Foam Lake Birding No. 162

No. 162
            After a week of dreary weather the sun has finally come out.  None too soon for my tastes.  If nothing else, the bright sun lets me get much better photos of birds. 
            During the week of interminable clouds and snow our bird feeders were the site of continual feeding frenzy.  Even Pine Grosbeaks which are usually hesitant to come to our feeders were competing for seeds with a horde of House Sparrows.  In addition, we even had a pair of Juncos that had not yet migrated south.  Finally, we simply had to stop filling our Black Oil Seed feeders for almost a week.  Once the feeders were filled again our resident half dozen House Sparrows returned but the fifty or sixty that were here before did not.  They probably found other feeders in town.  It was amazing at how much oil seed those sparrows could go through in one day. 
            Our peanut and suet feeders were busy also but not to the extent that the Black Oil Seed feeders were.  These feeders had the usual mix of regulars such as the Red Breasted Nuthatches, Chickadees, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and, yes, House Sparrows.  I managed to get an excellent photo of a male Hairy Woodpecker acrobatically feeding on peanuts on our first sunny day. 
            In addition to feeders, we also try to make our yard bird friendly as it were by selecting plants that provide birds with food into the winter.  For example, every year we plant sunflowers and leave them in the garden over winter and not removing them until spring.  The birds not only eat the seeds but the small mites and insects that are hibernating in the plant itself.  In our yard chickadees are forever clambering about the dried out sunflower stalks looking for insects. 
            My wife also has a fairly large planting of domesticated native plants.  Because the plants are domesticated they produce bigger and better flowers than their wild ancestors but to the birds this is not an issue.  They are simply native plants.  Overall, it is a win, win situation for both birds and us.  Some of the varieties include Delphiniums, Bee Balm, Joe Pye Weed (Milkweed), Thistle and Verbascum (bee plant).  The second photo of a Pine Grosbeak on a Verbascum stalk was taken during the stretch of overcast skies and snow.  I just missed getting some pictures of a pair of Redpolls feeding on the thistles. 

Foam Lake Birding No. 161

No. 161
            With the recent snowfall it seems that winter is finally here.  However, the snowfall was relatively light and with warmer temperatures on the horizon the snow might just disappear.  Having winter delayed is alright with me. 
            During the several days of intermittent snow squalls our feeders were very busy.  Some of our "old friends" like the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers preferred the peanut feeders.  Others like the Pine Siskins (which should have gone south by now) and chickadees fed on the black oil seeds.   Still others like the Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings just dropped in but never fed on anything. 
            This week we had another infrequent visitor, the Sharp Shinned Hawk.  The "sharpie" was very interested in the birds at our feeders and probably would have had lunch if the birds were a little more cooperative.  When the hawk appeared the other birds disappeared.  However, if nothing else, hawks are patient and persistent. 
             On the sharpie's third visit in three days it was perched quietly in an apple tree about five feet from the peanut feeder.  Meanwhile, my wife and I were observing a Hairy Woodpecker on a power pole just across the back alley from us.  Suddenly, the woodpecker decided to come to the peanut feeder filling us with anticipation of an attack by the sharpie.  As the woodpecker was about to land at the feeder it noticed the hawk.  The hawk barely moved but the woodpecker aborted the landing and flew back to the power pole in an awful hurry.  Why the sharpie did not attack is puzzling.  Anyway, the Hairy Woodpecker did return later to eat some of the peanuts at the very same feeder. 
            After the woodpecker incident the hawk still maintained its vigil from the same perch until a small flock of Pine Siskins flew in for some black oil seeds.  Several siskins landed at the feeder and one landed in the apple tree not far from the sharpie.  Suddenly the hawk attacked scattering siskins all over the place.  We were not able to determine which siskin was singled out but after a brief chase of only a few seconds the hawk landed without any bird in its claws.  The sharpie was a juvenile and from what my wife and I observed it was not a very proficient hunter and would require quite a bit more practice to hone its hunting skills. 
            In either a colour or black and white photo a juvenile and adult are easily separated and identified.  In colour the adult is slate grey with an orange barred breast and belly; the juvenile is brown with brown stripes on a white breast and belly.  In both the lower belly is white.  In black and white photos the adult breast and belly is barred while the juvenile is striped.  (Stripes run up and down; bars run crosswise).  In real life the sharpie can easily be confused with its close relative the Coopers Hawk.  Although there is a size difference the two hawks are almost identical in appearance and often cannot be safely identified in the field.  All differences are subtle to say the least.  One of the better field marks is the shape of the tail.  The tip of a Coopers Hawk's tail is clearly rounded; the sharpie's tail is square or slightly notched.  In the photo of the juvenile the tail is shown to be slightly notched thus confirming that it is indeed a Sharp Shinned Hawk.  The photo of the adult shows the breast bars. 
            Although the weather was gloomy and overcast I still managed to get some good shots of the juvenile sharpie.  Note the tail shape and compare to that in a good bird book.  The photo of the adult perched on the martin birdhouse was taken two summers ago.