Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Standing Together

Tommy in the Everglades

In November 1988 when my children were still little, Russ had a meeting in Washington, D.C., so we planned a family adventure around it, using up Russ's vacation time to drive to D.C. and then, after the meeting, going on to Florida. That trip is still brought up in family lore—we visited the National Zoo and a lot of the memorials and museums in D.C., went to Disney World and Sea World, and camped for a few nights in the Florida Everglades. 

When we got home, the very first stories the kids poured out to Grandma and Grandpa weren’t about theme parks or pandas or touching a piece of the moon—their most vivid memories were our adventures in nature—Thanksgiving dinner cooked on a campfire and eaten in our tent in the Everglades, the frogs and toad in the campground bathroom, and the birds and alligators we saw along the Anhinga Trail. They told about playing and swimming with Daddy on Cocoa Beach while Mommy spent the entire time looking out on the ocean through a spotting scope—that’s when I saw my lifer Northern Gannets. I’d been an avid birder for over a decade before that trip, but added several other lifers, too, including my first Wood Stork, Limpkin, and Mangrove Cuckoo.

While we were planning the trip, one of the things we hoped to do was bring the kids to see my mother in Fort Lauderdale. I called her ahead of time to say we were coming and would love to see her and take her out to dinner—she hadn’t seen the kids since Joey was a toddler and Katie was a baby, and she hadn’t even seen Tommy yet—but she hung up on me. I was devastated, and Russ called the little ones over and explained that my mother was not a kind person, but that our real family—Grandma and Grandpa and Auntie Jeanie and Muncle Mike—loved them very much. Tommy was too little to understand, but 7-year-old Joey cried because his "other Grandma" didn’t want to see him. Katie focused on something else—she came running to me and threw her arms around my neck and said (and this is an exact quote), “Oh, my dear sweet Mommy. How did you learn to be a kind mommy when you didn’t have a kind mommy to teach you?”

Katie and Orange-crowned Warbler

That was an astonishing thing for a four-year-old to say, and at the time, all I could do was hug her. But when I think about it, I realize there was a very simple answer to her question. Everything I knew about being a kind mommy I learned from Fred Rogers.

From the time Joey was a baby, I’d been watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood every day. His warm and calming demeanor was balm to my soul, and little by little he brought light and fresh air into the darker regions of my heart and healed the bruises I didn’t realize were still there from my battered childhood. One of my most treasured belongings is a personal letter he sent me back in 1993.

Laura's Letter from Mr. Rogers, page 1

Laura's Letter from Mr. Rogers, Page 2

 I’ve been thinking about Mr. Rogers a lot lately, thanks to a recent documentary and an upcoming film about him. And of course people post his words in the aftermath of hurricanes and other natural disasters. But his words appeared on Facebook and other social media even more than usual after last week’s three horrifying white supremacist terrorism attacks. People all over the internet were quoting Mr. Rogers’s famous line, “Look for the helpers.” Rogers wrote:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.
Rogers's words were not written to comfort adults—he was telling us how to explain scary things to children. He said that children “need to hear very clearly that their parents are doing all they can to take care of them and to keep them safe.”

Few people seem to realize that the underlying context is that the adults are supposed to BE the helpers. My daughter grasped that concept and assumed the helper role herself when she was four years old, but more and more of the problems we’re facing right now, from that horrifying rise in white supremacy to the climate change that is exacerbating storms, are not being addressed by adults.

Indeed, right now it’s children who are stepping up to the plate more than adults to be the helpers with regard to climate change. In a lawsuit filed in 2015 during the Obama administration, 21 children and adults, aged 11 to 22, accused the federal government of violating their due process rights by knowing for decades that carbon pollution poisons the environment, but doing nothing about it. They’re seeking various environmental remedies, all of which would improve air and water quality even beyond climate effects.

Their lawsuit, titled Juliana v. U.S., had been scheduled to begin in U.S. District Court in Oregon on Monday before it was temporarily blocked from proceeding by the Supreme Court on Oct. 18. The Department of Justice contends that letting the case proceed would be too burdensome, unconstitutionally pit the courts against the executive branch, and require improper “agency decision-making” by forcing officials to answer questions about climate change. The Justice Department also argues there is no right to “a climate system capable of sustaining human life.”  The Supreme Court said it would rule on whether the case could proceed in the lower court after it received responses from the plaintiffs and the lower court to the Department of Justice's objections.

