Friday, December 3, 2010

Winter Birds and Hawks on High

Spring may usher in a waterfall of warblers and other migratory birds, but winter's when my garden hosts the most avian variety. Warblers & Co. favor the thickly wooded parks up the hill and to the north of us in spring. In winter, though, slim pickings encourage species I don't usually see in my garden to stop by for a visit.
Townsend's warbler. Image from Wiki Commons credited to 

As noted in my previous post, a big snowstorm, below-freezing temperatures, and a well-stocked birdfeeder lured crowds of the usual suspects to our garden last week. As soon as the snow disappeared, so did the birds; they spread out to do their usual rounds instead of relying solely on what our yard had to offer. An aftereffect, however, may be that new birds have added our plot of earth to their daily checklist--at least I hope so.

One of these "snowbirds" is the Townsend's Warbler who visited last week. I saw a male of this species two years ago when our city was snowbound; this one was a female. I thought I saw her flitting through the tall shrubs out front this week but couldn't be sure.

The other is the beautiful Varied Thrush. The only other time I have seen a Varied Thrush in my garden was during the epic two-week snowpocalypse of winter 2008-2009. He flew out to perch in a street tree and soon drew a crowd of spectators, who pointed up at him and wondered about what he was. "I've never seen a robin that looked like that before," said one person, who recognized the bird as a thrush of some sort even if she didn't know it was not the same thrush species as the American robin.

Varied Thrush. Photo by Walter Siegmund from Wiki Commons.
So yesterday I was thrilled to spy a Varied Thrush in the garden under the birch tree, energetically tossing aside wet leaves as he searched for food in the company of a flock of juncos. I tried to get a picture, but as always, my career as a wildlife photographer was stymied by (1) having a small camera, (2) trying to shoot through wavy panes of 90-year-old window glass, and (3) fending off two curious cats constantly hopping up onto the windowsill to meow and put their faces into the camera lens or bump their foreheads against my arm.

So all I got was a blurry image of a Varied Thrush's tail sticking out from behind a tree trunk.

Cooper's Hawk. Photo by H. Gilbert Miller, from via Wiki Commons.
I didn't even try to get a shot of today's exciting bird sighting: a Cooper's Hawk wheeling over the street at just above the height of a telephone pole. All I could see was his silhouette, but it was just like an illustration from a field guide come to life. His flap-flap-glide, flap-flap-glide flight was straight out of the book, too. Usually I only glimpse him as a streak pursued by angry crows, so it was nice to see him taking his leisure on this chilly morning.

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