This adult male Sharp-shinned Hawk was our fourth individual “Sharpie” identified at our feeding station this winter.
With the dreadfully slow pace of recovery following shoulder surgery, my birding these past three weeks was once again mostly outside our windows here at our home in Durham. One unseasonably mild week was followed by a week of below normal temperatures and several snow events. Then, the period finished out with spring-like feel. It was fascinating to track the ebbs and flows of feeder activity with each change in the weather and the progression of the season.
Highlights over the last 3 weeks:
- 2 Red-winged Blackbirds (First of Year), our feeders in Durham, 2/23.
- Continued Sharp-shinned Hawk saga at our feeders.
- Scattered Turkey Vultures and more Red-winged Blackbirds returning the area in the second week of March.
- 1 hen Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bernard Lown Peace Bridge, Auburn/Lewiston, 3/7 (with Jeannette).
- 3 1st-winter Iceland Gulls, Auburn Riverwalk, 3/7 (with Jeannette).
Compared to the previous weeks –which I summarized in my last blog – unseasonably mild weather and a rapidly diminishing snowpack, activity at the feeders here in Durham continued to decrease during the week of the 2/13. The mixed-species foraging flocks had mostly broken up already, so it became harder to tell how many of each resident are around. However, a female Red-breasted Nuthatch rejoined our overwintering male, and we do have at least 12 Black-capped Chickadees now. There still seems to be two pairs of Tufted Titmice, but they no longer tolerate each other’s company.
Eastern Bluebirds (down to a pair daily) and Northern Cardinals (down to two pairs) decreased, but there was a noticeable increase in Dark-eyed Juncos this week: I saw around 20 under the feeders on 2/19 (up from 10-16), but there were more in the bushes. We have a little “evening flight” where the juncos leave our yard and scrub, fly down our driveway, and across the street into woods with thicker evergreen cover to spend their winter nights. I counted 34 that day as they departed the feeders and the woods behind it. With more bare ground, a lot of our ground feeders (also including Mourning Doves) were not frequenting the feeders as much, as expected. We still had 5 American Tree Sparrows and 2 White-throated Sparrows, however, carrying over from last week.
Signs of spring were everywhere. I caught a pair of Mourning Doves copulation on the 19th, and I began to see daily Canada Goose flocks moving between the river and the opening nearby farm fields. Common Mergansers returned to the Androscoggin River across the street from our property the next day. Woodpeckers were drumming more this week, and birdsong noticeably increased.
Then came the snowfall on the 23rd, and the accumulation brought a renewed surge of activity to the feeders, and a return to winter. The highlight was my first two Red-winged Blackbirds of the year, adding more color to a birdy day. Northern Cardinals jumped back up to 7, American Tree Sparrows increased to 10, and a third White-throated Sparrow arrived. Mourning Doves increased to 24, Eastern Bluebirds were back up to 7, and 3 House Finches returned.
Other than the Red-wings, these are mostly local birds that had begun to spread out, but returned to the supplemental food with the fresh snowfall. There did seem to be a legitimate increase in Dark-eyed Juncos that week, however, which may have included some early migrants. Meanwhile, 30-40 American Goldfinches continued daily, although once again we were sans winter finches except for a single female Purple Finch on the 21st.
Now, with a return to some significantly cold temperatures and more rounds of snow, I expected feeder-watching to be excellent during the week after that first storm. And sure enough, three bitter cold mornings followed by two more bouts of snow resulted in increased feeder activity overall yet again.
We continued to see 16-20 species a day at the feeders, although the wintery week pumped the breaks on new arrivals. Last week’s Red-winged Blackbirds likely turned back around when the snow began to accumulate, for example. A small bump in daily counts of Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows could involve some northbound migrants, but probably more likely were local birds concentrating again as snow piled up. Our 3 White-throated Sparrows continued. There was a definite uptick in American Goldfinches, however, with a high count of 46 on the 28th.
We saw fewer Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, and Blue Jays most days that week compared to weeks prior, likely as these birds start setting up territories and/or begin to disperse. Lots of Hairy Woodpecker drumming and Tufted Titmouse singing this week, too, despite the return to full-on winter weather. Our lone overwintering male Red-breasted Nuthatch has also become less frequent. Unfortunately, 2-5 European Starlings became more regular – come on Sharpie, help me out here!