I’m 66 years old, so can’t expect at most more than 2 or 3 more decades on this planet (and with my family health history, less than 1!). But I have children. It’s my job as an adult to be one of those helpers, trying my best to make disasters less likely in the future. Some of us have expertise and life experiences that qualify us to focus on specific issues, but all of us American citizens are human beings who were given a system that at least aspires to “liberty and justice for all,” and a government whose stated aim is to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Our system and government have always fallen short of these well articulated ideals, but it’s our job as adults to roll up our sleeves and make that system and government better.

Captain Sully Sullenberger, who like Mr. Rogers was a lifelong Republican, became famous for that “Miracle on the Hudson.” He wrote in today’s Washington Post:
As captain, I ultimately was responsible for everything that happened. Had even one person not survived, I would have considered it a tragic failure that I would have felt deeply for the rest of my life. To navigate complex challenges, all leaders must take responsibility and have a moral compass grounded in competence, integrity and concern for the greater good.   
I am often told how calm I sounded speaking to passengers, crew and air traffic control during the emergency. In every situation, but especially challenging ones, a leader sets the tone and must create an environment in which all can do their best. You get what you project. Whether it is calm and confidence — or fear, anger and hatred — people will respond in kind. Courage can be contagious.   
Today, tragically, too many people in power are projecting the worst. Many are cowardly, complicit enablers, acting against the interests of the United States, our allies and democracy; encouraging extremists at home and emboldening our adversaries abroad; and threatening the livability of our planet. Many do not respect the offices they hold; they lack — or disregard — a basic knowledge of history, science and leadership; and they act impulsively, worsening a toxic political environment.   
As a result, we are in a struggle for who and what we are as a people. We have lost what in the military we call unit cohesion. The fabric of our nation is under attack, while shame — a timeless beacon of right and wrong — seems dead.  
We need to be stepping up to the plate to restore American values—the ones that safeguard our air and water, an essential part of that “general welfare” our Constitution calls for, and that safeguard every one of our citizens against ugly, genuinely evil forces that would divide us, when our government’s existence was created to form a more perfect union, establish justice, and insure domestic tranquility.

As the children in the lawsuit know, and as an army of legitimate scientists have told us, the changes in climate endanger everyone in America as well as throughout the world. My precious daughter lives in New York, a coastal city, and my precious son Joey in Florida—it’s my job to be a helper protecting them as much as possible at this late date from the effects of climate change and the horrifying rampages of white supremacists.

We are facing a big choice next week, one that will decide whether the leaders we follow are like Captain Sullenberger and Fred Rogers, or ones that will keep leading us down this dark tunnel. As Sullenberger concluded in today’s op-ed:
Our ideals, shared facts and common humanity are what bind us together as a nation and a people. Not one of these values is a political issue, but the lack of them is.
This current absence of civic virtues is not normal, and we must not allow it to become normal. We must rededicate ourselves to the ideals, values and norms that unite us and upon which our democracy depends… We cannot wait for someone to save us. We must do it ourselves. This Election Day is a crucial opportunity to again demonstrate the best in each of us by doing our duty and voting for leaders who are committed to the values that will unite and protect us. Years from now, when our grandchildren learn about this critical time in our nation’s history, they may ask if we got involved, if we made our voices heard. I know what my answer will be. I hope yours will be “yes.”
Statue of Liberty

Friday, October 26, 2018

Choosing a life path: wolf or chickadee?

(This is the text and photos from my recent TEDxBemidji talk. I took all of the photos except the title poster (Russ took that photo of me), the photo of me giving the talk (Photo credit: John LaTourelle Photography, TEDxBemidji), the wolf photos (Photo Credit: Melissa Groo, Lisa Johnson, and Lynne Casperson Schoenborn), and the baby ptarmigan photo (Photo credit: Melissa Groo.) I put the photographer's name on those, in the right bottom corner. Thank you so much to Melissa Groo, Lisa Johnson, and Lynne Casperson Schoenborn for helping with this!!)

TEDxBemidji 2018
John LaTourelle Photography, TEDxBemidji
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away—Chicago, to be precise—a little girl fell in love with wolves. A friend gave me the book White Fang when I was eight, and I read it over and over.
Copyright 2018 by Lisa Johnson
I didn’t discover chickadees until I was 23, but I quickly fell in love with them, too. When I have a problem, I often think, “How would a chickadee handle this?” It never occurs to me to wonder what a wolf would do.

