Betsy's Backyard Bird Journal - 1997

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June 12, 1997

Well it's "Babies On Parade" and has been for the last 2 weeks. As I mentioned earlier the European Starlings were the first. Now I've seen Northern Cardinal, House Finch, Brown Thrasher, Common Grackle, and Mourning Dove babies. The Brown Thrasher is probably the most interesting to me since this is the first year I've been able to see a juvenile with parent. In previous years, I've only seen solitary Thrashers. They've come because I'm still ground feeding with cracked corn - a favorite of these birds.

I'm surprised that I haven't seen more babies - perhaps it's still early in the season? We'll see.

May 29, 1997

Saw my first Indigo Bunting of the season today. What a beautiful bird! Perhaps one day I'll get to see more than just one but even if I don't I'll enjoy the sighting just the same. It's so hard to imagine such a blue bird - even the Jays and the Bluebirds have a mix of other colors but the Indigo Bunting is nearly all blue but for some black tips on the wings.

My new neighbor decided to tear down her conservation easement :-(. Yeah I know I can complain to the county but then what?!? I can't believe how some people think that wild rose and wild grape are an eyesore. I see so much beauty in those plants from the simple yet lovely blossoms to the fall berries of color. And in between a safe place for birds like the Catbird and Cardinal to nest. She has lost a great deal and showed obvious ignorance with the statement: "We're going to plant trees then they'll have a nesting spot". Yeah right and what about the ground nesters? Oblivious...... yes I'm still fuming on this one. Well, I plan on putting in Winged Sumac and other not so pretty but highly prized (by the birds) type plantings.

BABIES! Ok so for the second year in a row it's Eurpean Starling babies but they are cute nonetheless. Unfortunately, they are eating so much suet that I'm not refilling the container until this phase is over. Harsh? perhaps but I really hate encouraging undesireables and they are not likely to starve.

May 14, 1997

Well it's been too long but I've been inspired! So many birds - so little time. One thing I've noticed is that I don't have the incidentals like last year (last year we had an Indigo Bunting, Oregon Junco, Rose Breasted Grosbeak among others). The winter was so mild that we had some migrants who stopped to stay much longer than usual. Many of the winter visitors included Pine Warbler, Ruby Crowned Kinglet, and Golden Crowned Kinglet.

I knew that spring had arrived when the first Rufous Sided Towhee arrived in the middle of April. It seems like every year, the last day I get to see the Slate Colored Juncos is the day before the Towhees show up. There are several males claiming territory in the yard - perhaps these are the juveniles from last year? :-).

The first to find a mate and start a nest appeared to be a House Wren. Gotta love this little guy - it would appear that the same male has 2 (that's right 2!) mates. He's going to be busy bringing food to each of the nests. For the 3rd year in a row, the Purple Martin house stands empty :-(. Well, not quite empty - the House Wren has built a nest in one of the gourds. All of the azaleas are in full bloom but I haven't seen the first Hummingbird. I like to wait until I see the first before putting up the feeder. I've got this spiffy new multi-port unit I'm dying to install this year.

The usual array of birds are coming to the feeders - I wish there were new birds to report but unfortunately work prevents me from spending much time observing. The wildlife has certainly picked up around here. Since so much of the nearby land is being turned into housing developments, I'm sure that what I'm seeing are displaced creatures. So this winter and spring brought us a beautiful male red fox, a grey fox (several times), a pair of young racoons, and the usual array of red and grey squirrel, chipmonk, and rabbits. The grey fox is so comfortable coming around that I've seen him no more than 2 or 3 feet from the window! I know that the fox are hunting the "corn-fed" squirrels. Yes the ground feeding program continues.

It's time to find a new way to hang the feeders as the racoons have pretty much totaled the setup. I don't mind too much - a little hot pepper on the seed seems to keep them in line. Well that's the early spring wrapup. Oh except that there are SO many male cardinals this year that it would seem that no single bird can claim territory anymore near the feeders. Poor guy would die of exhaustion trying to keep out that many males.

January 11, 1997

We've had a few inches of snow and no luck on the Fox Sparrows. I had figured that they would be here by now especially with the snow cover - guess I'll have to settle for the large number of White Throated Sparrows who spend the day in the yard. There hasn't been much to write about EXCEPT just today as I was looking out the sliding glass door, I saw a Red Fox. He was beautiful! He stood for a few minutes staring right at the door (ok so he was probably eyeing the corn-fed squirrels who had scampered up the side of the house). This was quite a thrill as I had thought that the fox had moved on - this area is semi-residential and with the new development next door many of the animals have had to survive on smaller spaces.

January 2, 1997

I find that this winter is much milder compared to last but the birds still keep coming :-). I haven't seen any Fox Sparrows yet and the Song Sparrows are few and far between. I'm sure that I'll get the full complement when we have our first good snow. There's been a hawk hanging around lately that I'm having trouble identifying. This bird's features:

I'm leaning towards the Northern Harrier based on Peterson's description but the light patches plus the 'chunkiness' of the bird leave me still unsure. I hope to see more of him in the coming days.

The usual winter birds are here in full force including:

  Cardinals               House Finch           Purple Finch
  Mourning Dove           Tufted Titmouse       Slate Colored Juncos
  Carolina Chickadee      Carolina Wren         Downy Woodpecker
  American Crow           Blue Jays             Red Bellied Woodpecker
  White Breasted Nuthatch Song Sparrow          White Throated Sparrow

I understand that during my annual trek south for Christmas that a male Pileated Woodpecker visited daily. Figures - I haven't seen one in the backyard for quite some time and my housesitter gets to enjoy him on a daily basis :-(. Oh well, guess it means I'll have to spend more time looking and less time working!

My Setup

I'm located in the western suburbs of Washington, DC in Herndon, Virginia - a small city in western Fairfax County. My property is a little over 2 acres and I've setup feeding stations in a small area of the backyard. It is a long strip (about 40' by 25') bordered on one side by the house and the other by a long row of Blackberry bushes. From the pine tree about 8' from the house, I have a tube feeder with overflow tray filled with Safflower, a metal hopper-style feeder with Black-oil Sunflower, and a large round cage filled with suet. In the shadow of the pine and about 10 feet from the house, there is a small tube feeder (no perches) filled with thistle hanging from a dogwood tree. Out in the clearing is a large tube feeder on a post with an overflow tray/squirrel baffle filled with Black-oil Sunflower and sometimes a bird seed mix. I leave my table scraps out in a flat open area towards the back end of the property for the Crows. I've found that these birds are great garbage disposals (I like to call them 'The Boys') who will eat most anything I put out except peas!

The original owners of our house must have been concerned about the wildlife (the house is almost 30 years old) because there is a great variety of trees and abundance of fruiting plants in the yard. Just to name a few of the trees: White Pine, White and Pink Dogwoods (the type with a brilliant red-berry in the fall), Japanese Maple, Silver Maple, Red Maple, several different types of Oak, Tulip Poplar, Mulberry, Blue Spruce, Blue Atlas Cedar, and Eastern Red Cedar just to name a few. For bushes, we have Blackberry, Winterberry, Lilac, Barberry, Inkberry, Azalea, and Rhodendron.

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