A Dab of Yellow

Fall migration through Texas is well underway and I’m keeping a keen eye out for atypical avian visitors to the garden. As a general rule, I don’t see as many migratory birds during autumn migration as I do during spring. So far this migration season, I’ve observed one Orchard Oriole and a Yellow Warbler, both of which where either females or juveniles, and neither of which did I photograph. Those two were the sum total of migratory birds until yesterday, when I spied this sunny male Yellow Warbler, Setophaga petechia.

During spring migration, it’s the pond and other water features which hold the birds’ interest, but autumn migration is different. As I watched him flit, first in my larger Red Oak tree, then to a Rough-leaf Dogwood, Cornus drummondii, I assumed he was headed for the pond for a quick bath. Instead, he flew from the oak tree to the dogwood–and remained there. I then surmised that maybe he was aiming for his share of the white fruits that my two Rough-leaf Dogwoods have produced this year. If you look as the photo, to the right of Mr. Yellow Fellow and far right of the photo, you’ll see a mauve/reddish-brown branchlet. Until recently, this set of small branches, like other similar ones on both trees, held juicy white fruits, most of which have been eaten by a variety of birds, primarily the resident Mockingbirds and Blue Jays. No doubt, other migratory birds have dined on these fruits, too, including the aforementioned Orchard Oriole and Yellow Warbler, who spent time in both dogwood trees, playing peek-a-boo with my camera behind foliage.

Pre-bird munching, this is a close-up of the fruits, developed, but not yet devoured.

As there aren’t many berries left, and most of those sit waiting at the base of the tree, I realized that the yellow fellow was nibbling on insects as he moved along the upper branches. That tracks, as Yellow Warblers enjoy insects as a main source of their diet.

Unfortunately, Mr. Yellow Fellow didn’t hang around too long; I guess he’s eager to get to Central America, where his winter will be mild and his meal choices prolific.

These next few weeks are the apex of bird autumn migration in the Americas and I look forward to more feathered friends flying through. Good luck, Mr. Yellow Fellow–come back and see me next spring!

Picking Peanuts

Recently I’ve removed the safflower and sunflower feeders, as the finch eye disease has appeared in our neighborhood in several House Finches and I don’t want to assist in its spread. Poor little finches. House Finch eye disease, a conjunctivitis which eventually causes blindness, is caused by Mycoplasma gallisepticum and is a known problem for some kinds of birds who feed at feeders, primarily types of finches. (Check out the highlighted link above for more information about this disease.) Because the House Finches rarely eat peanuts, I’m leaving my two peanut feeders up and filled for the backyard bird visitors’ eating pleasure. For what it’s worth, my garden has scads of giant sunflowers and there’s no shortage of seeds for those who partake. I’ve observed House Finches, House Sparrows, Carolina Wrens, doves–and squirrels–hanging out amongst the sunflowers, nibbling this and noshing that. I’m sorry that the disease is spreading in my neighborhood, but with the sunflowers in bloom for the pollinators and seeding out for the birds and beasts, it’s a good time to remove the feeders and let birds feed like they’re supposed to–on plants which provide nourishment.

While I’m missing the cute House Finches close-up at the feeders, other resident birds are active and worth the watching. Downy Woodpeckers like this mature female, are always ready for peanuts. They are often the first to show up most mornings.

Her back and tail feathers show a beautiful pattern.

The local male (mate of the above female?) is darling with a bit of peanut in his beak and topped by his red hat.

The Downy Woodpeckers aren’t the only woodpeckers who love peanuts. Red-bellied Woodpeckers are also fond of the legume. This female is stunning with her bright red head and her stripey black-n-white wings.

The most vocal of the neighborhood songbirds are Carolina Wrens. After singing, this one captured its treasure and dashed to a secluded spot for a quick snack.

Carolina Chickadees come and go in my garden. Right now, a male and female and their offspring are regulars at the peanut feeders.

Always, there are Blue Jays. These guys and gals enjoy all the feeder offerings, but like so many birds, snarf peanuts with glee. This juvenile got a chance at one of the feeders without any pushy adults bullying him.

