Tag Archive | birds

We couldn’t dodge the snow and ice forever, I guess

The snow started coming down earlier than forecast.

While a whole lot of the continent was experiencing freakishly cold tempts thanks to the polar vortex, Seattle had the warmest January on record (after a warmer-than-average but not record-breaking December_. It was freaky. Three of my fuchsias on the veranda was still putting out new blooms in late December, and one of there was still doing so in late January. We had high pollen counts at the end of January that forced me to take the maximum dose of my prescription allergy medicine. It was looking like this was going to be one of those mild Seattle winters where I never got to take a break from the prescription medication at all. I mean, most years I have to take the meds for about 10 months out of the year (and I get so tired of explaining to people that yes, you can have hay fever in November—that’s peak mushroom and toadstool season!).

Then last week the local meteorology professor whose blog I read all the time explained how we might be seeing snow by Sunday, and why even though normally you can’t trust forecasts more than four days out, it was a near certainty that all this week we would have freezing weather.

The last in depth forecast I read on Saturday said that we would get snow, but likely no more than an inch of accumulation. And, because of that warmer than usual December and January, the ground was warmer than usual, so the roads and highways would almost certainly be fine Monday.

Whoops!

The forecast had also said that the snow wouldn’t hit our section of the state until nearly sundown on Sunday. So when I looked out the window Sunday afternoon as I was checking on my Superbowl Chili before 1pm and saw that snow was coming down, I was a bit freaked out.

By sundown Sunday there was more than two inches accumulated outside our place, and the snow was still coming down. Overnight lows were “only” in the low 20s Farenheit, but our power went out at about 5:30 in the morning, and by the time the sun was up enough for me to see outside, it was clear we had more than 5 inches of accumulation. All of the schools in the county closed for the day. The highway patrol as well as the state and city departments of transportation was urging everyone that could avoid driving at all to stay off the roads. It was quite icy.

Our power was restored before noon, which was nice. Because it was getting very windy in the early evening Sunday, I made an extra pot of coffee, because I figured a power outage was more than just possible. So one of the upsides to my morning was that I had coffee to drink while I was getting ready for work. It was cold coffee, but it was coffee. As I checked in at work (thank goodness for full charges on the phone and iPad) pretty much all of my co-workers were staying home either because of the roads or because their kids were home from school.

Another upside to all of this were birds at the bird feeder!

I have written before about how, when an immature Cooper’s Hawk started hanging out on my veranda we went from frequently having crowds of one to two dozen sparrows, chickadees, and juncos at our bird feeder, pecking at seeds that get scattered on the deck by the birds pecking at the feeder, or just hanging out in lines waiting for spots to open up on the feeder to me only very occasionally seeing pairs of birds arrive together, most of the time only willing to peck for seeds on the deck down where they could easily hide behind/between my planters and such.

Well, Sunday afternoon as the snow filled the sky, suddenly I had between four and eight little bird out there at a time. That day they were still doing the buddy system I had noticed before: one will peck for seeds either on the deck or the feeder, while the other perches on a tree branch or in one of my larger lavenders and keep an eye peeled; then they trade places after a couple of minutes. So it was all pairs coming to the veranda, and half of each pair would eat while the other kept watch.

I haven’t seen any sign of the hawk since about a week after Thanksgiving. Since about half of all Cooper’s Hawks migrate, it is possible that she was only in our region for about a month while slowly moving south. It’s also possible that the area (since we are in a city, despite the huge numbers of trees all around) simply didn’t have enough prey to support her long term and she moved elsewhere once our neighborhood was hunted out.

Anyway, since I was home today, and in was a day with lots of conference calls (again, thank goodness for phones with good battery life!) I got to watch the feeder. There is a lot of snow on the deck. So even though I spread a lot of extra seed Sunday afternoon once I realized the cold was driving the birds to be less cautious (I also re-filled the feeder), their only real source of food at there was the feeder itself. And the buddy system doesn’t seem to be quite as much an imperative for them.

Standing very still for many minutes back away from the window, using the zoom, I eventually managed to get a picture with more than one bird in it.

