another yard.  I'll be keeping my eyes (and ears -- I frequently hear them before I see them) open for them at home.

(Photo by Dan)
(Photo by Dan)

I mentioned in my last post that I had seen a Steller's Jay eating on the rail with Timmy (my resident pigeon).  I got a few photos of him, and roommate got some more soon after.  You might not think it's the same Jay from the different angles in the photos, but I'm pretty sure he is.  And if you look closely at the photos you can see, at the corner of his bill a trace of a lighter color.  That, most likely, is the remnant of gape flanges which allow juvenile birds to open their beaks extra wide (to "gape" in other words) so that they can be fed by their parents.  In a fully mature Steller's Jay the beak is dark all the way down, with no lighter coloring visible.  That means this guy is very likely one of this year's fledglings.  It also might explain why he's on his own and looking for new sources of food.

A sad note:  One of my personal heroes passed away recently.  Sarge the Elderbull was a tireless advocate for his breed, for dog lovers (and dogs who love dog lovers) and for the welfare of shelter dogs everywhere.  You can check out this sweet remembrance of him at Stubby Dog, as well as their loving obituary.  Also, you can check out Sarge's own site at Elderbulls and his Facebook page.  Sarge was a true American hero.  Thank you to Sarge and to his human family who carry on his work.

You can also enjoy my recent article "Crazy Flickers" over at 10,000 Birds.  They have a great site, well worth checking out even if I wasn't included.

If you like Birdland West, you might also want to check out our sister blog Books and Beasts, which focuses on reviews of books about animals and related topics.   

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