Varied Thrush

One of my favorite Winter visitors is the Varied Thrush.  I leave all the leaves in my beds mainly to attract them (and Towhees, and Juncos, and any other bird that needs bugs).  I began to worry that I wasn’t going to see any this year when I hadn’t seen one all the way through January, but we’ve had two regular visitors most of February.

They’re hard to get good shots of since they’re shy and will leave the yard immediately if you open the door and because they spend most of their time in the shade.  Still, if you’re patient enough and lucky enough, one will fly up to the nearest hydrangea instead of over the fence, like this female Varied Thrush.

Sometimes if they are foraging through the bed by the back fence they’re a little bolder, but then you have to crop the photo heavily.

Until I actually put all the shots up on my monitor I thought it was just a single thrush that was visiting us, the female showed above. I was wrong, though, as this is definitely a male Varied Thrush 

and so is this one.

It seems silly that such a little bird can bring some so much pleasure to an otherwise gray day, but whenever I see a Varied Thrush scratching through the leaves on the flower beds it makes me think that all the work we’ve put into transforming our grass into flower beds was more than worth the effort.

At Margaret’s House

Leslie spent a lot of time this Spring helping Margaret, so I would occasionally spend the night there, too.  I’ll have to admit that I would sometimes feel a little lost without my toys and with too little to do, but when I was really feeling bored I would take my camera and go out for a walk and entertain myself.  Early on I would just focus on the flowering trees in the orchard, 

or the beautiful azaleas that lined the road.

Margaret’s house is also a good place to see birds.  One day I even took my 500mm lens with a doubler but, of course, the terns that Leslie kept telling me about didn’t turn up since I had that lens with me.  They did show up on a day when I had my 600mm RF lens, though, and I managed to get some distant shots of them diving into the water.

When the tide was out and the sea birds had disappeared, I would wander the field in front of the house looking for song birds. I was amazed to find a small flock of American Goldfinches feeding on the dandelions growing where the field hadn’t been mowed recently.

I’ve always seen dandelions as an obnoxious weed, but I’ll have to admit that for a few minutes I actually thought of letting them grow in my yard instead of ruthlessly weeding them out. 

The best picture I got there, though, was taken as Leslie and I walked up to the mailbox to get the day’s mail. On the way, I heard a woodpecker hammering away trying to attract a mate.  When I turned around I spotted him on the address sign. 

I’ve seen so many Northern Flickers do this that I just assume it’s a Flicker when I hear the sound.  But this was clearly a Red-Breasted Sapsucker, and it stayed around long enough that I got a lot of shots, clearly as good as I can ever expect to get.

Stuck at Home?

Ninety-nine percent of the photos I post on In a Dark Time are photos I’ve taken on a day-trip or a vacation.  In the real world, though, I spend about ninety-nine percent of my time at home and one percent elsewhere, especially in the last year. But perhaps the greatest thing about birding is that you don’t have to leave home to observe local wildlife, at least if you design your yard to attract wildlife like we have.  

Our biggest attraction seems to be the birdbath, which has to be filled two or three times a day to keep it from going dry.  You don’t have to observe it too long to see why it has to be filled so often. 

It’s definitely worth the effort it takes to maintain it when you manage to attract even birds that you don’t see regularly like this Wilson Warbler who seemed to need a refreshing dip during his migration.

These American Goldfinches also dropped by early in Spring even though we rarely see them nearby.

This Northern Flicker must live nearby because we hear it beating on our chimney in early Spring and hear its cry in the woods across the road semi-regularly.  

Our sprinkler system is set to fill the birdbath every other day, and, though I’ve only seen it in the bath once or twice, I suspect it’s the bird that empties the bird bath almost immediately after its been filled.

The birdbath may be the magnet that draws visitors to our yard, but our landscaping has become home to several birds.  This House Finch leads his large family to our birdbath several times a day. 

I haven’t positively identified any young Spotted Towhee, but there’s definitely a pair that show up at the birdbath regularly. 

Black-Capped Chickadees forage in our fir tree frequently, but they’re much easier to photograph at the birdbath.

Though I’ve never seen a hummingbird in the birdbath Leslie tells me she has, but the main attraction at the moment are the volunteer Columbines that have spread like weeds throughout the garden, but because they attract bees and hummingbirds we don’t discourage their growth.  

As long-time readers might remember, Hummingbirds have long been a favorite photographic subject.  We love our hummingbirds except when one of them decides it’s his yard and drives out other hummingbirds. I have a hard time telling them apart, but one actually hit an intruder so hard that it bounced off the patio bricks.  I suspect the culprit was the same one that confronted Leslie when she went to fill up the birdbath but decided that a glare was all that was needed to confirm its ownership of the entire garden. 

Strangely enough, I don’t have a single shot of the most common bird that visits regularly and seems to have a nest in the plum tree, the Oregon Junco, a year-long visitor that loves the cones from the fir tree. 

Horned Grebes

Lots of birds, like the Dunlin’s I posted on the previous entry, change plumage dramatically from Winter to Spring, but, perhaps because I see the changes appear up-close-and-personal, none intrigue me more than those of the Horned Grebe.  Here’s a shot of Horned Grebe in winter plumage and another Horned Grebe that has nearly completed the change to its bright Spring garb.

Although the change takes place in a relatively short time,  it’s slow enough that you can photograph its evolution.  When I first saw this grebe in the Port Orchard Marina I actually thought it was in breeding colors.

Back at Port Orchard nearly a week later, this bird looked like it was in full breeding plumage 

until I was greeted by this one just as I was leaving the marina.

I knew that this must truly what Horned Grebes look like in full breeding colors because when I returned the next week there wasn’t a Horned Grebe in sight, and, traditionally, they all leave when they all have breeding plumage.