People who say it’s a dog-eat-dog world so go for the jugular because cutthroat competitiveness is the way to make a killing and win forget how The Wolf of Wall Street ended—bad for him, and worse for a whole lot of other people.
Copyright 2018 by Lynne Casperson Schoenborn
There are many reasons why wolves are vanishing even as chickadees thrive. Maybe the little guys know something we don’t.

While putting this talk together, I asked a few friends which they would rather be—a wolf or a chickadee. Just about everyone went with wolves. Why? “No one messes with them.” “Wolves can take care of themselves.” And especially, “Wolves live longer.” But that one’s not true. Few wolves or chickadees survive their first year, but once they do, both species have a life expectancy of 4-8 years, and in both cases, some live much longer—wild wolves to 13 and chickadees to 12. 

A 150-pound wolf would balance roughly 6,000 chickadees. But for their size, chickadees are every bit as fierce when ferocity is called for.
Wolf photo copyright 2018 by Lisa Johnson
Ask any bird bander. If you grab a chickadee against its will, you are going to get walloped…

... and chickadees know right where to peck and bite to inflict the most pain. A chickadee battling a bird bander is like Ahab stabbing Moby Dick himself. 

A wolf would have to face a predator the size of the largest sperm whale on earth to measure up to a chickadee facing a bander.

But in a chickadee’s everyday life, curiosity and open-mindedness are much more valuable than ferocity. Hunters often tell me about hand-feeding chickadees up in their deer stands. Some chickadees even alight on their eyeglasses, hats, or beards to pick at dried blood on their faces. Hunters get a kick out of it, and chickadees get protein. Win-win.

We romanticize ferocity in a way I didn’t understand when I first read White Fang. When the little wolf cub left his mother’s den for the first time, he chanced upon a nestful of ptarmigan chicks and gobbled them up, and when their mother flew in, he killed and ate her, too.

He obviously had to hunt to survive, but Jack London’s salivating prose seemed excessive: “The lust to kill was on him... He was thrilling and exulting in ways new to him and greater to him than any he had known before.”  
Copyright 2018 by Melissa Groo
Imagine writing so intensely about a goldfinch thrilling as it rips apart and devours thistle flowers,

or a grosbeak exultantly chomping the life out of a box elder seed. No wonder Teddy Roosevelt panned Jack London’s books.

The magnificence of wolves and their importance in the web of life cannot be denied, but we glamorize “nature red in tooth and claw” as if nature’s vegetarians and insectivores aren’t equally vital and evolutionarily fit.
Copyright 2018 by Melissa Groo
Wolves do live in a kill-or-be-killed world where the main natural cause of mortality for adults is other wolves. Aggressive competitiveness keeps their numbers down so they won’t run out of prey; that’s why omnivores so outnumber them.
Copyright 2018 by Lynne Casperson Schoenborn
Even where wolves are most plentiful in the United States, in Minnesota and Alaska, chickadees are orders of magnitude more abundant. In both states, the Black-capped Chickadee population is about 2 million compared to Minnesota’s 2,800 wolves and Alaska’s 11,000.
Wolf photo copyright 2018 by Lisa Johnson
If we were carnivores, our numbers would have to be much smaller, too, but we’re not. Most of us eat meat, but based on our teeth, digestive system, and body structure, we’re omnivores just like chickadees.

And like them, we’re territorial but have to tolerate our neighbors. Chickadees sometimes squabble, but I’ve never witnessed a physical fight. They solve disputes with vocalizations and having the brains and humility to admit when they lose a debate. Coming to blows would be uncivilized.

Wolves avoid some fights by intimidation, faking dominance with aggressive posturing.
Copyright 2018 by Lisa Johnson
Juvenile chickadees try that too, at first, approaching others with feathers fluffed and wings open to appear as big and fierce as possible. But the adults ignore them, and soon the young birds realize they’re not fooling anyone.

Like wolves and baby chickadees, we humans bluff, bluster, and posture. Standing on this stage right now is Exhibit A. I was coached on how to appear more credible than I maybe really am. Should you believe anything I say when I’m putting on airs like a baby chickadee? Judge my words and facts, so you can do what any mature chickadee does—distinguish truth from a con.

A high rank assures a wolf of more food than its pack mates right up until it gets killed or wounded by one of those pack mates. It’s a zero-sum game—for one wolf to win, another must lose.
Copyright 2018 by Lynne Casperson Schoenborn
A chickadee’s rank doesn’t determine its survival or how much food it gets. Chickadee hierarchies simply set the order in which they take shared resources, ensuring domestic tranquility.

