Each fall, I anticipate the arrival of the first White-throated Sparrow at our feeder. We usually see only one or two individuals that stay from November to March or April. Then they leave, presumably to fly north to find breeding territory along the west coast or interior of Canada—or as the biologists say, to achieve their biological potential. When the sparrows arrive for the winter, I always wonder where they have been since last spring. Did they find a mate and adequate habitat to breed successfully? Why do we never see more of them? Are they the same birds that appeared last year at the feeder? Always mysteries without answers.
One reason I love spending time in my garden is just to be outdoors. Gardening is a great excuse to be in the yard and watch birds at the same time. If I had not been checking the fruit trees the morning of August 31, I would not have seen the dark bird in the lower field sallying out from the bird boxes and flying back to perch, catching insects. It gradually made its way from box to box, up toward my garden area. I grabbed the binoculars (I keep them nearby) and saw it was a Black Phoebe! This was the first sighting for the species on our property, and it made my morning! Its plumage was not the bright black of an adult, so I assume it was a first-year bird exploring the area. It spent about 15 minutes in my view, then flew up and over some trees to the north.
Summer birding at our house revolves around keeping the hummingbird feeders full, monitoring the nest boxes, and watching the various species of hatchlings beg for food from their frenzied parents. The juveniles are so vulnerable as they learn to fly, watch for predators, and fend for themselves. They are usually loud and rather conspicuous. Watching them is entertaining but at times nerve-wracking.
Each time I travel away from Oregon, I’m happy when I return to the Willamette Valley. We live in a beautiful, green location surrounded by awesome scenery, clean air (relatively) and in an area where we can easily find a respite from cars and people.
At the end of 2011, our backyard list stood at 97 species after 36 years of watching birds at our home in the Friendly Neighborhood (see the March 2012 Quail). This is an update for 2012 and early 2013. I’m sure all avid Quail readers have been waiting anxiously to see when and if the 100-species threshold could be reached.
On May 18, while sitting on our deck, my wife Susan and I counted eight Cliff Swallows overhead (#98). After the March 2012 snow storm, the birch tree across Van Buren Street was taken down. On May 19, before it was felled, it was the perfect perch for an Olive-sided Flycatcher (#99). The next bird seen or heard in or from the yard would be the magical number 100.