24 December 2011

Christmas Bird Counts

Going into this year's Christmas Bird Count season, I had said that with the irruption of Snowy Owls happening this year, it would be a failure if we couldn't find a Snowy Owl on one of our counts.  Luckily, Lindsay salvaged count season by finding the owl in the photo below.

No, it's not a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) in the sense of the large, white, circumpolar owl species that's been observed at various locations throughout the Midwest this fall/winter.  It is, however, an Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) that must have had its head sticking out of that Wood Duck box for quite some time to accumulate a layer of snow on its head... hence, a snowy owl!  I'll take it.  Lindsay found this bird while we were driving past a wetland in South Bend during the South Bend Christmas Bird Count on 17 December.  During our count, Lindsay and I tallied 34 species in our portion of the southwest sector, and 57 species were tallied in the South Bend circle overall (both tallies were right on the mean for this count).

The next morning (18 December), I was at it again, joining Kip Miller, Gabriella Meredith, and Sherry Manison for the Berrien Springs Christmas Bird Count in Berrien County, Michigan.  On that count, our foursome tallied 42 species; I haven't yet heard the total for the count circle, but Kip mentioned that due to the range of habitats it is typically one of the top five or so counts in Michigan.  Some of our highlights were Common Merganser, Red-shouldered Hawk, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2), Winter Wren, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Swamp Sparrow.  Although not rare birds, we enjoyed nice looks at the Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) and the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) shown above and below, respectively.

I have one more count to do this year, on 31 December in Elkhart, Indiana.  Christmas Bird Count season runs through 5 January 2012, so there is still time to join a count in your area.  If you've never done the Christmas Bird Count, I recommend it to beginners as well as experts.  The first count that Lindsay and I ever did was a Christmas Bird Count, and from that count we learned a lot about both birds and birding.

11 December 2011

A Siskin Surprise

This morning, I was looking out the window at our feeders and was pleasantly surprised to see a Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus), the first individual of this species that I've seen at our feeders this fall/winter. I later found a second individual as well.

Pine Siskin (above) and American Goldfinch (below)

Note the differences in the photos above and below between the Pine Siskin and the American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis).  The other species with which a Pine Siskin could potentially be confused is a female House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), but the beak of the Pine Siskin is more sharply pointed, Pine Siskins are smaller than House Finches, and Pine Siskins usually have some yellow pigment in some of their feathers, most often on and/or behind the wing bar.

Pine Siskin (above) and American Goldfinch (below)

Like many other finch species that breed in Canada and only visit the continental United States in winter, Pine Siskins are considered an "irruptive" species.  This means that in some years, environmental conditions lead to large numbers of individuals of these species in areas further south of their normal range.  The Pine Siskin is the most common of these irruptive species, with a winter range extending in some years south into Central America.

Pine Siskin

We've had Pine Siskins at our feeders the past several years, with more in some years than in others, and with birds present for a longer period of time in some years.  I enjoy their presence, even though they can eat a tremendous amount of black-oil sunflower and thistle seed.  Hopefully they stick around all winter, and hopefully some of their irruptive relatives show up this year as well.