2013: Birds of the Garden in Review
Well, it’s that time of year when people review various aspects of the year in the garden. As an avid backyard bird feeder, one thing I like to look back on is which birds showed up, which didn’t, and anything else that stands out in the avian department. So let’s get going, shall we?
Winter Into Spring
Varied Thrush. Perhaps I should have called this post The Year of the Varied Thrush. Because this bird, which looks like a big orange and black robin, would certainly be my avian MVP for 2013, if there were such a thing as an avian MVP.
The Varied Thrush is not a rare bird at home in the Pacific Northwest, but only one or two are seen in the Chicago area very year. Depending on who you ask, these individuals have either lost their way due to poor health or they simply fly to the beat of a different drummer, preferring their own exclusive winter destinations. (“Dear, simply everyone is wintering in Baja! Let’s beat the crowds and go to Chicago instead!”)
If the latter applies to my VT, then I have reason to hope I will see it in 2014. This year we first noticed him in late January, and he made itself at home in my back garden until the middle of April. I’ll be keeping my eyes open.
The VT brought bird watchers who were eager for a sight that usually required a plane ticket to Seattle. Judy and I had to remember to get fully dressed before coming down in the morning, as for several months we were likely to find bird enthusiasts, equipped with some monster lenses, lined up in the alley along our fence.
Woodpeckers. It was also a good winter for Northern Flickers, who seemed to overcome their usual shyness and would feed very close to the house. We also saw them feeding on the ground, which I have never noticed before.
Downy Woodpeckers were plentiful, and Hairy Woodpeckers made occasional appearances. We didn’t see any Red Bellied Woodpeckers in 2013, though they had been common in prior years.
There were a huge number of red breasted nuthatches, which are normally pretty rare around here. The larger and more common white breasted could also be seen frequently walking up tree trunks or noshing at the peanut feeders.
Spring Migrants. I have never seen as many Baltimore Orioles as I did this last spring, which is good because they are one of my favorite birds. They made themselves very much at home in my back garden, compelling me to buy about three jars of grape jelly every week. It was nice to see lots of juveniles with the adults.
White Crowned and White Throated Sparrows made frequent appearances.
Oh, and I got very excited when I found a Cardinal nest in the tangle of Trumpet Honeysuckle and Prairie Rose against the back wall. Something bad must have happened to the eggs, though, as the juveniles never made their appearance.
And there were fewer Rose Breasted Grosbeaks than usual.
If winter and spring were a birding feast, summer was a quick descent into famine. The pickings seemed to be limited almost entirely to nuisance birds: grackles, starlings, house sparrows. Normally we see Baltimore Orioles all through the summer, but this year they stayed in the tree tops after early July.
There were Mourning Doves, who are fine but not very exciting. Also goldfinches, in modest numbers.
An odd thing was the absence of Chickadees, who are normally plentiful throughout the year.
Fall and into Winter Again
Things picked up when the weather cooled, then turned frigid. Our usual woodpeckers and nuthatches became a common sight again. Cardinals became quite plentiful, more so as the transition into another winter began.
One new development was the arrival of Bluejays, once a common bird but not seen in our garden since we moved here. Not everyone loves bluejays, as they are rude, loud, and greedy. Even so, I was glad to see them, even as they emptied out my peanut feeder.
So those are the highlights. I should mention that we saw a number of raptors: Red Tailed Hawks, Coopers Hawks, and Kestrels. In fact we saw a red tailed hawk on the back fence today. But Judy wasn’t able to get any good pictures, either today or the rest of the year.
Have there been any exciting bird developments in your garden?