Friday, February 15, 2008

Eagle Eyes

The last few days have been good ones for birding. Even though it's still way too early for nesting the snarky little purple finches have begun to scrap over girlfriends. We were treated a spectacular aerial dogfight yesterday morning as three bright red male finches vied for the attention of a lone female.

Right now there's a male English sparrow doing his darndest to have a dust bath in the frozen ground. For a few hours, as the snow melted, there was a small puddle in the garden. The water must have been a near-freezing, but you'd have thought it was a world-class spa. There was pushing and shoving as sparrows and finches fought for splashing space.

We have an orange house finch. He is a beautiful clear orange, almost orange sherbert colour. House finches are usually red and look much like the purple finch. The orange colour is a variant, apparently rare, caused by a lack of carotenoids in the diet. Researchers studying House Finches in captivity found the red feathers were replaced by yellow ones unless a carotenoid pigment was mixed in with their food during molt. The pigment was mixed in to determine the cause of the color variation. House finch females are supposed to prefer red males over orange ones, but I can't see why. This guy is a stunner!

The day begins with the dark-eyed Oregon juncos showing up as the sky lightens. They are early risers and begin feeding as soon as you can see. Flickers are back and forth daily. We see their vibrant golden-red wings as they fly over. Chickadees come and go as well. They dart in, grab a sunflower seed from the feeder and dart away.

The Canada geese have been doing fly-overs several times a day, in groups of three or four to 50 or more. Wednesday I watched two trumpeter swans sail past side-by-side, huge white wings doing a slow downbeat. They winter on nearby Vaseaux Lake.

Newcomers to the garden this week have been a red-winged blackbird and two Townsend's solitaires birds I'd never seen before. They sat for a very long time on the brush pile, giving me plenty of time to get the bird glass and take a very close look.

On our way to Penticton on Tuesday we saw a bald eagle flying low over the lake, probably doing a spot of fishing. And just as you enter Penticton, on the beach, sat either an immature bald eagle or golden eagle. Huge, but brown-headed. It was sitting on a thin ice-sheet just beyond the water's edge, with a few gulls. No doubt all looking for a fish dinner.

I am already thinking about what I can do to make my new garden in Summerland attractive to birds. Water - maybe a small birdbath with a circulating fountain, cover - I think a lattice shelter, sort of a cube set on the ground beneath the feeder, would serve both as a landing spot and refuge from predators. Flowers and grasses which hang onto their seed for winter. Something fragrant for hummers and butterflies... I'm having fun in my mind. Lots easier than the hard work of actually building a new garden.

Speaking of work...

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