Thursday, March 30, 2006

Clark's Nutcracker

Last time we had the Jays we found in Washington and I realize I forgot another bird from Mount Rainier. Not a new bird so it wasn't in the same vein as the others. However, I can't forget the Clark's Nutcracker which is also more in the crow family.

On my first trip out west in the 80s we found several of these birds in several states. I even got a photo of one without trying when I was trying to get a shot of Wizard Island at Crater Lake.

Wizard Island

I wasn't even looking for them this trip but there they were way up at Paradise Lodge on Mount Rainier. A pair were flying from one set of pines to another as the sky darkened and the next wave of snow showers began to fall upon us. I had to rush across the icy parking lot to grab a quick shot.

Clark's Nutcracker

From Cornell Labs, here are a few interesting facts about Clark's Nutcracker:

* The Clark's Nutcracker has a special pouch under its tongue that it uses to carry seeds long distances. The nutcracker harvests seeds from pine trees and takes them away to hide them for later use.

* The Clark's Nutcracker hides thousands and thousands of seeds each year. Laboratory studies have shown that the bird has a tremendous memory and can remember where to find most of the seeds it hides.

* The Clark's Nutcracker feeds its nestlings pine seeds from its many winter stores (caches). Because it feeds the young on stored seeds, the nutcracker can breed as early as January or February, despite the harsh winter weather in its mountain home.

* The Clark's Nutcracker is one of very few members of the crow family where the male incubates the eggs. In jays and crows, taking care of the eggs is for the female only. But the male nutcracker actually develops a brood patch on its chest just like the female, and takes his turn keeping the eggs warm while the female goes off to get seeds out of her caches.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Washington Jays

Some things we just take for granted. Or, maybe just we don't appreciate some everyday things for one reason or another. When you start looking a birding forums from different areas of the country or world it starts becoming obvious really quickly.

For example, to get an idea as to what birds I might find on our Washington trip, I subscribed to the Tweeters forum which concentrates on bird sightings in the Northwest. Early on there were excited conversations about a rare bird in the Seattle area: a Blue Jay.

For someone who has grown up seeing a Blue Jay seemingly everyday of his life this brought a little chuckle to my throat. Likewise, an earlier photo posting I did about a "common" bird, the Northern Mockingbird, turned out to not be so common throughout the country. Have to remind myself that common to me isn't common to everyone.

So, it was our turn to head out west and check out some common, uncommon birds. Speaking of Jays, I will showcase a few of the western types here.

The first species we encountered was along a road that swings by the Chehalis River called the Brady Loop. It swings through some farmland just off of the interstate. We were headed to Ocean Shores and my mind was more focused on possible birds there but we decided to drive through since it was mentioned in the Washington Bird Finding Guide.

Down near the river's edge, we paused to check out some activity along the fences but it turned out to be more Song Sparrows. A couple swallows teased me by flashing through so fast it was impossible to know if they were the sought after Violet-green versions.

Driving slowly onward, we came closer to a farmhouse with a little barn in the back. From the doorway, something blue shot out to the oak trees. Turned out to be a Western Scrub Jay! Hadn't counted on that. In fact, there were at least 4 though they never came any closer for more than a zoomed in view.

You can check out the Florida Scrub Jay for comparison here.

Western Scrub Jay

There were dozens of European Starling foraged with them and a Stellar's Jay joined in. I didn't get a closer look at a Stellar's Jay this trip until we got up to Mt. Rainier. I had seen a Stellar's Jay in Oregon on a trip years ago so it wasn't a new bird but I am still hoping to get a better photo. Until then...

Stellar's Jay

That shot was at the Longmire Lodge but the bird would not sit still too long. I had another shot on digital but that is the only card I have ever had that got corrupted. Lost my good Fox Sparrows, too. Oh, well.

The last Jay of the trip was hanging around with the Stellar's. Or maybe it was the other way around. This Jay was more curious and seemed to be looking for handouts where ever they were found. The Gray Jay.

I had seen pictures of them before but not in person. They are amazingly adorable, no?

Gray Jay

We saw them in several places along the roads and pull-offs.

