Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Couple of Firsts: A Flycatcher and a Toad.

Wait...that would be TWO Flycatchers, wouldn't it? LOL

Such a lovely day, I worked in the yard most of the day…planted a tree and a large bush yesterday, today pulled weeds and watered some; got some stuff to plant some new own-root roses. And I found my first toad! I wonder if I uncovered the little bugger; he could have been underground…I’m just happy I didn’t stab him with the garden fork! He was so cute, smaller than an egg.

At first I just moved him to a place I was finished working on…and then realized I should take pictures of him. I caught him again…he promptly peed in my hand…and took him with me while I went off for my camera. I put him in a deep bowl (I finally ran out of mealworms and had tossed the oats and cornmeal for the critters outside and had the container empty in the sink) while I washed my hands and then picked up the camera and my now, hopefully, empty toad and headed back into the yard for a photo shoot.

I suppose I should have looked more at the little guy…I have no idea what kind of a toad he is! Still, I put him back where I found him, took a couple pictures while he decided which way to go and then found a shallow, plastic saucer and sunk it in the ground nestled under the same Peony bush where the adventure started. When I got it filled with water, I added a nice rock. I’ve finally figured out the big ol’ red-butt bumblebees in my yard need a way to climb out of water dishes! Then I finished and cleaned up the garden bed and watered. First time I’ve watered a lawn in some years…hey, this is Colorado high desert; I try to go xeric. Besides, I live by the river where the water table is less than three feet down. Still, with a birding group coming next week I figured I’d try to keep the birds interested another week.

I’d been thinking how discouraging it was to have had so many birds in my yard for the past couple of months and lately things are slowing down. Just in time for the Bird Walk! Bah… So while I sat mulling over what I could do to keep the birds happy I noticed a different looking thing on the clothesline across the yard. It was smaller than a Sparrow but larger than a Siskin and with a pale belly; sans any streaking. I grabbed the binoculars and watched it for several minutes. It was a fly-catcher of some kind…definitely had the tail-flicking going and that straight, little beak. This guy was nearly all-over grey with the palest of wing-bars and a darker grey cap-look to the top of his head almost like if he raised it he’d have a crest. While I watched him, trying to note every possible field mark before I lost him, he flitted to the grass, caught a bug and went right back to the same place. I couldn’t stand it and went for the camera; he flew off. I saw him again about an hour later, same spot. Still no camera handy, so I just watched as he’d fly down and nearly hover over the grass for a second or two, most likely catching flies, huh…and then go right back to the same spot. I’m thinking he could have been a Western Wood-Pewee but that bird seems to have wings that are darker; a Gray Flycatcher but that bird seems to have more pronounced wing-bars or perhaps an Eastern Phoebe, though that bird’s face seems darker so that the ‘cap’ doesn’t stand out as much. So, a First…I just don’t know its name!

There has been a Black-billed Magpie who visits regularly and goes straight for the suet. Today he brought another; they looked like a couple of professional basketball players at a grade school. Talk about big and beautiful…

One Black-headed Grosbeak also visited while I watched; that was good to see. On fast glance I used to get confused between those and the Bullock’s Orioles who continue to come for jelly; but the spotted backs are a give-away. I wonder if an Orchard Oriole has been in my yard and I just didn’t realize it.

And then a neighbor’s cat came and snagged yet another bird. I only saw it leave with the prize and saw the flat-bed feeder swinging wildly. I feel conflicted about wanting to be so green and full of conservation and yet still wanting to shoot cats. [sigh]. The cat got an Evening Grosbeak. They are still here by the dozens; I can only assume they’re nesting. It galls me no end. Could this be karma for my cat years ago who loved to attack my neighbor’s tulip-heads just as they opened? I swear I’ll never have an out-door cat again. And I've done something about that feeder, too.

While watching the flashy, yellow and black Lesser Goldfinches I realized I had two to three Hummingbirds sitting at every feeder I could see. And I thought there were fewer birds lately…


Bosque Bill said...

I've noticed there is a fairly large variation in the contrast in the Western Wood-peewee... some are darker than the "typical" in the field guides, and some are lighter (especially under the chin and/or belly.)

For me the best field mark is the "closed vest" they wear, i.e., the darker pattern that meets below the chin, angled down to the light belly. Also, more than other FCs I've observed, they will hunt and return to the same perch over and over again, before moving on.

Beverly said...

Wow, thanks Bill! I keep forgetting that birds, like people, probably come in innumerable variations and that the books are not exact replicas of every bird. [sigh]

Having said that, what I noticed about the bird is how so very subtle the difference was in it's head, back, wings and flanks...and that it's breast seemed only slightly lighter. The bars on the wings were weak and nearly indistinguishable, they were so pale.

This was a fairly all-over-gray bird...I noticed no vest, but also don't remember the dark face of (some) Eastern Phoebes.

Perhaps it will come back. It did yesterday and hung around in the same spot. It was fun to watch.