I have two feeders for shelled peanuts and a ceramic pot (which was supposed to be for a plant) for unshelled peanuts. Mostly the jays and the squirrels snatch these treats, but sometimes I see a Great-tailed Grackle or a Red-bellied Woodpecker snatching a prize. I put the unshelled peanuts out first thing in the mornings; once the peanuts are gone, the birds have to wait until the next day for more of these yummies.

Like the Carolina Wrens, the Black-crested Titmice come and go at the feeders, with the summer months being a big time for feeding. This is a parent and a fledgling sharing a meal.

As summer progresses and the bird families are grown up and mostly out of the nest, eating at the feeders slows a bit. For the next six weeks or so, it’s mostly the usual suspects in the garden. By late August, there will be whispers of migratory bird activity and after flights south, the winter warblers will settle in. During those times, peanuts will remain the flavor of the months.

Spring Greening, Birds Winging

My garden has greened-up and color-wowed during these sumptuous spring days, but adding to that beauty are the migratory birds who are daily visitors. Their stop overs in my garden are unpredictable: some visits last more than a day, the migrants fitting in well with the native birds at the pond or baths. Other visits are ephemeral, with a merest flash of bright color or unusual flight pattern. Migratory birds are fleeting in the garden as they hurry northward to meet summer’s breeding season. Both spring and fall migration have become a fun and instructive time of year for me as a backyard birder. I’ve become (somewhat) adept at recognizing that rarer movement–different from the my familiar year-round avian buddies–which means an unusual visitor has landed in the garden.

I’ve seen the odd Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis, around Austin, but never in my own garden. This lovely, sunshiny bird was hunting insects, probably honeybees, but it could have been eating any kind of flying insect. This bird is a flycatcher sort and dines mostly on insects, though will eat some fruit. Many birds require insects in their diets, which is yet another reason to limit or eschew the use of insecticides. Insects are beneficial for all sorts of reasons, there’s usually no need to kill.

The western half of the US, including Texas, is the breeding ground for Kingbirds and they winter in the southern part of Mexico and Central America. While this was my first garden Kingbird, I certainly hope it won’t be the last.

Each spring I’m fortunate to enjoy short visits from America’s most colorful native bird, the Painted Bunting, Passerina ciris. This week, three showed up, two males and a female, all flitting around the pond. This guy enjoyed his bath and posed for his admirers!

Pretty front view:

Pretty back view:

I haven’t yet snapped a photo of the female, lime-popsicle in feathers and skittish in personality. She hung out in the mostly-defoliated trees and noshed at the peanut feeder. In past years, I’ve seen buntings nibbling at Mexican Feathergrass, Nassella tenuissima and munching seeds of Lyreleaf Sage, Salvia lyrata. Buntings are mostly seed eaters, as the strong, slightly curved bill suggests.

Austin lies within their breeding range, but I’ve only ever seen Painted Buntings during breeding season. I know that bird lovers north of Central Texas enjoy observing these beauties throughout summer. Alas, they are strictly a spring treat for me.

I missed the bathing of the second male, but caught him fluffing and sunning and being generally gorgeous in the tree just above the pond.

It’s been several years since I’ve seen a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Pheucticus ludovicianus in my garden, but this fella was a charmer, looking here and there, curious about the feeders and alert to other bird activity. Grosbeaks fly long distances, wintering in southern Mexico and South America and breeding in the northern part of the Midwest and into Canada. No wonder this guy needed a rest!

I’ve seen the less colorful, but still attractive female Grosbeaks in my garden for the last two years, but I was thrilled to see the stunning male. He stood out when he landed at the top of a swing beam, then decorated the Red Oak tree with scarlet, black and white. Grosbeaks eat a variety of foods: insects of all sorts, berries and fruits, and plant matter. The males are equals in nest building and parent partners to their mates. They guard their territory aggressively.

What a cute face!

This male looks northward; he has a long way to go before he chooses a mate and creates a family with her.

Birds-n-blooms are garden delights–check out Anna’s Wednesday Vignette for more garden musings.