May 2010 Archives

Another spring storm with powerful wind gusts produced a fall-out of migrating songbirds on the ranch.  In a typical spring, I may see one or two Western Tanagers in the vicinity of the ranch.  This storms produced an unprecedented flock of 15-20 Western Tanagers that included both males and females, sub-adults as well as fully mature birds.  For several days they flocked to the "buffet" of nectar feeders, oranges, and grape jelly that I had previously set up for the orioles.  At first the tanagers were intimidated by the more aggressive Bullock's Orioles, but in no time at all, they learned to hold their own at the feeders.  At meal times we witnessed a Tanagers fighting.jpgfeeding frenzy with orioles, tanagers, hummingbirds, and grosbeaks going at the feeders and at each other in order to get to the feeders.  The action was intense and dizzying to watch.

The adult male Western Tanager in breeding plumage, with his showy yellow and black feathers and bright red head, is my pick for the prettiest bird to frequent the ranch (see previous blog entry "Bird Beauties.."- May, 2009). 
tanager male on bush.jpg
 Some of the males in this flock were either sub-adults or had not yet attained their full breeding plumage; they appeared yellow-olive and dusky, with just a wash of red on the face.  
sub-adult tanagers.jpg

The females display olive-green feathers on their upperparts, and yellow to grayish white feathers on their underparts.  Both male and females wear two yellowish-white wing bars.

In addition to the tanagers, a number of Black-headed Grosbeaks made a post-storm appearance at the feeders.  Like the male Bullock's Oriole, the male Black-headed Grosbeak's plumage sports orange, black, and white, but the orange of the grosbeak is darker than the oriole, and its beak is heavy and bulky, compared to the narrow, straight oriole bill.
Grosbeak and Oriole.jpg

(Black-headed Grosbeak on left, Bullock's Oriole on the right)

The Black-headed Grosbeaks usually comes to the sunflower feeders, but the last few days, 
they have been competing with the tanagers and the orioles for the nectar, oranges, and grape jelly.                                                             
Grosbeak at jelly feeder.jpg


It is no wonder I have trouble getting anything accomplished in the spring.  I am either distracted by the amazing display of flashy birds at my feeder or occupied with replenishing the feeders that these flashy birds are frequenting.  How fortunate can one bird-loving person be?!  

In a few days the Western Tanagers and Black-headed Grosbeaks will move to higher grounds to nest.  In the meantime, I'm enjoying every minute of their visit to our ranch.
tanager in chokecherry.jpg
Tanager at jelly feeder.jpg

"Wind Birds"

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Spring storms bring rain, snow, and wind to the ranch along with a fall-out of what the naturalist, Peter Matthiessen, calls the "wind birds".  Wet, flooded fields on and near the ranch provide feeding grounds for shorebirds and marsh birds.  Some, such as Willets, Marbled Godwits, White-faced Ibis, and Lesser Yellowlegs are just passing through on the way to their breeding grounds.  Others, such as Wilson's Snipe and Kildeer stay for the season and breed and raise their young on the Kildeer pair.jpg
ranch.  Still others, such as Long-billed Curlew,   
Cattle Egret, and Long-billed Dowitcher are vagrants- unexpected, out-of-range visitors who have blown off or strayed from their usual migration route.

-Kildeer pair nesting on the ranch

Last spring we briefly hosted a beautiful, but bewildered Cattle Egret in full breeding plumage.
Cattle Egret.jpg
In early April of this year, I arrived home after the best ski day of the season (thanks to a storm that delivered a foot of champagne powder to the ski mountain) and was greeted by a total of 14 Wilson's Snipe scattered around the ranch.
Earlier this week, after a wind storm of epic proportion, a flooded field across from the ranch was teeming with "wind birds"- 11 White-faced Ibis, 131 Marbled Godwits, 4 Willets, 2 Lesser Yellowlegs, and a single Long-billed Dowitcher.  The ibis and godwits hung around for a few days before taking off, allowing me the opportunity to observe and photograph them.

Ibis Walking.jpg
The White-faced Ibis is a funny-looking creature with his long legs and his long decurved bill that he uses to probe in the mud for worms, insects, and snails.  The "white-face" in his name consists of white feathers along the border of the bare facial skin of adults birds.  The white is difficult to see except at close range, but the metallic bronze plumage on the body of the bird knocks you out, especially in just the right light.

When the Marbled Godwit is standing still or foraging
Godwit Foursome.jpg
for bugs, his long, slightly upturned bicolored bill is my favorite feature.  The flock seems to  
enjoy socializing while they eat.  When I was observing them late in the day, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks flew overhead and startled the birds into flight.  As they took off, the bright cinnamon-buff of their underwings absolutely dazzled me.

Godwits flying.jpg

     The Marbled Godwits, like many of the "wind birds", stay for such a brief time that I consider their appearance on the ranch in the spring a highlight of the season. 

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

March 2010 is the previous archive.

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