They are very skittish, and every time I tried to ease myself slowly to the window to get pictures, they scattered. I eventually managed to get a picture with two birds at the feeder and one visible on the deck below them. The little birds are so light, they don’t sink into the 4+ inches of snow on the deck!

My boss had been trying to get everyone in the department, even folks that usually work from home full time, to come in for a long whiteboarding/planning session for Tuesday. But when the places she tried to order lunch from all pointed out their delivery was iffy, given how icy the roads are expected to be (and the possibility that many schools would still be closed), she started messaging all of us about rescheduling. Her Wednesday, unfortunately, is completely booked with back-to-back management and cross-department status meetings (and since I’m one of the few other members of our group who also works on every single project {being the only technical writer}, I’m in half of those, too), so the earliest we could reschedule is Thursday. Except all the forecasts are saying (beside the temperatures not getting above freezing the rest of the week) that there will be more snow, and possible worse snow, come Thursday… well, it became obvious we need to do the meeting Tuesday, we’re just going to all be doing it remotely.

Which I’m quite happy about, because the only time I’ve been able to make my feet feel anything other than frozen since this thing started is when I’m under the electric blanket. So I really do not want to spend any time standing on frozen sidewalks waiting for a bus!

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For the birds

It works better if I stay back from the window and have the camera zoom.

It works better if I stay back from the window and have the camera zoom.

After putting up the new bird feeder over a week ago and being really happy when birds actually started using it, a new part of my morning routine has become peeking between the blinds to check on the feeder (since opening the blinds sends the birds scattering, and I’d only just have to close them again before I left). I only caught birds actually at the feeder when I peeked once, but I could notice from day to day the level of seed in the feeder decreasing at a noticeable rate. Which was good news, since the other style of feeder we had up all summer never had the seed level decrease the whole time.

On Friday, a work-from-home day, I had the blinds open all day. The birds flew away when I opened, of course, but soon came back. There were several points in the day Friday when there were between three and four small birds arrayed around the perch of the feeder, and three or four more on the deck under the feeder pecking up seeds. A couple of times a crow would fly up and intentionally chase the other birds away, then it would land on the deck and eat a bunch of the spilled seeds. At one point there were two crows on the deck both amicably eating, put when a third crow landed on the rail, the other two leapt at it, cawing and flapping noisily. Earlier in the summer I had deduced that there was a mated pair of crows with a nest in one of the big evergreens behind us, so I suspect the two that were happy to share the deck are that pair.

The feeder’s package had said it held up to two pounds of seeds. I’d filled it completely full Saturday before last, and by this last Saturday, the feeder was a bit less than half full. So Saturday afternoon I took the big bag of seed out to top off the feeder. There were a couple of birds on the feeder and at least one on the deck when I opened the sliding glass door. They scattered immediately, but landed on the branches nearby and chirped at me rather insistently. I interpreted it as them trying to get me to leave so they could get back to eating.

Anyway, while I was getting the feeder down and such, I managed to spill maybe half to three-quarters of a cup worth of the seeds from the bag in a spot right next to where I was working. I filled up the feeder, hung it back up, resealed the bag and put it away, then came back out with the broom and dustpan. I had already planned to sweep the whole deck. The birds scatter a lot of seeds in the course of eating. And they get everywhere. It’s the only thing worse than pine needles. I swept up everything except the little pile where I had spilled, and once it was altogether I only had one dustpan full. And about half of the volume of what I had was the aforementioned pine needles. So while they knock a lot of the seeds out of the feeder while they’re eating, they also eat a lot of the spilled seeds.

So, they appear to go through about a pound of seed a week.

I took this one during lunch on Friday. On work for home days I like to eat lunch out on the veranda. This little guy was the only one brave enough to come back to the deck and hop around eating while I was there. Several times he was no more then three feet from me.

Once I had finished sweeping and put the deck furniture and such back to their usual positions, I then scattered my spilt pile under the feeder. My reasoning being that the seeds on the deck will rot once they get damp, but a lot of the birds like to feed from the deck rather than the feeder (some times I look out and there are none on the feeder, but several on the deck pecking away). I probably won’t intentionally scatter any seeds on the deck in the future (unless I have another spill). But I do have to note that on Sunday afternoon when I went out, it was clear that the birds had eaten most of what I spilled. There were seeds on the deck, but it looked like their initial scatter had after a day last week.