On Saturday the 4th, 12.5 heavy, wet inches accumulated here in Durham, burying our brush pile once again. Not surprisingly, ground-feeders didn’t appreciate that very much, especially with the continuing Sharp-shinned Hawk activity. Two “Sharpies” were present this week (see below) both an adult male and the return of a sub-adult male. Our brush pile is critical -as it often is in open areas and following new construction – for birds’ safety, and when buried under snow, it didn’t have a lot of accessibility to hide.
On the 5th, for example, the subadult male was seen for the first time in a few weeks, and after just missing a Tufted Titmouse diving off the feeders, it perched conspicuously next to the brush pile for over an hour. The next day, the adult male was staking out the feeders during my prime feeder-watching time of the morning, dramatically reducing my day’s tallies once again. There were times this week when the only bird in view out the window was a Sharp-shinned Hawk!
As the weather improved and snow began to melt rapidly as the week went on, Dark-eyed Juncos and Northern Cardinals in particular returned to previous weeks’ highs, finding safety when necessary in the brush pile once again. American Tree Sparrows had decreased to only 2 by week’s end, however, this may reflect the season more than anything; tree sparrows are among our first birds to start heading back north. Overall though, daily averages were down, but when all was said and done, the week’s high counts were very similar to previous weeks for most species.
Eastern Bluebirds have been fewer this week, likely as birds begin to disperse to breeding territories. And I have officially lost control of counting the number of Black-capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmice that are now visiting as they come randomly now instead of as a tight-nit mixed species flock(s) as they do in the winter. Another sign of the season was the arrival of 5 male Red-winged Blackbirds this morning (3/10), our first here since one on 2/23. Now, it’s possible they are here to stay.
In addition to marked changes in the weather, daily activity and consumption ebbed and flowed with Sharp-shinned Hawk presence and activity as I mentioned above. I would say my most fascinating observations this constant feeder-watching vigil provided was the Accipiter drama. I am sure this is happening everywhere, all of the time, but my unusual observation duration and frequency offered the rare opportunity to study the predator presence.
The adult female that has been present most of the winter and has provided much of the said drama continued to be spotted in the yard through the end of February. However, much to my surprise, yet a different bird was present on a couple of days during the week of the 27th: a new adult male. This makes the fourth different Sharp-shined Hawk that we have hosted this winter. Then, during the snowstorm on the 4th, a poor view of a Sharpie strongly suggest the subadult male that I saw only one day about three weeks prior. The saga continues! That ID was confirmed the next day, and he was seen repeatedly for the rest of the week. The adult male was also spotted a few more times through at least the 6th.
A second-winter male Sharp-shinned Hawk also returned to the scene this week.
Meanwhile, at the store in Freeport, two Red-winged Blackbirds that first appeared on the 19th increased to 7 during the snow, and a second Song Sparrow joined our single overwintering individual that week.
I have started to spend some time at the store in my continued limited-capacity, enjoying the feeder activity there was well. I was treated to the most activity that we have had there in a while on the 3rd, for example. We need our local Cooper’s Hawk to return as the Rock Pigeon flock is building again. But unlike at home, Red-winged Blackbirds continued, with 2-3 still present from a high of 7. We had a surge of American Goldfinches (from only 2-4 for most of the last few weeks to 12+. Our single overwintering Song and White-throated Sparrows continue, and 4 Eastern Bluebirds are now regular. I also welcomed back to work that day by a flock of 12 Cedar Waxwings descending on our Highbush Cranberry in the yard – a most welcome visit from one of my favorite birds!
And yes, I got out for a little birding this week, finally, as Jeannette and I visiting Auburn’s Little Andy Park and the Riverwalk, catching up with a few continuing winter birds: 1 Barrow’s Goldeneye and 3 Iceland Gulls. And when I was out and about this week (mostly being driven to and from appointments!), the renewed presence of Turkey Vultures was readily apparent.
I will be out birding a little more next week, but based on my visit with my surgeon yesterday, it looks like I’ll be forced to focus on feeder-watching for a while longer. Stay tuned!