|This Blue Jay takes shelter from the snow, putting the feeder's squirrel baffle to a new use.|
I’m writing this on October 20, 2020, watching snow accumulate, swirling around a couple hundred Pine Siskins, a hundred juncos, a good 50 Purple Finches, and a host of White-throated Sparrows all pigging out along with a handful of White-crowned Sparrows and the usual suspects—woodpeckers, Blue Jays, chickadees, and nuthatches. Today may be the earliest I’ve ever seen a Common Redpoll—one was feeding with the siskins at my feeder this morning, but I didn’t trust my eyes and it flitted before I could get my camera. Fortunately, it turned up again this afternoon—the same bird or another female, and I did manage to get photos.
Robins were flying through this morning while I refilled my feeders, and I saw one Townsend’s Solitaire among them. That one I got a great look at, though again, I didn’t have my camera.
This is actually our second snowfall—it came down pretty heavily on Saturday when I was part of the BirdWatching magazine’s Big Day team for Global Bird Weekend. I didn’t plot out my route very well if I was serious about maximizing the number of species I saw. I knew my feeder birds would be important, and took care of that with grandma duty first thing in the morning, but then Russ and I headed out to the Sax-Zim Bog when it would have been way more productive, and probably safer, to simply head up the shore and to Park Point. We didn’t get stuck anywhere, but that was sheer luck. Sensible people stayed clear of those county roads in the bog. We did see a shrike, one Canada Jay flying past, a group of Wild Turkeys, and a couple of harriers in the bog, as well as several ravens and Bald Eagles, and a whole mess of juncos and other sparrows, but birds were few and far between—in all the miles we covered, we saw just one single chickadee flitting across a road. The only mammal we saw in the bog was a single red squirrel. Oddly enough, I had one of them in my own yard, too. I still haven’t figured out where my little guy is hunkering down, but I love that it’s still showing up.
Saturday’s snow was accumulating here and there, but was gone in my neighborhood by Sunday, and suddenly birds were really passing through—I didn’t spend a lot of time outside, but did see lots of red-tailed hawks and Bald Eagles, two Northern Harriers, and one goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk, and Golden Eagle. A very dark-plumaged Red-winged Blackbird turned up at the feeders as well as a grackle.
At dusk, my neighbor called about a Saw-whet Owl in their back yard—the light was low, but I got a bunch of photos anyway.
And when I awoke the next morning and checked my trail cam to see what had shown up overnight, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a Great Horned Owl sitting on my tray feeder. There hadn’t been any mammals on it according to the camera, but it wasn’t looking at the feeder or the ground beneath—it just made a good perch to look all around. My cam takes three photos and then a 30-second video, and the video was really cool. The bird stayed only a few seconds after that.
A skunk visits my birdbath most nights, including that night, several hours later, and fortunately the owl didn’t get him—that would have been a smelly disaster for us, but also, I’m rather attached to the skunk who seems rather shy and retiring, as most skunks who live in neighborhoods like mine tend to be. I was also relieved that it didn’t get the flying squirrel I occasionally see. I don’t begrudge owls necessary calories, but would just as soon they ate strangers rather than anyone I know.
I expected my baby grandson’s first snow would come after his first World Series, but 2020 isn’t a normal year. With snow sticking and now a redpoll, I guess winter is here down on earth two full months before astronomers think it will arrive with the solstice.