Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Time to Winterize

Indian summer can come unexpectedly in Utah, and cool nights can quickly be followed by warm days even in October and November. The clue I use to know when winter is truly on the way, however, is the first time the bird bath freezes. It did so several weeks ago but a crowded schedule kept me relying on morning sunshine to melt the water, until last week when an afternoon of winterizing was at hand.

Preparing my backyard for winter birds is more than just plugging in my heated bird bath. To be sure my birds are well cared for even in the coldest temperatures, winterizing includes...
  • Removing the concrete bird bath and putting it in storage.
  • Stacking the deck furniture in a sheltered corner.
  • Moving deck feeders further under shelter to protect them from snowfall.
  • Vacuuming the deck and under feeders to remove excess hulls and debris.
  • Swapping my deck bird bath for the heated bath.
  • Checking my bird seed storage for good quantities to last all season.
Of course, refilling the feeders is part of the task as well! With so many changes at hand, it often takes a few days for the birds to lose their wariness and return to the feeders, but they're now coming back in flocks - finches, juncos, sparrows, jays, magpies, and doves. The sharp-shinned hawk has buzzed the yard a few times, and without a doubt other birds have flitted by. Whenever they want a rest spot on a cold day, I'm ready!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Falling Temperatures, Falling Birds

The past week has been rough on the birds, or at least it would seem in the backyard. Our temperatures have been wildly swinging but are now steadily dropping, as are the few remaining leaves clinging to our sumac and honey locust trees. The sharp-shinned hawk made a startling appearance, the bird bath has been icing over each night, and the deck has been winterized with the furniture piled up in a sheltered corner and the feeders moved slightly to be out of the snowfall range. To a bird, each of these changes adds up to more uncertainty in an already uncertain season.

For several days the birds have been absent, and only today have more been returning to sample the new offering of seeds, but they are doing it with gusto. The California quail are still conspicuous in their absence, but they roam throughout the neighborhood and are sure to return as the season progresses and word gets out about the piles of cracked corn awaiting their scratching toes on my deck.

But even as birds seems to leave in winter, more will arrive. Birders are abuzz with the thought of this year's irruptions, and just today I spotted a flock of cedar waxwings in a neighbor's tree, the first time I've seen them so close in the neighborhood. Who knows what feathered friends may be about this winter, but I'm ready - and waiting.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Snow and Snowbirds

It's an event I've been looking forward to for months - the first snow, and the first snowbirds. Sure enough, with the snowstorm we had over the weekend, the dark-eyed juncos descended on my feeders in flitty flocks. While some areas are fortunate to have these small sparrows year-round, they are absent from much of Utah in spring, summer and fall, with the exception of one subspecies that has never yet found my yard to its liking. Fortunately, the more common Oregon subspecies appreciates my birdscaping efforts and is happy to spend the winter enjoying my buffet.

The weather may be cooling and migration is all but over, but there is still plenty of wonderful birding about if you appreciate the birds winter brings flying in! I hope just as many welcome visitors join in your backyard flock no matter how frozen the days may become.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Varied Views

Last month we enjoyed a short getaway to northern Utah, including a visit to the Golden Spike National Historic Site as well as Spiral Jetty. There were birds about in both places, and while I enjoyed the variety and the grand views I had of several species I don't have occasion to see frequently, it was the varied thrush at the Golden Spike visitor center that offer the most thoughtful view.

This bird was patently uninterested in my presence, or in the presence of other guests going in and out of the visitor center, and instead continued to forage in the grassy patch right near the entrance. In and out of sunlight, coming closer and further away, turning to every angle - no birder could ask for better views of this colorful thrush that isn't often seen in Utah. How different this was from my first view of my lifer varied thrush over two years ago, when the bird stayed deep in tangled brush and only came out for quick views,  never staying in the clear.

Just because we've seen a bird before doesn't mean we can't enjoy each view we get, especially when the bird tempts us with its gorgeous color and spectacular views, unique behavior, or other treats. Each sighting is just as memorable, and these varied views certainly add to a varied life list!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Firebox Flicker

I had a rather unique wildlife experience today, one I'd not hoped to have and hope not to repeat.

Yesterday evening, my husband heard a visitor in the pipe for our wood-burning fireplace's chimney; a chimney we've never used, and the fireplace is inactive, but somehow, something got inside, despite caps on the chimney outside and no real way for entrance. We weren't sure what to do, and fearing an unpleasant rodent, we opted to leave it overnight in the hopes that whatever found its way in would find its way back out.

It didn't; this morning, the scufflings and scratchings were more insistent, driving me to distraction in my office in the next room. I called several pest control companies that could deal with wildlife, but either didn't get my calls returned or else found their prices in the hundreds of dollars range, far outside the budget I was willing to spend, despite my sincere wish to end the creature's captivity and certain misery, whatever it might be.

Without a solution, I returned to work, but in an hour or so I went to check on the fireplace again. The flue had been closed and the firebox empty; we knew the creature was trapped in the chimney itself. I took the flashlight to check and be sure it hadn't escaped into a worse prison, and the first thing I noticed was tracks - the soot in the firebox had been obviously disturbed. In a few seconds, flashing out of the sooty gloom, a northern flicker flew to the glass doors, anxious to escape but trapped in a gloomy metal box.

(Note: That is not flame in the fireplace, just reflection from the morning's sunlight. And the dust? Soot debris from the bird's escape attempts.)

No way could I leave the bird inside the box - hungry, stressed, scared. But if it got loose in the house, it would be confronted with 20-foot ceilings and innumerable perches constituting a much larger prison and one it would be much harder for me to help it escape from. First, all the doors were closed to limit the scope of area the bird could access; then a shower curtain was strung along the hallway door to remove that egress. A blanket draped from the upper bannister helped block off the stairway, at least in part. The closest outer door (just a few feet from the fireplace) was opened wide, and it was time - all my preparations were accompanied by the bird's increasingly frantic desire to escape.

Cautiously I unlatched the fireplace doors, then flung them quickly wide and stepped back to give the bird easy room to leave. A few seconds later, out he flew - straight out at first, then curving quickly for the open door and out into the blue sky, a soft shower of soot to mark his trail and my cheers echoing behind him.

Quite the traumatic experience for both of us, to be sure. My priority this weekend is to get on the roof and examine the chimney to be sure this cannot happen again, that no unfortunate bird suffers a similar spate of captivity. And as a warning to all readers out there; be sure your chimneys are equally safe!