Bird list & natural events, February 2014

Well, wasn’t February fun? Temperatures were seriously cold for all but one brief warmup, the month averaging a good ten degrees below average. Although snowfall was above average due to one major storm, moisture totals were about half average for the second straight month. After the summer of 2012, it makes us nervous to head into a growing season with the ground already abnormally dry. The beginning of March, with record-cold temperatures, is not boding well for getting the CSA off to an early start. Despite all this, we were able to spend a lot of time outdoors this month, as cold & dry conditions are generally great for getting winter logging work done, and were able to observe a lot of interesting bird and wildlife activity. We enjoyed following lots of interesting tracks in the snow, studying the behavior patterns of possums, deer, foxes, coyotes, and more. We traced raccoon tracks to an apparent den in a hollow tree, set up our trail camera on a tripod outside, and were rewarded with an interesting sequence of daily raccoon routines.

feb_natural_1

A few of the better shots are featured above. The camera stamps every image with time, temperature, and moon phase; using these data I threw together a quick table of raccoon activity over a portion of seven days. Each time stamp represents a raccoon passing in front of the camera, with the temperature in parentheses. I roughly set up the grid with comparable times in similar rows to make it more visually intuitive. The moon phase starts around half and reaches full on 2/14. Seems pretty clear that raccoons like warm weather, though it’s interesting to me that they’d be most active during the day on a warm day, always going out at night no matter how cold it is. I didn’t feel like researching cloud cover. We don’t know whether there’s more than one raccoon in this den, just that only one was ever recorded at a time.

Feb. 8 Feb. 9 Feb. 10 Feb. 11 Feb. 12 Feb. 13 Feb. 14
3:39 (15)
12:39 (39)
14:40 (37) Take down
Set up 16:26 (37)
18:32 (4) 18:12 (12) 18:05 (39)
20:05 (19) 20:00 (1) 19:35 (4) 19:43 (17) 19:42 (30)
22:07 (10) 23:10 (8)

This month was also the best we’ve ever had for migratory waterfowl passing overhead. Whether due to a shift in their flyway, or increasing populations, snow geese were just ubiquitous during the month, easily outnumbering observations from past years. On several days, we saw more than 10,000 snow geese, filling the air with their distinctive cacophony of high-pitched voices. We saw peak numbers on Feb. 23; with repeated flocks stretching horizon to horizon, we estimated numbers in the many tens-of-thousands. We also saw far more ducks in flight than in past years, though were unable to identify them. Trumpeter Swans, a real treat, passed overhead on seven different days, generally in small flocks of 3 or 4 but once totaling 24 on one day, including a single flock of 16. These were generally flying fairly low, headed in varying directions, so we assume they were wintering on nearby water bodies. Even White Pelicans made an appearance on the last day of the month, 27 soaring majestically in their distinctive spiraling, whip-like line as they climbed thermals over our fields. If spring warbler migration is this good, we won’t get anything done!

Our local Red-Shouldered Hawks also put on a display toward the end of the month, showing off their courtship flights & mating in a tree over our pasture. This mating was remarkably similar to chickens’ approach, if chickens could reach a branch 60+ feet off the ground, with the female balancing on the branch while the male mounts her back and steadies himself with awkward wing flaps. This species uses the same territory year after year; like our pair of Broad-Winged Hawks, we’re thrilled to have them here as they don’t eat chicken and help keep away the Red-Tailed Hawks that do.

Putting together this month’s bird grid for the last four years, something we started doing last month, I added an important feature: species counts for each year. This gave a surprising result: even though the individual species each year are pretty variable, the total species counts are almost identical. I did the same thing retroactively for January, and found the same thing: species counts of 24, 24, 25, 25 for the past four years. We would never have predicted such stability, and are really looking forward to monitoring this over the coming year.

 

February 2014 2013 2012 2011
Ducks, unidentified in flight x x
Great  Blue Heron x
Ring-Billed Gull x
Snow Goose x x x x
Canada Goose x x x x
Greater White-Fronted Goose  x x
White Pelican x
Trumpeter Swan x
Turkey Vulture x x
Bald Eagle x
Red-Shouldered Hawk x x x x
Red-Tailed Hawk  x x x
Mourning Dove  x x x
Barred Owl x x x x
Great Horned Owl x x
Belted Kingfisher x x x x
Red-Bellied Woodpecker x x x x
Downy Woodpecker x x x x
Hairy Woodpecker x
Northern Flicker x x x x
Pileated Woodpecker x x x x
American Woodcock x x
Killdeer x x x
Blue Jay x x x x
American Crow x x x x
Tufted Titmouse x x x x
Black-Capped Chickadee x x x x
White-Breasted Nuthatch x x x x
Carolina Wren x x x x
Golden-Crowned Kinglet x
Eastern Bluebird x x x x
American Robin x x x x
European Starling  x
Cedar Waxwing  x x x
Yellow-Rumped Warbler x x x
Northern Cardinal x x x x
Song Sparrow  x x
American Tree Sparrow  x
White-Throated Sparrow x
Fox Sparrow  x x x x
Dark-eyed Junco x x x x
Red-Winged Blackbird  x
Common Grackle x
American Goldfinch x x x x
Purple Finch x x
House finch x
Hermit Thrush x x
Blackbird mixed flock x
Species count 32 34 31 32

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