For the Birds – Annie Pang
First off, I’d like to offer a special thanks to Terry for holding down the fort while I was ill these last few months. I am somewhat recovered now and feeling a lot stronger and, thanks to the lovely September and October we had, my zucchini plants and Scarlet runners gave us more than enough to eat and freeze.
But then there was a drastic change in the weather that marked the end of record-breaking sunny days here in Victoria. Of course it has been a very long time since I’ve seen a single butterfly and I have to say that this has been the worst butterfly season I have witnessed since I began keeping track of them in 2007.
And so I am very grateful for the birds that are starting to show up at our suet and bird feeders outside my kitchen window. It gives me the opportunity to see some old friends come to pig out and if I am lucky I even managed to get the odd shot that turns out. I find at this time of year, the birds are rather skittish and dart about so quickly that getting a decent shot is nearly impossible. I’ve decided to document who shows up and strive to get pictures when I can. How uplifting this lovely distraction is, as the days grow shorter, to have my feathered friends drop by to entertain and inspire me.
At first it took a bit of nagging to get the suet feeder put up, but now seeing the birds there has got us both excited and I find my partner quite willing to keep both feeders topped up. As my camera is rather slow, some of the pictures I will be showing won’t be the best but I’ll keep trying as I enjoy the challenge.
Who are my favorite birds? Well it’s easier to list my least favorites, although I was initially happy to see the first house sparrows when they arrived. I have found this year so far that there is an unusually large population of this long-ago-introduced species compared to last year when they were conspicuously missing, at least at our place. So far I am seeing more male house sparrows and find them to be very aggressive. I have concerns about them crowding out our indigenous song birds and smaller birds. Here is a picture I managed to get of a male.
The other, more pesky, invader would be the Starling also not indigenous to this area. I don’t have a picture at present and we’ll talk about them more perhaps in another blog.
Last year we had good numbers of House Finches, and it seems they are still around. This male posed nicely for me, but my camera was a bit fussy so the shot wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped, but not bad. This species, though relatively new to Victoria with the first record of its appearance being in 1937, is indigenous to North America. Over time it has expanded northwards and has a firmly established population here now.
I had a pleasant surprise a short while ago when a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker female showed up, or at least what I thought was a Yellow-Shafted Northern Flicker. I consulted my Peterson Field Guide and then though this bird may very well be a Gilded Flicker as it did not have the red crescent on the back of its head which would mark it as the former. But later, Terry let me know that it was a hybrid between the two Northern Flicker races for the following reasons, and I quote Terry here. “It has a brownish mustache and the brown on the head is restricted just to the forehead and eyebrow, and does not extend to the top of the head or the nape. What this makes your bird is a hybrid between Red-shafted and Yellow-shafted. These often turn up in our area.”
It gets very confusing for me at times with these Flicker hybrids as I’ve seen and photographed many different combinations of Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted Northern Flickers, as well as some purely one or the other. In any case it was exciting to spot this particular individual which I don’t think I have seen before.
A short time after this we were setting out for a walk, me with my camera as always, when a neighbor across the street whispered “Annie! Come here!”. When you consider that this is a neighbor who normally keeps to herself, and never invites me over, I was a bit surprised until I saw why. She was pointing at a bird who was drilling a hole in her lawn – a rather deep hole and I must admit it was the strangest sight. Of course I knew right away what it was although she did not have a clue. So I clued her in while keeping my camera busy. It was a male Red-shafted Northern Flicker and I was able to get fairly close, close enough to get a few shots that turned out. At times this large bird just sat down by the hole it had dug and posed for me and the rest of the time it kept drilling away for insects. So my neighbor was very happy to learn what this lovely bird was and I was very happy to be able to raise her awareness — and get some pretty good shots to boot. The haunting call of the Northern Flicker has always struck right through my heart and I am glad to have them around again.
Back at my bird feeder, as I sit in the warmth of my kitchen, a flock of bushtits comes to call daily, as well as a male Downy Woodpecker, a few Chestnut-backed Chickadees, a male and female Dark-eyed Junco and a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches. They are all very busy and very hyper but I managed to get a few shots. Hopefully I’ll get better ones at a later date.
Frankly I’m seeing more birds at my feeders than when we walked around Swan Lake the other day, but again that is another story. For now I’m just glad to be back amongst the living and surrounded by the beauty of nature coming to see me daily in and around my home.
I shall leave you now with a sonnet and hope that all is well with you in your world and to encourage you no matter what hurdles life may be throwing at you to get out in nature and let it heal you as it has always healed me.
For the Birds
Come flying to me on your feathered wings,
and feed your fill for winter’s yet to come.
And let me hear your golden voices sing
to help me come alive from being numb.
The butterflies have gone, their season’s done
and food for you is harder now to find,
so come, my feathered friends, come every one
to help me heal the ghosts I’ve left behind.
It gladdens me to see you doing well,
it saddens me to know that summer’s gone
I watched the leaves turn yellow as they fell
and now it’s time – the seasons must move on.
But now you’re here, and I’m so glad to see
that you’ve returned, come back to visit me…
© Annie Pang November 8, 2012.