New Friends

We’ve had some new friends in the yard this week!

A charming flock of chipping sparrows stopped by! I don’t remember seeing them before, but I suspect that is merely a reflection on my lack of recognition.

Their name comes from the “chip! chip!” sound they make, which is the entirety of their song.

Chipping sparrow with a rust brown head and white and black eye-brow streaks. Males and females look alike.

Imagine a dozen of these little guys bobbing around in our rather dandelion-infested back yard, looking for food. I couldn’t get a good group shot because they were so far down in the grass, except when they’d hop up for a moment. It was like avian popcorn!

Chipping sparrows eat mostly seeds, but will take insects, especially in breeding season or when feeding their chicks. My husband has vowed never to dig up another dandelion so that these little chippies always have plenty to eat. He is always looking out for wildlife.

Chipping sparrow with its beak full of dandelion seeds.

They are migrating to the mountains, where they’ll nest and raise their families in open grassy forests from the ponderosa pine to the tundra.

Once the little ones have fledged, they’ll feed up on seeds before heading back to southern Texas and Mexico.

They are welcome in our yard to eat dandelion seeds anytime.

Nectar Eaters on a Cool Spring Day

It’s a cool May day, and that has made animals cold and hungry.

White-lined sphinx moths are big, with flat triangular wings and a “white” line running from behind their heads to the corners of their wings.

My husband and I found a white-lined sphinx moth on the sidewalk as we were out walking the dogs this morning, slowly beating its wings as it tried to warm up. Once he gets airborne, he’ll be looking for nectar.

You can see a hint of pink on the body. If he were to open his wings, it would be a large pink wing patch.

And we saw our first hummingbirds! As usual, we heard their ringing zip first. Only the males make this sound. It is produced by special tail feathers. The males are heading into the high country to stake out territory before the females arrive.Spring storm brings cold, wet; hummers come to feeder

Male broadtailed hummingbirds have a red “gorget” or throat feathers. The feathers on their backs are iridescent green.

The problem for both these animals is that the very hard freeze we had a month ago killed a lot of early flowers.

We’ll have more flowers soon, but they need food NOW. I’m doing what I can to help by putting out my hummingbird feeders — 1 part sugar to 4 parts water, NO red food coloring — poured into hummingbird feeders that have been cleaned with boiling water. Hummers in Snowstorm

Hang in there nectar eaters! More flowers are on the way!

Turkey vultures have returned to Front Range

Some people watch for the first robin of spring. In Capistrano, they look for the return of the swallows. I know it’s spring when the turkey vultures return to the Front Range of Colorado. (https://amylaw.blog/2013/04/08/it-must-be-spring/)

Turkey vultures are big birds — the biggest you are likely to see, with the exception of an eagle or an American white pelican.

You’re not going to mistake a vulture for a pelican. The others are a little more problematic.

They are big, dark bird with translucent (almost see-through) trailing wing feathers, and a red head.

I have the most trouble telling a turkey vulture from bald or golden eagles. Although golden eagles may hold their wings in a slight “V”, most often they hold their wings flat.

A turkey vulture soars with it’s wings in a slight “V”, often called a “dihedral”.

Turkey vultures are also “tippy” when they fly — they are so light that air drafts bounce them around. Eagles are not “tippy”. It’s beneath their dignity.

And neither a bald or nor golden eagle have the translucent trailing wing feathers.

Swainson’s hawks, or a broad-winged hawks are both tippy and fly in a V. But both these hawks have shorter, broader wings, and are smaller. They also often brownish-red and have white markings on their wings or bodies.

You might confuse it with a black vulture, but black vultures just seem smaller overall — shorter wings, much shorter tail, with a dark grey head. Plus, black vultures are limited to the southern US down into South America. I have to travel south if I want to see a black vulture.

It’s been a long, hard winter. I hope you enjoy your first signs of spring, whatever they are!

Spring is Coming — Promise

It has been a long cold hard winter along the Front Range of Colorado. We have gotten enough snow in February to wipe out the incipient drought we were headed into, which is a good thing. But it came at the cost of a snowstorm every couple of days. That was hard.

We’re not out of winter yet — March and April are typically our snowiest months in Colorado.

