Bird list & other natural events, October 2011

October was our driest month yet, with only .60″ total rain, following the last three months of July (2.03″), August (1.76″), and September (2.17″), all of which are well below average or desired. On Monday morning we started drilling foundation holes for the new chicken shed, using a tractor-mounted auger, and had to stop because the ground was too hard for the auger to progress very far. We filled the proto-holes with water, let it soak in all day, and were able to complete the work late in the day.

This continues to be the most hawk-rich fall we’ve had here, with near-daily sightings of Cooper’s and/or Sharp-Shinned Hawks (hard to tell the difference, though we think we’ve spotted unique features of each), along with regular Red-Tails and Red-Shouldereds. Somehow we haven’t lost a chicken, though one came quite close: we heard a commotion and went down to find a pile of feathers by the chicken fence and a hen missing in the count. We assumed it was gone, only to find the missing bird later in the day crouched in the underbrush 50′ away, where she must have fled after somehow escaping the strike. Lucky hen; the next morning I saw a coyote stalking right where she’d been.

Speaking of coyotes, they’ve also been the most prevalent and active in our five years here. There’s a large pack that uses our stream corridor and can be heard many nights; good fencing has so far kept things stable here. I find the sound of a pack yipping quite beautiful, though eventually I get tired of being woken up (still better than dogs barking, at least coyotes shut up quickly). One neighbor reports they’ve lost most of their chickens, and I’ve been told of coyote attacks and issues (some involving goats) throughout the region. We wonder if this boom in coyote numbers relates to last year’s very heavy mast (acorn production), which would create a boom in rodent and other prey animal populations that might translate to higher predators this year. This has certainly been the worst vole/rodent year we’ve had in the fields. They devoured our peanuts, leaving only a slight net gain from the amount that we planted in the first place. Some were eaten in the place, and shells were left littering the bed. We just discovered that some were carried off whole; Joanna found a stash of in-the-shell, uneaten peanuts in a leaf pile at least 30 feet from the peanut bed. The consolation is that 1) we stole some of our peanuts back, and 2) this implies that the problematic rodents have a range that extends outside of the garden fence where the coyotes at least have a chance of munching them. I also suspect that deer are suffering in this drought, as the forest floors here are just dessicated, and perhaps hungry or sick deer are easier prey for a healthy coyote population. We’ve personally seen a pair of coyotes following a common deer track in our woods.

We missed the peak of waterfowl migration at Eagle Bluffs, but did sneak down for a couple hours last Saturday afternoon, on a warm sunny day, and were rewarded with at least a thousand American White Pelicans both resting and soaring. These huge, white birds are glorious when spiralling up a thermal in large flocks, winking in and out of view as the sun reflects off their wings. A highlight of the day included watching a Pied-Billed Grebe devour a frog after spending several minutes working it into just the right position to gulp it down whole. Other treats included over 50 Great Blue Herons, a variety of ducks, and a nice smattering of hawks and eagles.

Fall migration has been wonderful here; so many birds use our valley with its mixed trees, pasture, and fields. The western ridge across our stream gets crisp early morning sun that makes bird-watching from the valley a joy. It’s been fun to watch some details that often go unnoticed, such as how goldfinches do a little warm-up routine before heading out, a vibrant fluffing-shaking that looks like a dog shedding water, while making a unique cheeping call that I’ve never heard outside this context. We’ve seen few unusual birds, but quite enjoy the daily mix of “normal” migrants. Most of the new species are winter arrivals like Juncos, which summer in the far north and winter here, or migrants passing through with just a few observations before they move on.

NEW IN OCTOBER (13 species, some observed earlier this year but not in September)

Wood Duck (occasional visitor to our pond)
Great Blue Heron
Sharp-Shinned Hawk (likely ID but not certain)
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
Golden-Crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Dark-Eyed Junco
White-Throated Sparrow
Blue-Headed Vireo
Common Grackle
Song Sparrow
Snow Goose (in migration over farm)
Finch, either Purple or House (couldn’t ID for certain)

Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Cooper’s Hawk (likely ID but not certain)

Red-Tailed Hawk
Red-Shouldered Hawk
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tufted Titmouse
Black-Capped Chickadee
White-Breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Towhee
American Goldfinch
Summer Tanager
Black-Throated Green Warbler
Nashville Warbler

American Redstart
Black and White Warbler
Red-eyed Vireo
Blackburnian Warbler
Red-headed Woodpecker
Least Flycatcher
Tennessee Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Lark Sparrow
Tree Swallow
Canada Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Brown Thrasher
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
Common Nighthawk

The species count will really shrink in November, as many of these birds were passing through in early October and are now long gone. By the end of October our daily observation list is generally down to the winter birds now, with few surprises.

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