The Charm of Goldfinches

While social gatherings of the human sort are still not an option, we’ve been lucky to host a succession of very charming avian guests in the garden lately.

This week seems to be goldfinch week out there, with beautiful singing and frequent flashes of saffron in the foliage … and at the fountain.

The recklessness of some of the flying manoeuvres I’ve witnessed today lead me to believe that a new generation of goldfinches have come to play. You know when you have to duck to avoid finch/human contact that you have some L-plated flyers in the ‘hood.

Juvenile American Goldfinch

Junior goldfinch taking a breather.

A few years ago we only had house finches coming to the garden. About five years ago the goldfinches finally arrived, but the house finches disappeared. I thought they might be fundamentally incompatible, but last year and this year, both kinds of finches seem to be happy in the garden, along with a gang of feisty siskins.

Male House Finch feeds a nesting Female.

Fierce little siskin bossing Norman the Nuthatch about at the feeder.

This week’s warmer weather inspired me to set up the mister at the bird bath. First customer was a rather excited female Anna’s hummingbird.

Hummingbirds don’t normally frequent the bird bath as they get all the liquid they need to drink from nectar, and the water in it is too deep for them to bathe in. For bathing they prefer either a mist or a shallow water receptacle, like the leaf I noticed a hummingbird bathing in last year.

Birds like the white crowned sparrow below, however, are very, very happy with a regular bird bath — as long as it’s kept nice and clean, with fresh water added daily.

Our hummingbirds also seem to enjoy the fountain, where they can dart under the falling water for a quick feather refresh.

The goldfinches are also big fountain fans for some reason.

Freshly bathed and ready to impress some lady goldfinches.

I hope that you’re also managing to spend some time with feathered friends.

Last week’s local newspaper, the Vancouver Sun, featured a story Backyard Birding Takes Flight about the delight that people stuck at home are finding in getting to know their avian neighbours, and the joy of discovery to be found within their own neighbourhoods. I do hope this is something we’ll take forward with us long after the COVID-19 situation has passed. You will notice that Norman the Nuthatch and one of my Steller’s Jay photos are featured in the article, and I am quoted in it.

You can read the article online HERE.

Treat yourself this weekend to just a few minutes of bird watching. You don’t have to go far at all and you can maintain your social distance. Tomorrow, May 9, offers the chance to do that and be part of a world wide community of bird enthusiasts contributing to science for the Global Big Day of bird observing and counting. You can spend all day doing it, or ten minutes. If you want to add your findings to the overall count, you’ll need an eBirds account. It’s totally free to sign up and participate.

I can honestly say that thing that calms me down the fastest in these days of specific and generalized anxiety is to just stop what I’m doing, step outside and look around to see what the birds are doing. Sometimes a minute does it, sometimes a whole hour is required. Often there seems to be nothing of interest going on, but there always is if you just take a few deep breaths and wait. Common birds doing their normal amazing things, and occasionally a rarer bird. Either way it’s time well spent.

Swainson’s Thrush in the garden last week — only the second one I’ve ever seen.

 

 

Norman News

I didn’t like to mention that Norman has been missing.

I mean, so much else to worry about these days . . .

But it was with a disproportionate level of  excitement that I greeted our wanderer this morning when I spotted him in the lilac.

My family thought something was badly wrong (in the “she’s fallen and can’t get up” category) but I was just whooping with joy.

I thought my screeching would have scared him out of the garden, but he obligingly stayed long enough for me to get a few corroborating photos.

So, that’s it.

The world is still going to hell in hand basket, but at least we know Norman’s OK.

It’s the little things . . .

See also: Norman the Nuthatch

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Norman the Nuthatch

Norman the NuthatchI had never seen a nuthatch of any kind until Norman arrived in my garden last fall. Suddenly there he was, a tiny flying badger, making peeping noises like the world’s smallest truck backing up in the lilac tree.

Norman is a red-breasted nuthatch, close cousin to the white-breasted, brown-headed and pygmy nuthatches, and the elusive brown creeper.

Red Breasted Nuthatch in Coral Bark Maple

Now, every morning when I go into the garden, after issuing my standard crazy bird lady greeting to the assembled avian company, “Hi there, Birdy McBirdles!” — I’m looking to see if I can spot Norman.

I’ve given him a name since he’s easy to identify, being the only nuthatch in the garden. Some time in late fall a second one showed up, but after a few days of noisy squabbling we seem to be back down to one.

Nuthatch at Bird Bath

The Cornell information on them describes the red-breasted nuthatch as “an intense bundle of energy at your feeder” — and that does just about sum up Norman.

Red Breasted Nuthatch at feeder

He’s a zoomer.

Zooms down to the feeder, back up to the trees — up and down, dozens of times a day.

