Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin
queerbychoice

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Garden Bloggers' Wildlife Day

I didn't actually take a single photograph this month that was of my garden plants themselves - only pictures of the wild animals inhabiting my garden. Almost exclusively birds, in fact. I guess I'll return to photographing plants for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day when my plants get around to looking photogenic again. This month so far, here are the major events in my garden: my pecan tree dropped most of its leaves, water fell out of the sky (we Californians have ceased to regard this as being in any way an expected event), and a whole bunch of birds dropped by to visit. (And some of the birds are, I think, more than visiting; some of them spend more time in my yard than they spend anywhere else.)

My most interesting bird of the month was a northern flicker (Colaptes auratus), a member of the woodpecker family. I only saw it once, during a rainstorm - rainstorms often seem to bring out different birds than usual - but luckily I had my camera handy. It fluttered down from the pecan tree to the leaves that had fallen on the lawn beneath. It captured my attention instantly; it's a larger bird than most (certainly larger than my Nuttall's woodpecker, more the size of my Eurasian collared doves, or like a fatter version of a Western scrub-jay), and the undersides of its wings flash a brilliant red when it flies - the characteristic from which I assume it takes its common name. This particular northern flicker appears to be a male of the red-shafted race, based on its red "mustache." (Males of the yellow-shafted race have black mustaches; yellow-shafted females have no mustaches, and red-shafted females have pale tan mustaches.) Northern flickers will peck loudly on wood or metal to announce their claim to their territory, but they hunt for the insects they eat (primarily ants) mainly on the ground, not in the trees. They can live to be about eight or nine years old.

Colaptes auratus (Northern flicker)


This is a rear view of the same Northern flicker. It didn't stay long at all; I just happened to be looking out the window with my camera when it showed up.

Colaptes auratus (Northern flicker)


Here's my Nuttall's woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii). This is a female (males have red on their heads), and I see her regularly in my pecan tree, although she hasn't been very cooperative about posing for pictures. I think she may live in that tree.

Picoides nuttallii (Nuttall's woodpecker)


Here's the same Nuttall's woodpecker.

Picoides nuttallii (Nuttall's woodpecker)


Rainstorms occasionally lure waterfowl from the nearby flooded ricefields to my yard. This is a black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans), which is rarely found out of sight of water. It wasn't out of sight of water in my yard that day; my patio was covered with puddles. Black phoebes like to perch on low branches to hunt flying insects. This one made use of my recently planted Royal Blenheim apricot tree as a perch.

Sayornis nigricans (black phoebe)


During the same rainstorm, a yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronata) stopped for a rest on my fence. This is a female of the Audubon's race, based on the face markings. I've seen her, or another yellow-rumped warbler, one other time since then. These birds eat insects or berries, so they pay no heed to the birdseed I'm providing, and I haven't seen them venture any closer to the house than the back fence.

Setophaga coronata (yellow-rumped warbler)


This is the second time I've caught sight of a Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) in my yard. Like yellow-rumped warblers, these birds mostly eat insects or berries and are therefore uninterested in my bird feeders. (I put out a suet feeder for them, which uses animal fat to supply much the same nutrients they might get by eating insects, but none of my birds seem to have much interest in the suet. Maybe I'll try a fruit feeder next.)

Mimus polyglottos (Northern mockingbird)


This is an American robin (Turdus migratorius). A male, judging by the fact that its head is conspicuously darker gray than the rest of its body. Robins eat mainly earthworms and fruit and are therefore also uninterested in my bird feeders. I do see them fairly regularly, though. I only ever see one at a time, but the fact that I see them regularly suggests that there may be many of them hidden away in a tree somewhere.

Turdus migratorius (American robin)


This is a Western scrub-jay (Aphelocoma californica). Scrub-jays do eat seeds, and I've seen them making occasional furtive swipes of seed from my bird feeders. My bird feeders are too small to provide them with an adequate perch, though, so they can't sit and eat there like the smaller birds do. I've held a serious grudge against Western scrub-jays ever since a pair of them built a nest right outside my apartment about 15 years ago and tried to forbid me to live there anymore; they not only harassed me every time I tried to enter or exit my front door but also practiced sleep-deprivation torture on me by squawking at the top of their lungs a few feet from my bed all night long for months. I've never really forgiven them, but it turns out they're not demon-possessed when they're not trying to reproduce. I've seen a pair of them in my yard though, so I need to make it clear to this pair that they are definitely not welcome to nest right outside my bedroom window.

Aphelocoma californica (Western scrub-jay)


At least three oak titmice (Baeolophus inornatus) have begun semi-regularly visiting the safflower seed feeder, which is otherwise dominated by house finches. The oak titmice do resemble mice. They are tiny and gray and adorable. Also quite skittish. They spend quite a while hiding in the Confederate jasmine vine next to the feeder and watching the feeder from a few feet away while working up the courage to approach it.