But as the dogs and I went for our morning walk, we also found the first signs that spring is on the way.

Male Northern Flicker — red-shafted variety. Only males have the red stripe on the jaw.

As we walked, we heard the “eh-eh-eh-eh-eh” call of a male Northern Flicker trying out his mating call.

Male Spotted Towhee looking for seeds in the snow.

Further on, we found a Spotted Towhee by his “cha-cha-chaaa” call. Like the flicker, his calls right now are just warm-ups. He quickly dropped down to the snow to hunt for seeds.

Hearing these guys practice their mating calls cheered me up. And as we walked home through the cold, the sun broke through the clouds, promising a sunny day.

Thanksgiving Bushtits

As we were cooking Thanksgiving dinner this noon, my husband happened to look out our kitchen window at the bird feeders in our back yard. “We have bushtits!”

Bushtits on suet feeder.

These gregarious little birds move around the neighborhood in a small flock. You know they are passing by their flitting flight, and their cheeping “contact” calls.

Male bushtits have dark brown irises…

Bushtits normally eat insects — scale bug, mostly, but spiders, caterpillars, wasps, ants, beetles — anything that crawls. After the 18 inches of snow dumped on the Front Range, though, insects were in short supply.

…while female bushtits have yellow eyes.

And so they resorted to our feeders.

I don’t know whether this is a bit of mealworm suet, or a chunk of sunflower.

In the summertime, bushtits need to eat 80% of their body weight to keep from losing weight. That adds up to a lot of scale bugs.

Either will give her energy through the cold weather.

But in winter they have to eat more. They are probably less choosy about how they get their calories. And are thankful for whatever they find.

Female leaves feeder with a choice morsel.

I think I’ll make sure I’ve got plenty of mealworm suet for them, in any case.

When I could not go to nature, nature kindly came to me.

My life has been busy, hectic and stressful for the last few months. One of my problems has been that I haven’t had time to go find interesting things in nature to share.

But a wonderful thing about nature is that if you are patient, and observant, sometimes it comes to you.

The dogs were going berserk at something in the backyard yesterday morning. Usually, this is just a person next door. We try to quiet the dogs down and bring them in, because nobody likes to be the subject of a barking frenzy.

But when I looked out the back door, I saw what they were barking at.

Young mule, or black-tailed, deer buck.

It was a small family of mule deer who have been living in the neighborhood this fall. We’ve had deer in the backyards before, but it surprises me that they are in backyards this early in the season.

You can see Tegan, our black mutt, in the lower right corner. Zoe the Corgi is behind the bird feeders.
The buck is looking back at the doe, who is out of the picture to the left.

As the dogs continued their mad barking, I saw that there were a doe and a yearling in the next-door yard, as well.

The dogs refused to quiet down. I was going to go shoo them inside, but at this point, the buck turned to look at the dogs, his head lowered a little.

The doe is in the upper left quadrant. The yearling is very hard to see in the branches of the background.

Very deliberately, the young buck walked up to the fence to consider the dogs. This concerned me, because I know that deer can be aggressive when they feel threatened. What puzzled me was that the buck shouldn’t feel threatened, because he could walk away at any time, and the dogs couldn’t follow. And he knew it.

Young mule deer buck comes to the fence.

At this point, the dogs barking changed a little, and I noticed Tegan doing play bows. This was predictable. Tegan loves to play. She does play bows to the vacuum sweeper. Because she was bouncing around behind lots of yard stuff, I wasn’t able to get a shot of her doing this.

Buck taking it all in.

With the fence safely between them, the buck watched the dogs, unsure of what to make of them.

Lip-licking is a near universal sign of nervousness or uncertainty in mammals.

Three young animals of two different species that are normally antagonistic to each other considered each other for a few minutes.

But the buck decided he had seen enough, and ambled back to the doe and yearling.

And then, he effortlessly jumped the chest-high fence and moved on.

The fence is up to the buck’s chest.
But he rises on his hind legs…
…springs…
…and tucking his hind legs beneath him …
… is over the fence.
On his way to the next yard.

Nature redeems, once again.

I can go back to dealing with my problems, a little less frustrated.