Pretty fearless too, whipping by inches from my head, and unfazed if I walk right beside the feeder. The other birds are off in a feathery flurry if I get too close, but Norman and his dauntless black-capped chickadee buddies tend to stand their ground.

Nuthatch upside down in hazel tree

Norman often zigzags down the trees head first, like a Skeleton competitor. He is aided in this manoeuvre by the large hook-like claws on his back toes.

Nuthatch with peanut

He’s a picky eater and will often perch at the feeder pulling out, and impatiently discarding, one morsel after another until he finally unearths the specific one he was looking for, usually a nice big peanut.

He’ll fly off to a nearby tree and jam the nut prize into a bark crevice where he can pick away at it at his leisure. The tree bark is also the source of the tasty bugs that make up the rest of his diet.

Nuthatch Call

Beep, beep, beep …

Another cool fact about red-breasted nuthatches — they smear the entrance to their nests (usually excavated in a decaying tree or stump) with sticky resin, presumably to ward off predators or would-be lodgers. To avoid getting stuck themselves, they’ve perfected the art of diving directly and neatly into the nest.

I hope Norman can find himself a mate and they will have fun making a glue-guarded nest. Maybe we’ll see some nuthatch babies later this spring.

I’ll keep you posted on the Norman News.

Windy Day Nuthatch

Norman on a blustery day, showing off that big back claw.

Nuthatch Ahoy

 

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logo with crow

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Simple

Brown Creeper

Sometimes life just simplifies things for you.

A slow healing foot and a clunky cast means: no running errands, no snowshoeing, no major home or studio projects, no trips, no February studio sale, not even very many crow walks around the neighbourhood.

But what there is, waiting for me every day, is the garden. And in the garden, the birds. I’ve discovered that between those two things, there’s more than enough to keep me occupied.

Steller’s Jay

For one thing, I joined Project FeederWatch, run by Cornell University and Birds Canada, and started spending time each week counting the birds in the garden and sending the information to help track North American bird populations. Given that recent statistics have shown a terrible decline over the past few decades, it’s important to gather these numbers.

I’ve discovered already that there are two things that will clear a garden of birds in seconds. The first is a hawk in the neighbourhood; the second is a human being out there to count birds. They normally fly around me with not a care in the world, but as soon as I settle in with my FeederWatch App, it’s as if a pterodactyl has cast an ominous shadow. Still, I managed, over two days this week, to monitor 12 difference species in our small space.

Orange Crowned Warbler

While it seems at times that the wider world is going mad, we are lucky enough to have few square feet of our own in which to try and make a small difference. I’m researching how I can make our garden an even better refuge for birds than it is now. More native plants, a brush pile, more water sources …  John Marzluff, bird scientist and author of  Subirdia, recently appeared on the Joe Gardner podcast, chatting about bird population decline and ways in which gardeners can help.

Creatively, I’ve been working on a new series of portraits, all from bird photographs taken in our small garden. While I do like to travel and see birds, somehow it seems to me more miraculous when they make their way here, like feathered messengers.

Varied Thrush

So far, in the 2020 collection, I’m working on chickadees (black capped and chestnut backed), an orange crowed warbler, northern flicker, varied thrush, Steller’s jay, Anna’s hummingbird, spotted towhee, brown creeper and starling.

Chestnut Backed Chickadee

Black Capped Chickadee

Some of these images are works in process. My years old libraries of photographs of flowers, leaves, ancient walls, vintage fabric, lichen, cracked stone, forest landscapes and family letters are used like colours in a painter’s palette. Sometimes I think an image is done, but the next day something doesn’t look right and I start again.

Common Starling

Although I’m confined to home and garden, I feel as if I’m travelling as I go through decades of images looking for just the right scrap of texture or colour. It may be a suggestion of a lupin or a grass shadow. Ancient walls from a church in Wales appear in many of these new images. The barkcloth curtain on our back door which frames my daily view of the garden is usually in there somewhere.

Spotted Towhee

As I work, they layers of the images remind me of people I’ve know, letters I’ve written and received, places I’ve lived, books I’ve read and music I’ve listened to. All of these things come together in how I see the world, so it seems appropriate that they should be part of my work. The bird portraits are my explanation of what the natural world means to me, now — and all of those memories are part of it.

Northern Flicker

Once I’ve finished playing with these images, I will try making tiles with them. Somehow seeing them on stone brings them into focus for me.  Here is a nice little movie in which I talk about my tile making process.

When I’m happy with the images, they’ll be available as prints in my online shop and, eventually, some of them will become textiles like cushion covers and bags.

In the meantime, however, I’m enjoying wandering the virtual hallways of images and recollections, so I may keep creating some more new images for a while.

There’s a small nuthatch that I’m thinking of, and a perhaps a pygmie owl …

Male Anna’s Hummingbird

 

 

 

© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.