Baeolophus inornatus (oak titmouse)


Finally they make a quick dart toward the feeder, sometimes landing in an awkward position like this one.

Baeolophus inornatus (oak titmouse)


After righting themselves, they take a few bites and then dart away into the vine again. They continue to dart back to the feeder every minute or two when they want a few more bites, but they rarely remain sitting at the feeder for more than a few seconds at a time. (The house finches, by contrast, will sit there for twenty minutes at a time.)

Baeolophus inornatus (oak titmouse)


I also spotted my first dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) this month. This is the first one I saw. I believe it's a female of the Oregon race.

Junco hyemalis (dark-eyed junco)


A few days later I saw this one, a male of the Oregon race. The extent of the dark coloring on his head indicates his race, and how dark it is indicates that he's male. (Also, how cute is this bird? Just look at that smile.)

Junco hyemalis (dark-eyed junco)


This is another view of the same male dark-eyed junco. Dark-eyed juncos are members of the same family as the New World sparrows, and like my native sparrows, they seem to prefer to eat the seeds on the ground below my bird feeders rather than eating directly from the feeders.

Junco hyemalis (dark-eyed junco)


Here's one of my native sparrows, a juvenile golden-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla). I've yet to see an adult golden-crowned sparrow in my yard. An adult would have clearly defined yellow and black stripes on its head rather than a blurry yellow smudge.

Zonotrichia atricapilla (juvenile golden-crowned sparrow)


White-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) are one of my most common bird species. This one is an adult, judging by the clearly defined black and white stripes on its head.

Zonotrichia leucophrys (white-crowned sparrow)


Here we have a juvenile white-crowned sparrow on the left and an adult white-crowned sparrow on the right. The juvenile birds have stripes of different shades of brown on their heads; these later develop into distinct black and white stripes.

Zonotrichia leucophrys (juvenile and adult white-crowned sparrows)


Here's an adult again.

Zonotrichia leucophrys (white-crowned sparrow)


And here's a juvenile again. I have more of the juvenile white-crowned sparrows than of the adults. I think I just have two of the adults, but more like four to six of the juveniles.

Zonotrichia leucophrys (juvenile white-crowned sparrow)


This one really did a nice job of choosing a scenic spot to pose for pictures. It's posing on creeping oregano, with basil leaves and seedheads surrounding it. (The basil really ought to be dead from cold by now! And it still isn't. Global warming is keeping my basil alive for a freakishly long time.)

Zonotrichia leucophrys (juvenile white-crowned sparrow)


When the rains created puddles at the edge of my patio, the white-crowned sparrows had a glorious time bathing in the puddles. I think I may need to obtain a birdbath for the pleasure of seeing this more often.

Zonotrichia leucophrys (juvenile white-crowned sparrow)


They shove their heads underwater and beat their wings furiously as if they're trying to fly straight into the ground. I tried to photograph that, but due to the furious wing-beating, it came out hopelessly blurred. Instead, you can just enjoy the sight of how fluffy they are after they've thoroughly soaked themselves.

Zonotrichia leucophrys (juvenile white-crowned sparrow)


Flyffy, fluffy white-crowned sparrows.

Zonotrichia leucophrys (juvenile white-crowned sparrow)


This brings us to the house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus). They are the dominant birds at the safflower seed feeder; they are practically always there. Here we have a male (on the right, identifiable by his red coloring) and a female (on the left, identifiable by her brown coloring).

Haemorhous mexicanus (male and female house finches)


The male house finches are some of the prettiest birds around.

Haemorhous mexicanus (male house finch)

Haemorhous mexicanus (male house finch)

Haemorhous mexicanus (male house finch)


I have at least one male who is less red than the others. The red on the one below extends barely past his chin, rather than most of the way down his chest as is typical of the others. This suggests that he's been eating a lower-quality diet than the others. According to AllAboutBirds.org, "Female house finches prefer to mate with the reddest male they can find." So this guy is at a bit of a disadvantage. Maybe my feeder will help him. Or maybe it won't. I don't know whether safflower seeds provide any red pigment. I also put some sunflower seeds and milo in the feeder occasionally, but it has to be mostly safflower seeds because anything else attracts the non-native house sparrows, which harass all the other birds.

Haemorhous mexicanus (male house finch)


I'm not sure how many house finches I have, but there are at least two males with red extending well down their chests, as well as the male above who has less red on him. (And here you see that I've put black oil sunflower seeds and milo on top of the paler safflower seeds. There are more safflower seeds higher up. I figure they should probably get a little variety in their diets, and anyway, I have to use up the seeds I already bought. But when the house sparrows start to show up, I cut back to just safflower seeds for a while.)

Haemorhous mexicanus (male house finches)


I'm not sure how to count the female house finches, aside from noticing how many I see at any one time. They all look pretty much alike to me.

