Late Winter Birds

The late winter garden is a palette of muted colors marked with skeletal trees and shrubs. The evergreens, big and small, contribute welcomed dots of green, plus there are others who offer various reds to the garden environment. The tidiness of a pruned, simplified landscape has a certain appeal, but it’s also easier to bird watch in this season of leafless trees and mostly dormant plant life.

Here in Central Texas, bird colors span the rainbow: Blue Jays, Cardinals, Red-winged Black birds, Gold finches and other color-tagged critters. Along with the showy birds, there are birds whose understated plumage blends well with the winter environment, like this winter visitor, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata. Her dabs of sunny yellow are surely highlights in her feathers, but most of her colors and markings are warm and subtle, making her sometimes hard to spot in a tree. But at the suet feeder–which she loves–she is more easily observed and admired.

A beakful of suet is a yummy thing!

As she digs into the suet cake, she doesn’t realize that the sticky stuff…sticks—and stays!

A year-round native resident, this Carolina Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus, echoes winter browns and tans in his patterned plumage. He may not wear loud colors, but he sings with volume and gloriously for his territory and family; wrens are tiny birds with mighty voices. Wren song is the first birdsong I hear each morning throughout the year.

He posed with a strand of freezer-burned tendril of Star Jasmine vine, appearing as a weird appendage attached to the wren.

As he sung at the end of a day, he hopped along the fence, eventually creating distance from the plant part.

Wrens bop right and left in time with their chirps, tails flicked, eyes watchful.

A significantly less pretty bird and certainly a much larger bird than the two above, this Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura, perched for a while in my SIL’s backyard tree. Turkey Vultures are common in the southern U.S. and throughout Central and South America. They soar majestically with the breeze and low to the ground looking for carrion. Though I see them all the time in the air, I’ve never seen one perched in nearby trees. It sat for a time and I wondered if there was something dead in my SIL’s back garden.

Dead squirrel? Opossum? Rat? Who knows what lunch was for this huge bird.

Turkey Vultures are scavengers and important links in a healthy ecosystem as they clean up the dead. Gentle creatures, they’re only interested in a nice meal of carcass; they are not predators. I was tickled to observe this one so close, but it eventually took flight, spreading impressive wings wide, circling over my garden as it gained altitude, moving along to find its next meal.

I appreciate the quiet of winter. I look forward to pruning last year’s growth and its revelation of the “bones” of the garden. I am witness to both successes and failures in the garden and of plants that I’ve chosen to create it. As with a muted landscape, even in a plainly colored bird, there is still much beauty in a darling face or in the pattern of the plumage, when hues are neutral and soft. That said, after many freezes this year and as March approaches, I’m eager for spring and daily observe signs of its arrival.

A Drop in the Bucket

Tuesday was a day of Cedar Waxwings.  Wing-loads of waxwings swooped into my garden, water features drawing them in for bathing, trees available for perching.

There were so many birds, it was almost overwhelming. These photos don’t tell the compete story–it was hard to get clear photos with so much activity–but they will give you an idea of the bunches of birds who bathed.

As I’m only adequate with a camera, clear group shots were challenging–at best. These birds rarely sit still and take off en masse when spooked by the slightest movement. I took most photos from indoors through *somewhat* clean windows, rather than becoming the cause of their frights and flights. When Cedar Waxwings visit, sidling outdoors, no matter how stealthily, elicits winged energy upwards and outwards from the garden.

Whoosh! Swoosh!!

So many waxwings…

Like many before them, the waxwings enjoyed the planter saucer for bathing and sipping.

The saucer, originally intended for my dog, mostly performs as a bird bath these days, with occasional slurping by racoons and opossums. Tuesday, it was all birds, all day.

In another part of the garden, this crowd awaited the arrival of Dear Leader.

Along a walkway,

…this bunch milled about, waiting for their turns,

…at this popular wet bar.

Tuesday was a wild day in the garden. Hundreds of these beauties descended on my garden, on and off throughout the morning–hanging out in trees, winging to the waters for swigs and splashes, and mingling with their mates.

Quiet moments happened.

Bird poop happened.

Cedar Waxwings will stay in Central Texas through mid-spring, munching fruit, seeking showers, and socializing with one another. Besides their visits to the popular water features, I expect that their next target in my garden will be the ripe berries on the Burford Holly.

When they come for the berries, I’ll get my hat!

A Brighter Shade of Yellow

As I looked out my windows on Snowy Sunday several weeks ago, I spied a visitor at the peanut feeder who wasn’t the usual yellow of an Orange-crowned Warbler, Leiothlypis celata. The new-to-me bird sported a brighter shade of yellow and belly streaking, reminiscent of the Orange-crown. The Pine Warbler is a lifer bird for me! Meet Mr. Pine Warbler, Setophaga pinus.

Pine Warblers spend their winters mostly in east and north Texas (as well as along the southeastern part of the US), but are rare birds here in Central Texas. Throughout their range, Pine Warblers prefer to hang out in pine trees which are found readily East Texas. While I haven’t seen the Pine Warbler at all this past week, for about ten days, he frequented the peanut, suet, and sunflower seed feeders.

According to Cornell’s site, Pine Warblers exhibit different digestive traits, depending upon their usual food sources. Those who eat mostly seeds have larger gizzards (where the hard-coated food is crushed) and require a longer time for digestion and those who primarily feed on fruit tend to develop longer intestines and digest more quickly. I’m guessing this handsome male is of the first variety, rather than second, because of his interest in what my feeders supply.

Until recently, I’d never seen a Pine Warbler in flesh and feathers, but I recognized him immediately. I’ve seen plenty of Pine Warbler photos posted on social media by bird-crazy Texans who live north and east of where I live. Reading birders’ posts and studying their often stunning photos has been a great learning tool for my backyard birding interest.

Are you charmed by this stare-n-glare face ? I am, even if he doesn’t look too pleased with the photographer.

What a good-lookin’ guy! Cheery plumage, streaked with grey on the belly, echoes grey coloring on the back and wings, and is highlighted by winsome white wing bars. He’s a well-dressed bird.

Pine Warblers are related to Yellow-rumped Warblers (‘Butter butts’) and, like previously mentioned, at a quick glance, look similar to Orange-crowned Warblers; both species winter in my garden every year. Maybe in the future, the Butter Butts and Orange-crowns will put out a good word to wintering Pines and encourage more of these sweet warblers to wing their way to my garden.