I need to try to get more good pictures and see if I can identify them better. The black-headed chickadees were easy to identify, but none of the others are an exact match of the pictures of any other birds in my Audubon book. I think most of them are sparrows, but I also hear the distinct “chick-a-dee” style trilling when I don’t see any black-headed chickadees out there, so maybe we’ve got some other species of chick-a-dees, too.

We have birds coming to the bird feeder

Trying not to scare the birds away by taking a picture from the further window.

Trying not to scare the birds away by taking a picture from the further window.

At our old place we only sort of had a yard. Our first two landlords (yes, the property ownership changed hands twice during the 21 years I was there) were quite happy to let us manage the two flower beds near our door, and to grow tomatoes in containers, but the lawn portion of the yard and the bushes had to be left as they were. The original landlord had very specifically said he did not want Ray and I to put up a bird feeder, because in his experience they just attracted rats. When the new owner took possession (after Ray died and after Michael and I had gotten together), she said she had no objection if I wanted to put up a bird feeder. But then the question became where.

I will freely admit that much of the appeal of a bird feeder for me is to actually get to see (and hear) the birds. So I wanted to hang it somewhere that I could see it from a window in the house, right? But at the old place I almost always kept the curtains closed, because most of the windows were very close to either the sidewalk (and there was a lot of foot traffic in the old neighborhood) or the walkway to the neighbors’. So whenever the curtains were open it felt as if I were on a stage rather than in my own home. And because the lot the building was on had a steep slope, and our unit was essentially a split-level, the only window whose curtains were routinely open was in the computer room, where the windowsill was about 10 feet from the ground. So if I had found a location to hang the feeder where I could see it from that window, we would have required a ladder on uneven ground to refill the feeder. The upshot was that there was no place that appealed to me to put a feeder so we never had one.

At the new place our veranda is on the third floor (from that side of the building) with tall tress screening most of the view. There are blinds instead of curtains on all the windows, which give us more options. The blinds of the big living room window and the sliding glass door, for instance, are almost always open.

Shortly after we moved in, we bought a sock-style bird feeder kind of on impulse. A friend had been talking about all the goldfinches he got visiting the sock-style feeder he had on the balcony of his apartment, so when I saw one in the store, I grabbed it. After we hung it up, I got one sparrow, but not eating from the feeder. It was eating the seeds that had spilled on the deck when we first set up the feeder.

The feeder was out there all summer. We moved it a few times, thinking that maybe being too close to the window was a problem. It wasn’t just that we never saw any birds at the feeder, the amount of seeds never changed, and there was no bird poop underneath the feeder (something several people warned us we’d be cleaning a lot of once birds starting using the feeder).

I see and hear birds outside from time to time, but never at the sock. I eventually came to the conclusion that at least some of the seeds had started rotting inside the sock, and that clearly a sock-style feeder wasn’t recognized as a food source by the birds in our neighborhood. But I still wanted to try to get some birds visiting the veranda. So we picked up a different type of feeder and a fresh bag of birdseed. I hung the feeder up Saturday. It was raining most of Saturday, and the only birds I saw flying around were crows.

But Sunday morning, while I was out on the veranda having a mug of coffee. A chickadee started flitting in the vicinity of the feeder. It kept flying near it, then flitting away and chirping. Probably being scared off by me. So I went inside. As soon as I got the glass door shut and had walked over the the other window the bird was perched on the feeder and eating enthusiastically. And as I watched, a brown sparrow landed on the other side. They chirped at each other and kept eating. I figured if I opened the blinds further to try to take a picture that would scare them off, so I went over to the glass door to get a picture from there. The second bird had flitted away by the time I had the shot lined up. About five minutes later it was back. I sat down in the living room and just watched them through the blinds.

More birds coming to the feeder!

More birds coming to the feeder!

Over the course of the day, more birds showed up. Some birds went after the seeds that got scattered onto the deck by the other birds eating at the feeder. It appears that the new feeder is a success. I’m hoping this means that there will be a lot more birdsong audible at our house.

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