Haemorhous mexicanus (female house finch)


House finches are strict vegetarians, even as newly hatched chicks, which is unusual - nearly all other baby birds require some animal food such as insects or worms. House finches therefore have no interest in eating suet, which contains animal fat. They do, however, perch on top of the suet feeder while ignoring the suet underneath them.

Haemorhous mexicanus (male house finch)


And they make funny faces at the camera while perching there.

Haemorhous mexicanus (male house finch)


But mostly they perch on the safflower seed feeder that they eat from.

Haemorhous mexicanus (male house finch)


Sometimes they just perch on the very top of it rather than eating from it.

Haemorhous mexicanus (male house finch)


Although there are six perches on the feeder, the house finches seem to feel overcrowded if there are more than two or three of them at the feeder at a time. Usually when there are two house finches at the feeder, the other house finches will sit in the vine a few feet away, waiting their turn.

Haemorhous mexicanus (male and female house finches)


They change perches fairly often while staying at the feeder, cheking for different types of seeds available at different perches.

Haemorhous mexicanus (male and female house finches)


Three house finches on the feeder at once is the most I've seen. But there are often three more house finches waiting their turn nearby.

Haemorhous mexicanus (house finches)


Finally, we have the lesser goldfinches (Spinus psaltria). These birds do not seem to have similar issues with congregating in dense crowds at their feeder. They arrive in groups of up to a dozen and cover the entire thistle feeder all day long. I have to refill the feeder nearly every day!

Spinus psaltria (lesser goldfinches)


Sometimes the lesser goldfinches also perch on top of the feeder. There isn't a vine next to this feeder for the birds to wait in line, but you can see new birds fluttering up to join the old ones every couple of minutes. By adding milo to the thistle feeder I also managed to attract a few white-crowned sparrows to sit on the base of this feeder (the white-crowned sparrows aren't adept at walking up the sides like the lesser goldfinches do), but the white-crowned sparrows didn't eat enough milo to justify continuing the practice, and the lesser goldfinches didn't seem to like the milo either, so eventually I poured out the milo into another bird feeder and resumed filling this one exclusively with nyjer thistle seeds.

Spinus psaltria (lesser goldfinches)


The lesser goldfinches don't eat exclusively from the feeder, though. They also forage for seeds in the garden. Here are four of them eating basil seeds.

Spinus psaltria (lesser goldfinches)


Then a fifth one showed up.

Spinus psaltria (lesser goldfinches)


You can tell the males from the females because the males have black "hats" on their heads. The males are also a slightly brighter yellow. Below, the two birds at the top left and the bird at the very bottom are males. The other two are females.

Spinus psaltria (lesser goldfinches)


Here's a closer view of the bottom three: one male in front and two females behind.

Spinus psaltria (lesser goldfinches)


They're very enjoyable birds. Here's a female contemplating a blueberry branch.

Spinus psaltria (lesser goldfinch)


And because I just could not get enough of photographing five lesser goldfinches eating basil seeds, here: have some more pictures of them!

Spinus psaltria (lesser goldfinches)

Spinus psaltria (lesser goldfinches)

Spinus psaltria (lesser goldfinches)

Spinus psaltria (lesser goldfinches)

Spinus psaltria (lesser goldfinches)


Spinus psaltria (lesser goldfinches)


That's all my native birds for this month. I also have a pair of non-native Eurasian collared doves hanging around; they're here so often that I think they actually live in my yard. They're clearly a mated pair and are pretty much inseparable. On the one hand, I'm relieved that they've found each other, because an unmated male Eurasian collared dove makes the most unbearably incessant loud cooing noises night and day for months to call for a mate, and now that this one has found a mate, he isn't making any racket anymore. On the other hand, now that these two non-native birds have found each other, they're probably going to make a bunch of non-native babies, and the males among them will subject me to unbearable cooing noises for years. This is a problem. Could someone come sterilize these birds for me? I don't want them to make more of themselves.

Streptopelia decaocto (Eurasian collared doves)


The only remaining wildlife I have to show you this month is squirrels. Although the pecan tree is now nearly bare of leaves and perhaps entirely bare of nuts, the squirrels continue to forage on the ground for fallen nuts. I hope they find them all, because it seems that every single uncollected pecan becomes a pecan tree seedling, and the seedlings are not easy to pull out of the ground. I have to get a trowel and really dig to get the nut out of the ground, every time.

Sciurus carolinensis (Eastern gray squirrel)


The squirrels also like to run along the fences.

Sciurus carolinensis (Eastern gray squirrel)

Sciurus carolinensis (Eastern gray squirrel)


And they continue to explore the tree itself as well, bare though it now is.

Sciurus carolinensis (Eastern gray squirrel)

Sciurus carolinensis (Eastern gray squirrel)


When I posted a "Garden Bloggers' Wildlife Day" post last month, people commented to say that I should make this into an actual meme. I can't do that by myself, though! If you want it to be a meme, make a post for it and put a link in the comments here. If people actually do this, I'll get a widget for future months to collect the links in.
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