Friday, April 26, 2013

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch....

It has been, to borrow from George Harrison, a long, cold, lonely winter. Anyone who lives in the upper Mid-west and Great Lakes regions can attest to this. It cannot be compared to last year, when we hardly had winter at all--and saw 80 degrees (and a close call with a tornado) in March. But it was colder than it's been in a number of years, although with less snow overall (unless you live in Marquette, or Rapid City, or....). And the wind! I think that has been the worst--I can deal with the cold but even 45 degrees feels miserable when you pile on 20 or 30 mph winds. I have hardly left the house. And now, even at the end of April, winter is still hanging around--I watched yesterday as we had a very heavy downpour of sleet. It only lasted about 30 seconds but still! Yeesh. But the forecast is for 60's today, 70 degrees next week, and I can assure you Michiganders will be out in shorts and flip flops.

So while the Florida trip from the end of January took me forever to write about, there really wasn't much else going on around here. We adopted a new dog (an aged beagle we named Mr. Pickles), and that was about it. We did have a few surprises from the birds, however. In late February or early March we were visited by a golden-crowned kinglet, a bird we've seen here only once before, and one I didn't have any photos of. The little bird was very gracious and posed on the balcony for pictures. He was licking up bits of suet left over from the other birds. We saw him over the course a few weeks, almost always at the same time of day, 3:30-4:00. I think now that the grackles and black birds are back and dominating the feeders we will not see this fella again.

Golden-crowned kinglet. Oh, I just want to pinch his little cheeks!

We were also visited, for the first time since 2007, by a small flock of common redpolls. I spotted this female outside my studio window. I snuck out the back door and raced to the house to get my camera, then snuck back in and watched for her. Several days later a flock of 15 or so showed up on our balcony feeders. They stayed around for a week or so, and a few stragglers were seen for a couple of weeks.

Common redpoll, probably a female.

But that was it for the unusual birds this winter. We had several pairs of red-breasted nuthatches, which is not unusual except that we didn't see any last winter. Lots of juncos, of course, and American tree sparrows. The juncos and RBN's are still hanging around but I haven't seen a tree sparrow in several days. Now our summer residents are returning. The house wren has been singing in the back yard, brown thrashers are taking up residence in the brush pile on the top of the hill, and the robins trill from the tree tops at dawn.

A few days ago I watched a number of birds from our walk-out basement windows, ground-feeders who were cleaning up the spillage from the balcony feeders above, including this song sparrow.

We've heard song sparrows singing across the road in the marshes for several weeks now.

The white-throated sparrow, conspicuously absent last year, has returned, and I've seen several poking about in the garden.

"Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody Peabody" sings the white-throated sparrow.

There were a few that looked like this, and I though perhaps they were female white-throated sparrow. But Sibley shows no distinction between male and female, and says that this is a "tan stripe" white-throated, as apposed to the "white stripe" seen above. I had no idea.

"Tan-striped" white-throated sparrow

We heard the Eastern towhee long before we saw one, out behind the house urging us to "drink your tea!!"

I have never been able to get a decent show of this bird. This is OK but I can do better. Love his red eye.

Not many warblers hang around our place. Even during migration we see very few. Our property is dry and the warblers seem to stick mainly to water's edge. But this pine warblers, who we have seen a few times over the years, showed up on the deck last week, picking up bits of suet, much like the golden-crowned kinglet did. I have heard them singing in the trees behind our house so maybe we'll get a pair to stay and raise a family!

Pine warbler, easily confused with a female goldfinch.

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