Posted by: atowhee | December 22, 2015


Today is the shortest daylight day of the year and the official start of winter so it is just the beginning…but it is also just more of the same.  Rain.  No Complaints.  Having lived through at least three severe droughts I will never complain about rain.  Even if it means building an ark.  Water is life.

In our garden mid-day it was about 50 degrees.  There was some rain as the afternoon came on.  Our local birds were eating to prepare for weathering the weather and the longest night ahead.  Calories count.

Up to 27 siskins were on the veranda cement at one time, where many of the sunflower seeds are put.  Several more siskins were scattered in the bordering shrubs and trees or sitting on the back fence.  At mid-day our five greedy squirrels have commandeered the platform feeders.  They will fill their well-furred bellies and then go away for most of the afternoon, perhaps to nap.  They may return at dusk for a final meal before the cold, wet night ahead.  Alongside the siskins are a few Juncos.  They come in black and gray wavelets all day long, arriving, receding, then returning again, an avian tide.   Two Song Sparrows, our four regular House Sparrows and one lone Golden-crowned come down to the ground briefly joining the siskins and Juncos.  All ground feeders given a choice.

Our one small ceramic tent feeder gets frequent custom from a variety of birds.  The squirrels recently and disobligingly broke our second tent feeder by knocking it down onto the cement.  Into the tent flies our lone Red-breasted Nuthatch.  In early autumn we had four nuthatches but this one either claimed the territory or the others dispersed.  Though each goes into the tent feeder singly the Black-capped Chickadees arrive in tandem, an inseparable pair.  Siskins will fly in and stand in the tent, feeding.  They are our smallest bird that can eat a sunflower seed in place. The nuthatch and any chickadees must haul off an individual seed to husk it and break it into tiny fractions in order to eat it.

As I watch a male Spotted Towhee drops down from the fence top and quickly scuttles into the ground cover which conceals his bold colors.  Next comes the female towhee and she boldly parades her duller decoration across the open cement.  After the squirrels have hauled their full stomachs away into the trees the siskins immediately seize control of the platform feeders.  They will share platform space and food with their brethren but never peacefully or generously.  There are feints of assault, flutters of anger as two face off in the air above the feeder.  An alpha siskin is occasionally seen  with his or her wings outstretched like Batman’s cape.  The tiny fighter at the same time leans forward, tail fanned out so all the bright yellow warning signal flares, matching the yellow patches in the spread-out wings.  The bird’s bill is open as he points it at the intended victim of this display.  Is he hissing?  I’d like to know.  The siskin will use this tactic not just on his fellows but on Juncos or sparrows, even the jumbo-sized Golden-crowned.  It works.

Suddenly a white spot passes swiftly through my field of vision.  I see it about thirty feet away in a bush.  I am inside looking through a window and the light is dim under a rainy sky.  It moves, it flies, it perches.  Is it a White-crowned Sparrow?  Our garden  doesn’t seem accommodating to them, not their preferred manner of habitat. The white-headed bird is chased by one siskin, then a second.  It tries to land on the platform feeder where it is repulsed.  Drive off it moves deep onto the smoke tree, perches briefly and I get a look to see that it is a white-headed siskin; all the rest of its plumage seems normal.  Through the window I get one lousy image.  Then Whitey disappears over the fence.  I wait patiently outside for some time.  The siskins gather and feed and ignore me but the singular bird does not return, nor do I notice it again as the final hours of daylight pass.WHITEY (1280x960)

Whitey’s appearance in our garden, perhaps for the first time, makes me wonder how many siskins are nearby, say within 100 yards…or even a quarter mile?  I often see more than thirty in view at one time.  Are thewr then hundreds waiting about in trees and shrubs nearby, unseen by me?  Are they mobile and nomadic in winter in the manner of waxwings and crossbills?


Every moment is wet these days. We’ve had nearly 13 inches of rain here in McMinnville htis month.  North to Portland and they’ve set a record for December…already…and the rain continues.  They’re closing in on fourteen inches for the month.  McMinnville’s average December is seven inches plus.

Chickadee waits for chance at feeder.BCC WAITS bold siskinThis siskin is apparently a male, very bright and bold yellow stripe.  If female siskins favor yellow, he;s going to get chosen by the alpha female of the flock for sure.   Domestic duck continues at Carlton’s flooded oxbow.

dom duk-dec22How many floods has this noble maple weathered? flood mapleFlood sparrow: flood sparoFlood river: full river

Below… sculpture’s title: Wood in Repose.  Artist: North Yamhill River.wood in repose



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