Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fun in the First of Fall

Fall is upon us here in Utah, or at least it seems that way to gaze up at the mountains as they turn brilliant shades of orange and red. The yellow coloration isn't quite here completely yet, but it will come as the season blazes to a spectacular finish.

It can't get much more spectacular than the nearly four hour hike through the mountains I did today, with two new lifer birds joining my list. The first was the mountain chickadee, a perky, active bird of high pine forests that is much like its more familiar cousin, the black capped chickadee. Easily distinguishable by the bold white eyebrow that the black capped variation lacks, the mountain chickadee is still a beautiful and feisty bird that I was thrilled to see. That was at the beginning of the hike, which eventually led to the stunning Stewart Falls waterfall cascade.

On the return hike I again spotted the mountain chickadees flitting through the same area of trees, and when I was raising my binoculars to watch them once more I commented to my husband that what I really wanted to see was a nuthatch, a type of bird completely lacking from my life list. To my surprise, however, it wasn't just mountain chickadees flitting in the pines this time - they were joined by at least two red-breasted nuthatches. Ask and ye shall receive! Not only could I observe them quite well, but their distinctive "henk-henk-henk" call couldn't have been clearer.

In addition to these fabulous new lifers, the walk yielded some other great sightings...

  • Steller's Jay - Calling through the woods and pecking furiously at the pines.
  • Red Tailed Hawk - A dark morph soaring over the mountainside, as well as a clear, vibrant call.
  • American Robins - Pecking away at berries in a high mountain grassland clearing.
  • Black Capped Chickadees - Toiling away in the grasses and aspens as they flitted for food, though one brave little bird posed beautifully for a moment.

Chipmunks and squirrels rounded out the sightings, though there were other unidentified birds that continually taunted me both with their calls and with brief glimpses too quick for confirmations.

Thus ends a beautiful fall weekend; I'm already looking forward to next weekend, when we'll likely scout a different location and who knows what we may find.

These fall birding tips can help you make the most of this season's birds!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Corny Visitor

I haven't been birding much in the past couple of weeks, but the action locally has been exquisite. Not only have I continued to see Dart around our neighborhood, but during a drive near the Provo Airport this evening, I spotted a pair of lovely Swainson's hawks hanging out on power poles. The birds - new on my life list - are unmistakable with their white chins and brown bibs, and these were bold enough not to be afraid of me getting out of the car for a better look (I really do need to remember to bring my binoculars whenever I leave the house), though they got agitated enough for a grumpy screech before flying away. The flying is good, however, since it gave me a chance to check under their wings and be sure of their identity.

Even bigger is the backyard news, though it's not so birdy. I've heard many a tale of birders lamenting the visits from squirrels in their backyard - fuzzy, uninvited guests who clean out birdfeeders in a flash while preventing any birds from sharing a bite. Living in an urban area without mature trees, however, I've never been pestered by squirrels. This week, I was thrilled to see a fluffy, fuzzy tail scamper across my patio, and more thrilled still to see it attached to a squirrel with a fondness for cracked corn. I feed the corn in a shallow, wire mesh platform for the sparrows and doves, but this squirrel was even more entranced by the offering as his cheeks puffed out further and further as he munched. When he spotted me watching and snapping pictures, he flashed away, vanishing into my neighbor's woodshed where, I'm sure, he has a nice stash of corn. While I may change my mind if my yard becomes a squirrel sanctuary, for now I'm happy to have yet another guest at the feeders.

If you have problems with squirrels, check out this article about how to squirrel-proof a birdfeeder!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cool as a Cooper's

Exciting news from the backyard this week: after careful study, consultation with Bill Fenimore, and more than a little research, I've concluded that this year's mystery hawk is a juvenile Cooper's hawk. I'm thrilled, as my earlier hawk visitors have most definately been sharp shinned hawks, but from the outset this one looked different. Not so much in general coloration - though the slight red tinge on the cheek and the differences in the spotting are clues - but the fact that this bird just seemed immediately larger and with a longer tail, thicker legs, and larger head.

It is a joy to watch juvenile hawks, however; they're so certain of what they need to do (catch birds) but so clumsy as to how they go about it. This one, whom I've christened Dart, landed in the yard on the birdbath, then wondered why the birds were gone. She strutted around the birdbath for several minutes, still looking both hungry and confused, before flying to the back fence and waiting concealed by overhanging branches. She's not patient, however, and after just a bit of waiting flew off beyond the fence, then later to another yard. She's a fine, big bird, however, and will undoubtedly find her dinner eventually.

I'm thrilled to have had the opportunity to observe her (and I use the gender pronoun randomly - last year's sharp shinned hawk, Spook, I'd christened male), since this month is Raptor Month on my site and I am planning a feature on telling the difference between sharp shinned and Cooper's hawks. Be sure to sign up for the free weekly newsletter for all the raptor happenings!