Wolves form packs because it takes coordinated effort to kill large prey, but once the moose is down, wolves fight fiercely over who gets what.
Copyright 2018 by Lisa Johnson
Chickadees are more self-reliant, each finding and caching away its own meals. The harder a chickadee works, the more food it gathers against hard times ahead, embodying the best of capitalism.

But those same tiny capitalists also embody the best of socialism. If lightning blasts the birch where a chickadee squirreled away most of its food stores, it’s welcome to raid other chickadees’ caches. In their world, it’s all for one, and one for all.

Chickadees don’t kill their enemies. They mob little owls, trying to drive them off, but when they spot most predators, they simply fly away. And the more eyes looking for danger, the easier to elude it.

That’s why chickadees welcome all kinds of birds into their flocks regardless of race, color, sex, or even species, as long as they’re not predators. Homeless, tempest-tossed warblers passing through Minnesota in spring and fall know which bird lifts its lamp to welcome them.

Chickadees don’t just believe in inclusiveness—they thrive because of it. 

I reread White Fang a few weeks ago. I still love that little wolf cub and the magnificent animal he became, but it isn’t just the over-romanticizing of killing, and the ugly racism I had no way of seeing as an 8-year-old white girl from Chicago, that now make me cringe.

Jack London wrote of a silent, desolate world of "laughter more terrible than any sadness... it was…eternity laughing at the futility of life ... It was … the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild."

Oh, come on! I remember February 2, 1996, when we hit that record 60 below zero. That morning was hardly silent or desolate. Someone slept in a snow fort up in Tower, emerging triumphantly at first light to cameras, microphones, and cheers, while no one even noticed all the chickadees calling and singing in the background.

They had each slept in their own little cavity or crevice, naked as jaybirds, no hand-warmers or camp stoves for them, and come morning, those tiny survivors went about their business like 60 below was no big deal. 

Aldo Leopold loved wolves, but he didn’t hear the terrible, mirthless laughter of Jack London’s wild imaginings.
Copyright 2018 by Lisa Johnson
Leopold heard something more joyful—he heard chickadees. He wrote in A Sand County Almanac:
That whimsical fellow called evolution, having enlarged the dinosaur until he tripped over his own toes, tried shrinking the chickadee until he was just too big to be snapped up by flycatchers as an insect, and just too little to be pursued by hawks and owls as meat. Then he regarded his handiwork and laughed. Everyone laughs at so small a bundle of large enthusiasms.

Right now, our country needs joyful, shared laughter. And we need something more. I wish that we, the only species on earth whose numbers include actual rocket scientists, could harness our intelligence to figure out how to live up to the Preamble to our own Constitution the way chickadees do.

They establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity.

We’re the ones who had the brains and heart to articulate that vision 230 years ago, yet we seem further from achieving it now than ever before. Let’s look to chickadees to lighten our hearts and light our way.

Lark Bunting in Duluth!

Lark Bunting in Duluth!

On Monday this week, my friend Dudley Edmondson discovered a Lark Bunting on Park Point by Sky Harbor Airport. He said the lost little bird was hanging out with Harris’s and White-throated Sparrows.

Late Tuesday afternoon, I got over there while it was still hanging out exactly where Dudley had originally found it, and where various people had reported it Tuesday morning, in the weeds and roadside just beyond the last hangar. Considering how easy it is for birds to fly, and how this particular vagrant was a good thousand miles from where it would normally be right now, it surprised me how it was sticking around in one tiny area for so long, but then I thought how much inappropriate habitat it must have flown over to reach Park Point from the High Plains of its breeding grounds, or the shortgrass prairies of Texas and Arizona and the High Plateau of Mexico where it should be headed for winter. Maybe when it finally discovered a good spot, it wanted to sit tight for a while before striking out into unfamiliar territory once again. It stuck around in that exact same area into at least Wednesday.

Lark Bunting in Duluth!

Because I didn’t get there until late in the day, my photos are low contrast and grainy, but these are the first Lark Bunting photos I’ve ever taken, so I can’t complain. During my Conservation Big Year, I visited Colorado in April before Lark Buntings arrived, and didn’t see them anywhere that year until November in Texas, where they didn’t let me get close. So I’m delighted to have any photos. But I badly want to photograph them in Colorado. I saw my lifer in Texas in the winter of 1978, but in 1979 I got to see males in full breeding plumage in Colorado and Wyoming in June and South Dakota in early August. 

