Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Last Hummingbird

For the past few weeks I've happily refilled my hummingbird feeders with a slightly richer than typical nectar solution to help my local hummingbirds get a bit more energy for their long, demanding migrations. Several birds have taken advantage of it, but in the past week only two visited, and while they argued briefly over who should have the right of way at each perch, both took the opportunity for delicious sips and brief rests but have now vanished into the southern skies.

I've not seen any hummingbirds in several days, and as the temperatures continue to drop and the days shorten, it grows increasingly unlikely that I will see any again until next spring. Still, my feeders remained full just in case a late traveler needs a quick snack, and no matter where they may be flying or how far they have yet to go, I wish them good journey.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New Birding Spot, New Bird

Utah is filled with magnificent hidey-hole birding spots that the locals know, but those of us who are still relative newcomers are unaware of. I do keep a casual eye on local hotline sightings, however, and when, late last week, news of a vagrant prothonotary warbler was being spread, I couldn't resist the temptation. A few online inquiries, a round with Google Maps, and a full tank of gas later, I was on my way to River Lane in Springville, for an obscure, out of the way edge of Provo Bay known as Sandy Beach.

When I arrived, the name was apt - the area at the tip of this small promontory is quite sandy, and a favorite for local dirt bikes and ATVs, though fortunately I had the area to myself as I began birding, watching for a quick flash of yellow. I didn't have long to wait, actually, and quickly spotted what had to be a male prothonotary warbler deep in the brush - too deep, to my dismay, for a view I'd be happy to confirm for my life list. For the next three-quarters of an hour, I wandered around the area's many short winding trails, hoping to relocate the warbler and tallying up a pleasant list of other sightings.

Finally, I was on a small rise overlooking a scrubby patch to the east and more open trees to the south, when out popped the warbler in the open trees, no more than thirty feet away. He didn't stay long, but long enough for a full, satisfying view - and another lifer for my list. I indulged in a moment of happy dance, and a few more minutes of birding about, before heading in, glad to have gotten my wings wet at birding once again.

Not only did the scrubby brush and trees of the area provide a good number of birds, but the open mudflats at the mouth of the Springville River were teeming with foraging birds. The day's bird list - casually kept with only those I could identify - included:
There were also a number of gulls, an indeterminate falcon, at least one more type of warbler, and either a Clark's grebe or western grebe present. Quite the day, and a lifer to boot - I'll certainly be back again!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Snail Smorgasbord

While I love watching the birds, and autumn is a fantastic time at my feeders - the black-capped chickadees, in particular, have been around much more lately, and yesterday I narrowly missed identifying a new warbler for the year (oh well, next time) - it's not just birds that enjoy the handouts I provide. We had some welcome drizzles a couple of evenings ago, and the snails took full advantage all over our walk and driveway. I was surprised, however, to find the platform feeders on my deck had become a smorgasbord to a dozen snails by morning.

The feeders on my deck are a range of terra cotta dishes of different heights and sizes, and the snails had eagerly found their way into the largest, lowest dish where I offer mixed seed for the house sparrows and house finches (millet, milo, and sunflower seeds). They were deliberately making their way over the seeds, and while plant matter is food for snails, I'm not sure how much they actually ate. Fortunately, they didn't linger over the meal too long and were gone as the morning advanced, or else they'd likely have ended up as snacks themselves for the western scrub-jays and black-billed magpies.

Of course, they are welcome - I'm fascinated by snails and their deliberateness. They are great pollinators and do more good than harm in my yard, so as long as they're willing to climb the steps to the deck and tempt the appetites of the birds that might find them, they're welcome to take their place in the buffet line.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Double Dip

As the weather cools down from a scorching hot summer, I'm finally able to go out birding just a bit more, and a couple of weekends ago I went again on one of my favorite canyon jaunts. The area I visit has a bit of everything - a  lovely riparian scrub corridor, more mature trees set further back, small patches of grassland, and even a slow moving reservoir. As for birds, well, they weren't quite as varied, but I did see one of my favorites - the American dippers that are ubiquitous in that area, two of them. They love the more rushing parts of the Provo River, and often oblige me with great views. This time, I was thrilled to see the paler edging on their feathers, which indicates these are younger birds hatched just this summer. They've learned the ropes quite well and were foraging briskly, diving in and out of the splashing water to nip at bugs along the way.

These birds may be here year-round, but perhaps because of their dull gray plumage I always consider them more as autumn or winter birds. They are also more secretive in summer, but get much more visible this time of year. No matter whether it is the early flush of spring, the rage of summer heat, the retreat of autumn, or the dead of winter, however, these sweet dippers never fail to enliven a bird walk and make me smile.