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Fox Sparrow

By Vjera Thompson

Storm started Friday night with ice and snow-like material on top of it (little ice balls). Saturday morning I walked to Danebo pond. Already signs of disruption with a pipit landing on a blade of grass in the pond, and shorebirds swirling around (killdeer, snipe, and a small flock of Least Sandpipers). Footing was secure, snow very crunchy but not icy.

All day Saturday I kept putting new layers of seed out as the previous layer got covered by snow and ice. The juncos were steady all day. A Song Sparrow showed up, then a Fox Sparrow. I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I had a Fox, so looked it up—yard bird #100! The Song didn’t stick around, but the same Fox showed up daily through Wednesday. Many of the sparrows had ice on their tails. No White-crowns were noticed on Saturday, despite hours of watching. I did not see chickadees on Saturday or Sunday, but a couple came by both Monday and Tuesday.

Saturday evening we got more snow and a layer of frozen rain on top of everything. Sunday morning was in the 20s. I walked to the pond again. The path was slippery but doable. The pond was partially frozen. Again shorebirds were moving around. A group of California Quail landed on the ice and ran across it (first time I’ve found them at this location). Ducks and gulls were focused on the open part of the water. There were pipits in several places on the walk, one tailless.

Sunday a Spotted Towhee made a brief appearance in the yard.

Monday a bedraggled Lincoln’s Sparrow with a heavily iced tail showed up briefly (third time I’ve had one here). Later in the day another sparrow landed in the driveway—a Savannah, yard bird #101. It came by a couple of times Tuesday and early Wednesday as well. While I was watching it on Monday, I noticed a Varied Thrush in the flower bed immediately under the window, not typical for this yard.

Tuesday morning a hummingbird hovered in my face when I came outside—checking out my red neck warmer? And a group of Bushtits ignored me in their focus on getting to the suet. The Bushtits have only come by once or twice a day.

The sidewalks got more icy Monday and Tuesday so I did not go for a walk either day. Lunchtime on Tuesday I was rewarded with a flyover Killdeer, flyover Rock Pigeon, and a bright male Townsend’s Warbler, as well as a pipit that landed briefly in the driveway with most of its tail (I’ve only had flyovers in the past). Some birds looked like they had lost tail feathers. One of the Mourning Doves was dragging several bent and mostly detached tail feathers all day, seemed very tired and reluctant to fly.

The starlings have spent a lot of time picking up cracked corn and putting it back down. They also have tried to get at the suet but seem to struggle (too frozen to break pieces off?). They had less ice on their tails than other birds but seemed lethargic at times.

When I noticed the ice gathering on tails, I started spreading seed where there was cover. The juncos liked feeding underneath the trailer. Lots of action in the flower bed and underneath the large corner bush. The Fox prefers to stay mostly hidden. The Savannah has come over to the flower bed a couple of times.

Tuesday it started raining in the afternoon despite being 27. The rain was pooling everywhere and the gutters were forming icicles. I did not go outside after it rained since it looked like a slick icy mess. Unfortunately the birds, which had just started to be moving around without ice on their tails, were gathering new crystals on backs and tails as the afternoon progressed. When I woke during the night, the trees were coated with a new layer of ice. The temperature reached 33 about 1 am and by 7 am (40 degrees) the ice had slid off the trees. I lost one large branch from the front yard tree, which the sparrows and finches reveled in.

The bird activity dropped down on Wednesday, with obvious gaps in birds visiting the yard, however there were larger groups of Mourning Doves and House Finches.