Red Rose Tea and Coffee Company bird trading cards

Unlike virtually all sparrows, adult male Lark Buntings have a striking black-and-white breeding plumage that makes it easy to understand why this was selected as Colorado’s state bird. But the dramatic male breeding plumage is entirely different from the basic, more sparrow-like plumage males wear in winter, which resembles that of the females. This time of year, Lark Buntings are all rather drab, with only the white wing patch to set them apart from a generic sparrow. Males usually show at least some blackish around the bill, which this bird does not have, but I can’t seem to confirm whether these blackish feathers are found in first year males or just adults, so I’m guessing the Duluth bird is a female but am not 100 percent certain. So unless someone very familiar with Lark Bunting tells me otherwise, I’ll have to call this a female of unknown age or a first-year male.

Lark Bunting in Duluth!

According to Sibley, vagrant Lark Buntings are "usually solitary," but this one is either functionally illiterate or uses another field guide, because it was hanging out with a Harris’s Sparrow when I saw it, and all the reports I’ve read noted that it was hanging out with one or more sparrows. That seems more in keeping with my National Geographic field guide, which says that Lark Buntings are "gregarious year-round." Most of the gregarious flocking species I am familiar with, such as waxwings and Pine Grosbeaks, join flocks of other species when they can’t find their own kind, so I wasn’t surprised that this little one was staying so close to the Harris’s Sparrow the whole time I watched.

Lark Bunting and Harris's Sparrow

Lark Buntings once bred at least sporadically in southwestern Minnesota. But like most prairie species, they’re declining now, and have disappeared from the edges of their breeding range; nesting hasn't been confirmed in Minnesota since 1964. I saw my first Lark Bunting in this state in the prairie area of Rock County back in August 1990. This little guy in Duluth is only the second I’ve seen in Minnesota, and was a lifer or a new state bird for a lot of active birders. Even beyond the fun of adding a new bird, it filled a lot of birders with joy. I pointed it out to a couple of dog-walkers, and they seemed suitably impressed, too. I wish the enthusiasm we feel toward these tiny wanderers translated to protecting their breeding and wintering habitat, but with so many other pressing issues diverting attention from conservation and basic environmental protections, I'm afraid Lark Buntings aren't a top priority for anyone. The state bird of Colorado deserves better.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Yellow-rumps: Gone with the Wind

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Last week I gave a TEDx talk in Bemidji, Minnesota. When Russ and I left on Wednesday morning, October 17, I still had at least 40 Yellow-rumped Warblers in my yard. When we got back at mid-afternoon on Friday, there were still 15 or 20. The wind was strong from the northwest, blowing in some snow that night and blowing out the warblers. One lingered on Saturday morning, but he or she didn’t stick around. On Sunday, October 21, I didn’t see one for the first time all month. 

I’m not used to seeing as many yellow-rumps in my yard as I had this year—there were as many as 80 or even 100 in my yard much of the time during the first two weeks of October, and even as the numbers started to dwindle on October 15, my interest held strong because one of them was a lovely little leucistic bird.

Leucistic Yellow-rumped Warbler

There’s something about any conspicuously aberrant individual that instantly snares my attention and affection—probably because it’s so easily recognizable as an individual. The moment I noticed the Yellow-rumped Warbler with unusual white areas on its plumage, I found myself immediately keeping track of it. The little thing held its own in faceoffs with other Yellow-rumps as they crowded into my suet cakes—in other faceoffs between Yellow-rumps, it’s tricky to figure which “won” because they’re hard to tell apart. 

As thick as the Yellow-rumps were last week, this week they’re gone. Just like that. When I look at my calendar, these end-of-September migrants are way off. I’ve had large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers during the first few days of October before, but never into the third week of the month. 

Yellow-rumped Warblers don’t look at or even think about our calendars, but it suddenly occurred to me that one of the other things happening outdoors right as their numbers peak is leaf color. This year, leaves remained green on a lot of trees much later than normal, and way more trees are still clinging to leaves right now, on October 23, than I’ve ever seen this late in the month. 

Leaf color doesn’t seem directly, or at least simply, related to temperature—we’ve had some pretty cool summers where the leaves lasted relatively longer, and have had lots of trees changing colors early when the end of summer was warm and dry. But climate change involves rainfall patterns as well as temperature, and so may well be an important driver of changes in fall color. 

