Pine SIskens

Phenology Report: 24 Jan 2012

This last week could be summed up in one word: windy. We’ve had wind watches and warnings fairly regularly as  the powerful jet stream moved over. One night when I got up to move an empty trash can so it wouldn’t blow around on the deck (we use it to haul in wood for the woodstove), I opened the door and while the wind wasn’t strong at the moment on the deck, it sounded like the ocean out there. Waves of wind were crashing onto hillsides of trees. I couldn’t see a thing, but it sounded oh so immense.

That wind has been warm at times, a chinook devouring the snowpack at a rather alarmingly quick rate. And bitterly cold at other times. We’ve had a bit of a cold snap this January, but I hope to have at least one more – and a longer one – to kill off many of the beetles that attack the trees.

Since capturing the bobcat on the trail cam, the rabbit population is decidedly less around here. I’ve seen a few bobcat tracks around the woodpile, but nothing of late, and very little on the trail cam. A fresh snowfall would be helpful in seeing how many new rabbit tracks there are.

Yesterday morning, I noticed one of the squirrels that frequents the bird feeder had a chunk of fur missing from a section near the tip of his/her tail. It also spent more time watching the area than feeding. The deer moved through and a fox was on the trail cam about the time the squirrel was watching so intently. But who knows what it was – something got a mouthful of fur.

I think the first few signs of spring are beginning to show in the birds at the feeder.

Sign #1: Evening Grosbeaks

A post on one of the birding email lists I follow over at Birding on the Net mentioned seeing a flock of Evening Grosbeaks, but most of them were males. I started thinking about this because I’ve noticed mostly males at our feeders as well. I think it’s still a bit early for nesting for them, but not by much – they nested in February or March in a tree on a neighbor’s property last year. But maybe they are on nests. I’ll have to pay closer attention when they are here at the feeder and see if I can find the females. And watch for any signs they might be building nests.

Sign #2: Pine Siskens

We now see Pine Siskens at the feeders almost daily. Usually they’re a fairly chatty group – and are the only ones the grosbeaks will tolerate to share the feeder with them – I suspect not because they want to, but because the Pine Siskens stand their ground unlike the nuthatches and even Stellers Jays who back down to the grosbeaks almost immediately. Yesterday, though, was the first time I heard their ‘up the scale’ trilling song this year. Common in the summer, I don’t recall hearing it at all during this winter since they’ve come back. But the past week – full of wind as it was – had some very warm days that might have them practicing their summer song.

Sign #3: The Red Breasted Nuthatch

Now it’s the Red-breasted Nuthatches. He has a possible mate that showed up on Sunday. I had woken from a nap and was watching the birds when I could have sworn I saw two at once. Further observing showed that yes, there’s a female here now – she wears a slightly lighter color than the male that arrived last November. She would come to the feeder, grab a seed, and start to dash off when he’d notice she’d moved to the feeder. Rather than continuing to head to the feeder, he followed her. He also would grab a seed and rather than heading to the nearest tree to eat it as has been the norm, he flew out of sight with it – perhaps to woo the newcomer on the block?

Sign #4: The White Breasted Nuthatch

Yesterday I spent quite a bit of time in the afternoon watching one start a bit of spring cleaning. Mouthful by mouthful, it would take mainly grass and fly to a nearby tree (or farther up the Ponderosa the bird box sits on) and stuff what it could into the cracks in the bark – either on the trunk or on the branches. Occasionally, it seemed to stuff it between the pine needles as well. But I never saw any fur balls or big tufts of fur come out.

This is the third year I’ve watched this. Last year, they cleaned out the entire box – I opened it to find a neat row of bits of pine bark around the bottom of the box, the rest looked like it had been swept clean. After that came the grass and other dried foliage and occasional bits of fur. On top of that came the felted fur balls. Last year, I realized they were actually felting bits of fur they found into balls by stuffing it into the cracks on the trees and pulling it out and stuffing it back in repeatedly. When it was ‘right’ (whatever size or density, I’m not fully sure), into the nest it would go. On the very top of the nest when I checked it right before the eggs were laid, was a pile of rabbit fur and feathers of all kinds. We’ll see how things progress this year.


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