From Our Backyard, A monthly column written by Charles

From Our Backyard

Summer went by like a jeweled hummingbird, dazzlingly fast. We bid farewell to the vivid blossoms and welcome to the dance of falling leaves. Time’s scythe is reaping the days from the calendar. How soon they become our yesterday. So many subtle changes are occurring that its difficult to perceive them fully until the transformation is complete. Each day, we lose about two and half minutes of daylight, by month’s end it will be dark at 6pm. The lessening of daylight is one of the causes for bird migration. At the beginning of   September, when warblers, songbirds, and raptors took flight and headed for southern skies there was still plenty of food and warmth but they knew it was time to go.  So when your Hummingbirds dwindled from three, to one, to none, it wasn’t because the flowers stopped blooming or your feeder wasn’t out. A birds natural instinct to migrate is what is known as cosmognosis. As birds make their way back to wintering grounds in Mexico and South America the path is fraught with perils. Hurricanes flatten not only human housing but natural habitat. Some songbirds prefer traveling at night. The evening air is cooler for flight and during the day they can rest and fill up on insects. Unfortunately, window glass and night skies bathed in manmade lighting are hazardous for migrating birds. Not all that  shimmers is beautiful.

These past few weeks were fantastic for bird watching. When we looked beyond our bird feeders we observed whirls of songbirds and warblers about. These flitty and diminutive birds can be difficult to identify and photograph. They just wouldn’t sit pretty. We watched Hummingbirds chasing American Redstarts. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Eastern Wood-Peewee made momentary appearances. We spotted Canada, Black and White, Pine, and Yellow Warblers. Overhead there were Nighthawks, Herons and Raptors. Predawn brought on the spectre like hoot of a Great Horn Owl. Bird feeder activity was off a bit as birds found plentiful of natural foods. Occasionally flocks of Bluebirds could be spotted afield. They usually return to our feeders in December. Goldfinch activity picked up with an influx of juveniles at our Nyjer feeder and Sunflower feeders. The young finch will keep their drab plumage until daffodils bloom next spring. Meanwhile the adults will soon molt into their indistinguishable winter frocks. Its a good time of year to look for avian migrants. Remember to bring along a good pair of binoculars and field guide.

 A mixture of foods and feeders has a better chance of attracting a variety of birds. I compare it to driving by a restaurant and seeing a full parking lot. Traveling birds will wonder if there’s something for them to eat. With the colder temperatures, a buffet of bird food high in fat and protein can be quite beneficial to all birds. Sunflower, Safflower and Peanuts are high in fat and protein. 

Winter flocks of ground feeding birds like Sparrows, Doves and Juncos prefer a sunflower mix with a bit of millet and cracked corn. Each morning I dump a cup of peanuts in the shell on our tray feeder. Within minutes you can hear the screaking squadron of Blue Jays announce breakfast to all. Our No-Mess seed blends are popular with the birds year round and also allow certain birds like Wrens and Bluebirds to feed when they can’t find insects. Mealworms both dried and live can be offered as a substitute for natural bugs. Your families of Woodpeckers will enjoy any form of suet, whether it be Suet Cakes, Bark Butter, Suet Plugs, or Bark Butter Bits. In addition, winter may bring chance visits from Northern Flickers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, or if you’re lucky a Pileated Woodpecker.

Soon we’ll see the arrival of winter friends such as White-throated Sparrows and Juncos. They’ll appear in the brush well before you see them at your feeders. Some years we get visitors like Pine Siskins and Red-breasted Nuthatches. They may appear due to a lack of food up north. While I’ll miss the cry of Catbirds resounding in every bush, it will be good to see old feathered friends. Please take this time before Jack Frost settles in and the tendrils of night creep into your daily routine, to do a little house keeping. Clean all your feeders with a solution of one part bleach to ten parts water. Clean out all nest boxes to allow for winter roosting of birds like Downy Woodpecker and Bluebirds. This Winter is going to be long for your birds.    

Auspicious Autumn and all its bounty lay upon stalk and branch. A decaying plant while unattractive is very beneficial to birds. Seed, nuts, fruit, and insects are everywhere for the snacking. Old seed heads can be plucked. Under bark and in woodpiles lay wintering grubs, bugs, and ants for Woodpeckers and Wrens to peck and pilfer. Crabapples will rot and ferment until the birds decide when to get drunk off them. Fallen acorns litter the holt wood awaiting squirrels and deer. The exodus of daylight feels as if the sun itself is migrating. Day by day, Sylvanus sheds his greenery while in the darkling hours Luna spreads her glamour through the interlaced branches. Fall is a wonderous season to get out and enjoy nature. Savor the sunny blue moments and cotton candy clouds ere the mistral winds and ashen skies of the winter arrive.                                                     

Love your Cat, Love your Birds; Keep your Cat Inside                               

Happy Birding, Charles Shattuck