Those changing leaves fill us humans with wonder, but I wonder how changing and falling leaves affect the insects up in trees and on the ground among the growing piles of leaf litter. That will be interesting to research, because those insects must affect insectivores like Yellow-rumped Warblers. While I was in Bemidji, I spent several minutes watching an Eastern Phoebe still flycatching on a beautiful but cold day. When I entered my sighting of it into eBird, I had to add details because October 17 was later than phoebes are supposed to be seen up there. 

I’ll be looking for scientific papers about fall colors now, and how the timing of various trees losing their leaves relates to insect populations. As I hunker down, battening the hatches for winter and spending time sitting at a window watching my chickadees and winter bird arrivals, I’ll ponder this intriguing question. But meanwhile, I’m glad that my yellow-rumps have moved on. It’s getting cold out there!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

October Yellow-rumped Warblers

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Every autumn is unique, but there are definite patterns that birds follow. We always have a major warbler movement in late August and through September, along with Cedar Waxwings. White-throated Sparrows come in in big numbers in September, then White-crowned and Harris’s Sparrows, and then juncos and Fox Sparrows as Yellow-rumpeds bring up the end of the warbler movements in late September and early October. Some years we’ll see large numbers of some or many species, other years will be more lackadaisical, but overall, fall migration is fall migration.

Sometimes when I think I’m seeing something I’ve never seen before, it turns out that I have—or at least something similar. Over the years, I’ve had lots of Cape May Warblers at jelly feeders.

Cape May Warbler

An occasional warbler of other species comes to my suet suet. Most notably, I’ve photographed one Pine Warbler coming regularly for a few days in 2003,

Pine Warbler at my suet feeder

and what looked like a very confused, wet Chestnut-sided Warbler standing on my tray feeder in the rain in 2004.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

I saw my first Yellow-rumped Warbler at my feeder in 2001.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Since then, every now and then one would show up briefly in spring or fall. But in 2014, suddenly the little guys were everywhere. I took a photo at my feeder on October 7, 2014, captioning it in my blog “I've had as many as 12 Yellow-rumped Warblers in my suet and peanut butter feeders at the same time this week. This is not a typical visitor at bird feeders, but they're desperate.”

Yellow-rumped Warblers at my suet and peanut butter feeders.

Since then, I’ve had good numbers a couple times, but this spring didn’t see any at my feeders.

But this fall, suddenly, there they were. And I don’t mean just a dozen or so—I’ve had as many as 30 Yellow-rumped Warblers at my feeders at once, with 80 in my backyard at the same time.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

And this stretch of Yellow-rumps didn’t last for just several days or a week as it has in past weeks—it’s stretched through the first half of the month so far—I was still seeing at least 50 Yellow-rumps in the yard on the 17th. One of them is simply gorgeous—the first leucistic Yellow-rumped Warbler I’ve ever seen, with a pretty white collar, a few white patches, and a paler overall coloring except the yellow areas.

Leucistic Yellow-rumped Warbler

Leucistic Yellow-rumped Warbler

With so many warblers, I have three suet feeders filled with five suet cakes, and I’m needing to add one new suet cake every day, which may be more than I’ve ever used before, though when I was getting free raw suet from the grocery store in winters back in the 80s, I may have been using this much—I didn’t think to keep records. I’ve also been going through a lot of mealworms. I put them only in one little acrylic feeder stuck with suction cups to my home office window, for my chickadees, but of course the Yellow-rumps have discovered it, too. I’d not been handfeeding my chickadees all year—I mostly work from a desk treadmill now which makes it harder to notice when the chickadees are here, so I can’t jump to the window when they show up. But one chickadee still takes mealworms from my hand, and one or two warblers have tried that too, now—the only time in my life I’ve ever had a warbler alight willingly on my hand.

I’ve been using more than one 50 pound bag of black oil sunflower seeds each week, thanks to the huge number of Blue Jays I was getting as well as the high numbers of sparrows and juncos. That’s leveled off now that most of the Blue Jays have moved on, but even as the sparrow numbers seem to have peaked, I’m now getting lots of Purple Finches.

Every morning I’ve been surprised all over again to hear yellow-rumps chipping. One morning soon I’ll wake up and that sound will be gone. I’ll miss them, but my main feeling will be relief—it’s sort of scary to have them here so late when we’ve been having such cold weather now. And when they’re gone, people will finally stop asking me about drunk birds. At least I hope so. 

Yellow-rumped Warbler