The day before I took on the Scotch broom (previous post) I indulged in a day of scouting for birds and plants. It is so much easier to see birds since the tree thinning! I finally got a picture of the white breasted nuthatch (there are at least 2) in its element, with a tasty morsel of some kind – nowhere near a feeder!
This is unscientific, because their appearance coincided with an improvement in my birding skills, but I noticed three bird species last summer that might be new arrivals: Purple Finch, Western Wood-Pewee, and Lesser Goldfinch, plus the aforementioned White-Breasted Nuthatch this fall and winter.
Hoping that we had some rare and important new species, I cracked open the Land Manager’s Guide To Bird Habitat and Populations in Oak Ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest (note that link goes to part II). Of the six “obligate or near-obligate” species (don’t live anywhere else, or if they do, then much fewer outside this habitat), only two – Acorn Woodpecker and Slender Billed White-breasted Nuthatch have ranges in our part of the Willamette Valley. When we have a resident Acorn Woodpecker, we’ll have all two of them and the champagne corks will pop.
Moving into the more numerous “highly associated” species part of the list, we’ve seen or heard 13 of 20. The authors note that “highly associated species are those that are abundant in some other habitat(s), but reach some of their highest densities in oak habitats.” So not all of these are bell-ringers, so to speak.
The 13 in our neighborhood:
- Bewick’s Wren*
- Black-capped Chickadee*
- Black-headed Grosbeak
- Chipping Sparrow
- House Wren
- Lesser Goldfinch
- Purple Finch
- Spotted Towhee
- Western Bluebird
- Western Scrub-jay
- Western Tanager
- Western Wood-pewee
*For the record, these are pretty common in urban Seattle neighborhoods too
I think the neighbors’ 92 acres to the south are providing a lot of this habitat. We are watching closely for signs of a land sale at that location. It would be a tragedy if it was cleared, following the trend to plant crops on former woodland.
So, back to the ones that cropped up on the radar recently. Lesser Goldfinch prefers tree/shrub and shrub/tree edges and open areas. We saw them foraging on the open savanna area last summer on weeds (weeds!). They like the thistle and sunflower-family (Asteraceae) seed, and they were dancing around over the false dandelions in the savanna.
Purple Finch Listed as a short-distance migrant. Abundance is higher in larger patches (>25 acres). Since ours is 20 acres, the adjacent habitat is probably improving the chances of having them here. Here is a fuzzy photo of one at the feeder last summer.
Western Wood-Pewee. The guide lists this species as a “potential ‘early responder’ to overstory thinning or conifer removal that opens up the canopy of oak or oak-fir forest”. Ah-ha, I’ll take credit for that! I watched one fly to a nest in the fork of a tall skinny oak in the newly thinned woodland. They may have been here previously and we mistook it for some other sort of flycatcher, but they are making the most of the new habitat. They are really easy and fun to watch when they’re feeding because they perch near an opening and fly out and back catching insects. There is an audible ‘snap’ of their beak as they make contact.
Here is someone else’s Youtube video of one in Arizona
I was sorry to learn from The Sibley Guide that “recent population declines in…the Western Wood-Pewee may be due to major losses of wintering habitat in the South American Andes, the result of human activity”. The double liability of habitat loss for long distance migrants in both breeding and overwintering areas is a very complicated issue for conservation.
White-breasted Nuthatches are residents (non-migrating), and they use edges and small habitat patches. So they should be better off if the acreage in woodland restoration continues to increase. If I do nothing else this year, I am going to get a photo of ours that’s in focus.
Lesser Goldfinch. Another resident and edge-user. Good prospects for our population because we’ve got edges galore! Here is someone else’s Youtube video of one at the Tualatin River NWR not far from us – and a really great place to visit.
I’m reblogging a post from this wonderful southern Oregon bird blog, because it is so appropriate and I can’t really add anything:
It was 20 deg F last night, and stayed cloudy all day, preserving the thick layer of frost on all things leafy.
We had lots of birds flocking in to gobble birdseed, suet cakes, and leftover apples hanging in the trees. Notably, also a brand new bird siting (for us) – a Townsend’s Warbler partaking of the granny smiths. They winter along the west coast. It was a treat to see a new visitor we would likely not see in the summer. Here’s a great video http://youtu.be/hpQlILzavms Check out the eyeliner!! I only wish the videographer would keep his cat indoors, such an obvious example of why he should do that.
We still have the one White-Breasted Nuthatch hanging around with the Red-Breasted ones, who practically sit on your shoulder in their frenzy to eat enough to keep from freezing. I noted a Stellar’s Jay scaring off the WBNuthatch as it was cracking a sunflower seed it had wedged in the bark of the dougfir. The Jay snatched it. Turns out those jays can cling to the bark too, the bullies. The WBNuthatch may disappear once the weather warms up, but I hope it finds a mate and settles down for the summer.
Here is the bird lineup near the house currently:
Townsend’s warbler (new to us), white breasted nuthatch (recently noted), Stellar’s jay, black capped chickadee, chestnut backed chickadee, (oh- they are sooo dapper!), dark eyed junco, golden crowned sparrow (took awhile for Tom to settle on that i.d. as their crowns are not very golden in winter), spotted towhee, mourning dove, varied thrush (heard the policeman’s whistle of its call briefly in the evening, and then it visited the ground under the feeder); heard but not seen – golden crowned kinglets.
There are two birds whose presence, to me, would signify that we have attracted the holy grail of bird residents: the Acorn Woodpecker and White-breasted Nuthatch.
I looked out the window, and LO and BEHOLD! There was a White-Breasted Nuthatch!!
What these species have in common is their fidelity to, or requirement for, a vanishing Willamette Valley habitat – open oak woodland and savanna. The nuthatch will go for mixed conifer/hardwoods which is exactly what we have. They are not the only species of concern here, just a couple I particularly like. A brand new publication online in two parts [ here and here ] called the Land Manager’s Guide To Bird Habitat and Populations in Oak Ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest provides a larger list:
Oak-associated bird species designated as being of conservation concern by the primary wildlife natural resource agencies in the Pacific Northwest…
- Acorn Woodpecker
- Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
- Chipping Sparrow
- Vesper Sparrow (Oregon)
- Lewis’s Woodpecker
- White-breasted Nuthatch
- Western Bluebird
- Western Meadowlark
As I noted, to my delight, a White-breasted Nuthatch arrived recently at our feeder and on the trees by our house. Because I don’t currently have the proper camera or skills, here is a nice photo swiped from the above publication.
Our species – the slender-billed subspecies – resides west of the Cascades. Fat white belly, an impression of upcurved bill because the lower bill curves toward the straight, sharp upper; used for hacking or ‘hatching’ open nuts and seeds it wedges in tree bark – a fun fact learned from my new Christmas book, the Sibley Guide to Bird Behavior. Oh, so cute and spunky. I hope they find lots of holes in our old trees to make nests.