Gray Jay

Very friendly birds. We sometimes had a half-dozen around us at a time. Every now and then one would launch themselves from a branch and fly right at my head before changing course to land nearby. Wish I had another day to spend with them.

Friday, March 24, 2006

To Give and Receive

Where to begin this Washington trip blogging? So many things, so many birds. I figure no one wants to read a long-winded day-by-day account of the trip. I know I might not make it through it as a reader.
So I'll take a new tack.

This is "Drew's Birds" so we will stick to the birds. Fair enough? Cool. I am still scanning and processing files so there will be a lot to share. Might as well begin at the end and hopscotch all over as needed.

This way...

The total count for Life birds is still being determined but will end up around 45. On the last day to go sightseeing I had 2 of those just walking out the door. It was bound to happen.

A few days into the trip I decided that my in-laws needed a feeder of some sort. Just stepping outside as I did almost every morning after dawn was like stepping into some great aviary. Bird song floats or pierces the air from all sides and 150 feet overhead. Problem is, it is hard to see the singers through dense cover and cedar branches.

And shade. Lots of shade.

A bird feeder would have to draw some of the little guys closer. Wednesday night I bought a feeder, a hook, some seed and found a place for it when most of the family was asleep. I knew I wouldn't be able to see the discovery by birds or humans but, oh, well. I had Dungeness to hike.

But the day after the hike, I woke to find a pair of Song Sparrows feeding on the seed I had thrown around under the feeder as a "starter" for the birds to find the spot.

Song Sparrow

We got ready to head to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and while I was getting things into the rental car the birds were getting really loud. A lot of little chips and cheeps and then a flash of tiny feathers near the feeder. Then more and more and more.

The first new bird of the day was one on the several I had written off as the week progressed: Chestnut-backed Chickadee.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Cute, eh? So is the bird! There were over half a dozen of that species and it was soon joined by a bird I had found a few days earlier after getting lost trying to find a store: Black-capped Chickadee.

Black-capped Chickadee

The most surprising bird flew in somewhere in the feeding frenzy but I had to look a couple of time to see that it really was different from the others. Until it flew to the feeder alone: Red-breasted Nuthatch. Second new bird of the morning.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Not a great pic but enough. Then we were off to find the final new birds of the trip but that will have to wait until a later date.

The main point is that the gift I had given to bring the joy birds to others also served to bring me some new birds, too. I only got to watch for a few minutes but I am sure it will bring many birds up close as long as the seed is there.

Speaking of which, I need to go check my feeders at home. Goldfinches are going crazy!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Back from Washington State

Whew! Longest vacation in a while. A good trip to catch up with the west coast relatives and get in some birding and sight seeing.

Shortly, I will begin recounting the birds portion in a day by day posting. After I finish scanning all relevant photos. Might be a little be. Only shot 19 rolls of film and 10 digital cards worth!

In the meantime, we got home late Saturday night and I had to check the feeders to see what was up while we were away. Holy Cats! Those Goldfinches were HUNGRY!

Every feeder was drained empty. Nyjer, sunflower, all except the suet which hasn't been touched since I hung it out. Oh, well. Need a different brand I suppose. Bird bath was dry and full of leaves since it is our "Fall" this time of year.

With an empty cupboard, I was afraid that the goldfinches had eaten and run. I filled the feeders near midnight and crossed my fingers.

We slept in late, still on west coast time, and by the time I checked out back...

American Goldfinches

Not too mad at me afterall! Time to head out and buy more nyjer...

Monday, March 06, 2006

A Favorite: Brown Thrashers

We recaptured one of of my favorite bird species this past weekend: Brown Thrasher. They are starting to arrive again in numbers and it only takes a few months absence to make me realize how much I like them.

Brown Thrasher

From those bright yellow eyes to the excellent reddish-brown back and tail to the marvelous brown spots on a bright white breast they are a lovely bird to behold.

Brown Thrasher

Maybe its the Mockingbird-like singing or the curious "chuck!" calls while foraging.

Maybe its because they fit in my hand a lot easier. Nice and hefty.

Glad they are back.