Sunday, November 30, 2008

PFW - Week 4: Return of the Waxwings & Robins

There were dozens and dozens of Cedar Waxwings and American Robins flying around and through the trees and shrubs all morning and into the early afternoon. I am not sure what they are eating since it appeared that they had stripped all the berries a couple of weeks ago, but obviously there was something of interest to them out there.

I woke up to a light snow that continued on and off throughout the day. Temperatures never got above freezing. These must be favorable conditions for the birds as there were a total of nine bird species venturing into the count area and a total of 11 in the vicinity.

Project FeederWatch Count:
  • Downy Woodpecker 1
  • Carolina Chickadee 1
  • American Robin 6
  • European Starling 3
  • Cedar Waxwing 30
  • Song Sparrow 1
  • Northern Cardinal 1
  • House Finch 9 (1 with eye disease)
  • House Sparrow 9

American Robin

Cedar Waxwing

Northern Cardinal

American Crow
strutting along the office building roof across the way.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

PFW - Week 3: Where'd they all go?

I am back to where I thought I would be when I first set up the feeder station here at the apartment -- almost no birds. My count this weekend was 7 House Sparrows, 5 House Finches, and 1 Downy Woodpecker that came to the suet feeder at the last moment to be counted. That's it! Even the bird numbers outside the feeder area (those not counted for Project FeederWatch) were way down. Yesterday morning about 60 Cedar Waxwings flew in briefly, but haven't been seen since. It looks like the berries have been stripped so the Waxwings, Robins and Starlings have probably moved on in their nomadic way to greener pastures (or berrier locales.)

So if there are no birds, I'll just have to show pictures of my favorite birdwatching partner, Lucy.

I am learning that she has talents other than birdwatching, sleeping and eating. She obviously has a green thumb and is helping me maintain my houseplants.

She has no problem jumping right in to pull the dead leaves.

I shouldn't laugh. Houseplants can be very dangerous for cats. But honestly, I cracked up when she did this. Of course, it wouldn't have been so funny if she had knocked it over or tracked dirt through the apartment.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cedar Waxwings Galore

I've been noticing the Cedar Waxwings on occasion during my PFW count days, but I came home for lunch this afternoon and was simply overwhelmed by the number of Waxwings outside my apartment! They were in the trees, perched on roofs, foraging berries in the many shrubs, and calling their very high pitched "bzeee" notes. It's one thing to hear a dozen Waxwings calling, but at times there must have been about 200 of these beauties in sight. It was an amazing experience.

The Cedar Waxwing gets its name from the "red, waxlike tips on the secondary flight-feathers of adult birds." But as I looked at all the photos I took, a few shown below, none of the Waxwings had the red tips, meaning none were adults. I wonder if only the juvies were bold enough to come within range of my camera? It's hard to believe that in the entire flock there were no adults. The last picture below shows a Waxwing I photographed a couple of years ago. Notice the red wing tips indicating that it is an adult.

Here's the picture of an adult Cedar Waxwing
(notice the red wing tips)
taken in April of 2007 at "the house."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

PFW - Week 2: Fewer Birds, but is that a blessing?

Lucy is resting after a hard weekend of birdwatching. She single-pawedly ran off a dozen house sparrows, but still gets no respect from the squirrels. I'll have to teach her to look more menacing. I only had eight species this weekend, down from eleven last week. Still topping the list were the dozen house sparrows and seven house finches. The Cedar Waxwings are still foraging on berries in the periphery of the feeder area, but once again one showed some curiosity in the feeder area and came by to be counted. Other curiosity seekers were an American Robin and Northern Mockingbird.

I suppose I should look on the bright side of having fewer birds than when I was at the house. I don't have to buy seed very often. While birdwatchers and feeders across the US and Canada are complaining about the increasing seed prices, it looks like I might be able to get by on only 20 lbs of hulled Black-Oil Sunflower Seed (BOSS) this winter. In the past, it wouldn't be unusual to go through 20 lbs (unhulled) every two weeks or less.

Like everything else right now, bird seed prices have rapidly escalated over the past year or so. By some reports, the price has increased anywhere from 40% to 100% (depending on type) since the beginning of 2007. Naturally, rising fuel costs (until recently) play a part in the increase since the seed has to be transported from the midwest growing areas to the rest of the continent. (Can you believe gas is below $2.00 a gallon now? Never thought I'd see that again, but how long will it last?)

However, fuel costs are not the primary reason, at least not directly. The primary reason is corn. More of it is going into ethanol production as an alternative fuel. Because there is greater demand for corn and the price has gone up, less acreage is being planted with other ag products such as sunflower, millet and safflower ..... all seeds fed to the birds. With less product, price goes up. And this is further compounded by Frito-Lays decision to switch to sunflower oil. Therefore, even less BOSS is available for the birds in order to make our snack foods "healthier". (I say that tongue in cheek.)

So I'll just be happy with my few birds and hope the hoards of starlings that hang out continue to stay away from the feeders.

House Finch (I know, another house finch. What can I say, they are always here!)

Northern Cardinal - male
(The female also showed up this weekend, but I couldn't get a decent picture.)

(Another) Downy Woodpecker

Song Sparrow! Something new.
Do you think he's a bit wary of having his picture taken?

Have a great week!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

PFW - Week 1: Yard to Apartment, any success???

My birdwatching and Project FeederWatch counting started in a nice backyard with lots of trees that attracted so many birds. I didn't know how successful I would be in an apartment with only a small balcony, and surrounded by office buildings and parking garages. The one thing going for my unit is that there are lots of trees and shrubs with berries separating the apartments from the office buildings. Evidently, that clinched it for the birds. And perhaps the cold spell that came through this weekend.

The mornings between 7:00 and 9 or 10 have been a bird frenzy, particularly the Robins and Starlings foraging for the berries. But the feeder birds also came out in numbers. My biggest dilemna is establishing the boundaries of my feeder area so as not to expand it to include everything I see. That was a real challenge when the flock of Cedar Waxwings arrived and I desperately wanted to count them, but couldn't. My restraint paid off however. One of them came over to investigate the bird bath before I scared it off unintentionally. Maybe I couldn't count all 15, but I got the one!

All total, I had 11 species for PFW and 13 total. The two that couldn't be enticed into the feeder area were a couple of American Crows and a single Blue Jay (even though I do have peanuts!) That's not bad. I looked up first week counts from years past and twice I had only 12 species.

And now, my favorite part ..... photographs! I did my best despite having at times to shoot through a double paned glass door and screen. There are a few photos here, but please keep going to the last one. You'll see my birdwatching partner trying her part to keep the squirrels away. Yes, there are squirrels even here. Put up a bird feeder and they will come.

House Finch

Carolina Chickadee

European Starling
(I only took this picture because of his unusual head coloring)
[NOTE:  Cornell wonders if this bird is actually lacking feathers on its head.]

American Robin

Northern Cardinal

Dark-eyed Junco

Northern Flicker
(one of the biggest surprises of the weekend)

Downy Woodpecker

Lucy & the Squirrel seeing eye-to-eye (not really)