Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Backyard Fun

Northern Saw-whet Owl with mouse

This fall migration has been very fun for me, even being stuck at home not being able to chase the Buff-breasted Sandpipers and Sabine’s Gulls I’m reading about others finding near Duluth. Last night, September 16, about 11 pm, after the Cubs had won in extra innings, I took my dog Pip outside before bed. It was a lovely night—stars filling the sky and little wind. I could hear a few migrants flying overhead, but my attention was arrested by someone calling much closer to the ground, a saw-whet owl. I’ve been putting one of my trail cams into my platform feeder at nighttime. I was hoping I might catch a little flying squirrel action, though Russ and I haven’t noticed any in our yard since the early 90s, but instead every night a deer mouse materializes in that feeder. It’s up on a tall pole with a squirrel baffle, and I haven’t quite figured how it’s getting into the feeder, but I’ve grown attached to the little guy. First thing this morning, I checked my cam pictures to make sure the owl hadn’t flown off with him. I don’t begrudge saw-whet owls calories, just so they don’t come from my personal friends.  

Deer mouse

Hawks have been migrating through. I’ve seen quite a few Broad-winged and Sharp-shinned Hawks, Bald Eagles, Merlins, and one Peregrine Falcon, and had one Broad-wing drop down into my own backyard for a bit. My Blue Jays squawk to beat the band when they notice a Merlin or Sharpie flying through. So far so good as far as my Blue Jays surviving the onslaught.   

Broad-winged Hawk near

On the best days here under Hawk Ridge, most of the raptors have seemed to be flying pretty high, and I haven’t sat outside watching them. But oddly enough, I added one as a new yard bird on Sunday the 13th—a Mississippi Kite—strictly by luck. I was watering plants on my front porch when I looked at the sky to the south, toward the lake, and saw a falcon-shaped bird with a fluttery flight moving along. My good friend Susan lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and when I visit her, I see lots of Mississippi Kites, so I’ve become very familiar with them in flight, but they’re quite rare in this St. Louis County, and I was holding a watering can, not binoculars or my camera. I checked the Hawk Ridge site—they saw one on September 9, but no one reported this one on the 13th. So it was going to be one of those “ones that got away” until Julian Sellers posted on the MOU listserv that he had seen one just a few minutes after I had, flying in that same general area. Confirmation!  

Gray-cheeked Thrush

My dogwood has ripe berries again and my mountain ash is nice and full. I’ve been seeing lots of Swainson’s Thrushes and a few Gray-cheeks in with the robins pigging out here. Red-eyed Vireos keep showing up, too, sometimes eating berries but mostly munching on the insects that are also attracted to fruits. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is almost always somewhere in my mountain ash or crabapple tree. My male Pileated Woodpecker, who disappeared during the nesting season, is back and has given me some splendid photo ops, but not in the fruit trees.  

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

2020 has become my personal Year of the Blue Jay. I’ve had so many great opportunities for photos, and on September 14, I had another first—a leucistic Blue Jay among the dozens visiting my feeders. I personally prefer to call any bird with normal plumage except for some pure white patches a “partial albino”—leucism can refer to any abnormality involving less melanin than normal, from patches of white to overall pale, or “dilute” plumage, so it doesn’t seem very precise. The bird in my yard had perfect Blue Jay plumage except its nape, which was pure white extending right up to the vertical black facial markings, and its blue crown, flecked with white. During the one day it was here, that jay flew off any time I tried to photograph it outside, but I got some decent photos from my dining room.   

Leucistic Blue Jay

Leucistic Blue Jay

A few times, I’ve had a hummingbird in mid or late September, but never before this year have I had hummingbirds just about every day through at least September 16. I haven’t seen it yet today.   

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

I got pretty solid confirmation that autumn is really here when a Fox Sparrow joined my abundant White-throats. Also, a flock of between 75 and 100 Pine Siskins dropped in about noon strictly for my birdbaths. I saw them out the window but didn’t get outside in time to get photos. Fortunately, my trail cam was on the scene.   

Pine Siskins at my bird bath

Every day brings something new, so it’s worth looking out the windows and, better yet, getting out there to enjoy. If we’re going to be stuck in a pandemic for a while, we might as well have fun with the birds.  

Pine Siskins at my bird bath

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