Shorebirds Galore and Backyard Visitors

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This past Sunday, I visited Cherry Creek again. This year has been one amazing year for migrating birds, particularly the shorebirds. We have a good stock of wading birds now, including the three big ones: Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, and White-faced Ibis. The GBH and Snowys are very regular visitors, and spend the summer here. The Ibis have been seen in the past, but never in huge numbers. This year, they number in the hundreds, which is really quite amazing! We have some other waders as well, like Black-capped Night Heron…much more elusive, and very slow moving during the day. They are easier to see early in the morning or late in the evening before sunset. We also have record numbers of American Coot…I’ve seen small numbers of them in years past, but we must have hundreds now. They swim, wade, and waddle along the shores in little backs about a dozen strong, and they are EVERYWHERE. There must be two dozen packs of 10-16 each.

We also have a very large flock of Double-crested Cormorants this year as well…on Saturday as I carefully moved around a muddy bend along the southern shore east of the Cottonwood Creek Delta (which, by the way, is quite amazing in and of itself…there never even used to BE a shore there in all the years past…water levels must be down at least four feet, maybe five!), I stepped into view of the largest single group of Cormorants I’d ever seen. There must have been 150+ just in that one group, with dozens more scattered about on all the little stumps and dead trees and rocks strewn about the southern shore. Of course, my sudden, slippery entry around the corner gave the whole group a start, which promptly lead them to leap up into flight all at once. I froze, hoping my camo would blend me into the thickets behind me. The whole flock settled about 15 feet off shore in the water, or stuffed themselves onto every perch available that still had room. In years past, I’d never seen more than maybe 20 Cormorants at once at Cherry Creek…so seeing hundreds was rather exciting.

The thing I really, truly love though is seeing all the shorebird species. There are quite a number of distinct species now, including a couple new ones on top of what I’ve noted in the past. On Saturday, I spotted a Wilson’s Palarope, a beautiful, high energy little shorebird that blasts up and down the shores, usually in pairs (either with another Phalarope, or trailing behind a Yellowlegs). I also spotted what I believe are Semipalmated Sandpipers in the distance…they were at a more difficult to reach shore, so I was never able to get any good shots, however after seeing some photos a local friend took of them, I’m quite sure the ID is correct.

Another bird, one I’d never seen before, that showed up on Saturday was a number of Bonaparte’s Gull. These are a smallish gull, black head, black bill, gray feathers, and reddish feet. At first I thought Black-headed Gull, but according to Sibley’s Guide they are definitely Bonaparte’s. Seems they are migrants, as they don’t stay here…they are one of the many birds that summers along the northern shore of North America. Probably a great species to see at Barrow Alaska (one of our countries greatest birding spots, with hundreds of species of bird during the summer.) The gallery attached to this post shows a few of the photos I took of this Gull.

The full list of species spotted (just on Saturday):

  • Shorebirds
    • Wilson’s Phalarope
    • Semipalmated Sandpiper
    • Semipalmated Plover
    • Greater Yellowlegs
    • Lesser Yellowlegs
    • Wilson’s Snipe
    • Spotted Sandpiper
    • Marbled Godwit
    • American Avocet
    • Willet
    • Least Sandpiper
  • Waders
    • Great Blue Heron
    • Snowy Egret
    • Black-capped Night Heron
    • White-faced Ibis
  • Gulls
    • Bonaparte’s Gull
    • Herring Gull
  • Grebes
    • Western Grebe
    • Eared Grebe
  • Cormorants
    • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Waterfowl
    • American White Pelican
    • Blue-winged Teal
    • Greater Scaup
    • Lesser Scaup
    • Ring-necked Duck
    • Northern Shoveler
  • Coots
    • American Coot
  • Raptors
    • Osprey
    • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Songbirds
    • Yellow-rumped Warbler
    • American Robin

While all my attention has been on Cherry Creek and the huge variety of birds out there, I haven’t been paying much attention to my backyard. Spring hit suddenly the day after our last snow storm. It was like life just decided that was the day, and everything started growing, birds started singing, and I even found the shell of a small white birds egg (unsure what happened to the tiny occupant.) I’ve counted a good number of songbirds in my yard today. I’ve worked on getting a number of bird feeders and suet cages distributed throughout my yard, and I have a good variety now:

  • House Finch
  • American Goldfinch
  • House Sparrow
  • Field Sparrow
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Mourning Dove
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Northern Flicker
  • Common Grackle
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Bushtit
    • The identity of that unknown, tiny, gray with slight brown patches on the face, rather elusive little bird from a while back

While the Grackles and Blackbirds aren’t really welcome, as they eat huge volumes of seed, pretty much eating every other species out of any food at all…the Bushtit is a welcome newcomer. They seem to be year-round residents in this area, but I’d never seen them before. They seem to love my suet, and I’ve seen them at one particular suet feeder a few times now. The Goldfinch are also another welcome visitor. They too are year-round visitors, however I have not seen them since late October, maybe early November last year. Not sure where they hide out during the winter, but certainly not in my yard. šŸ˜‰ I love their little song, and there are at least three breeding couples that spend the day here now.

Speaking of breeding couples…that seems to be the theme. As far as the house finches go, there must be over half a dozen breeding couples that hang out. The sparrows seem to have coupled as well, and two fairly large males regularly duke it out over “Evergreen Territory”. House Sparrows love big, thick evergreens, and I’ve seen these males fighting in and out of the spruce in my neighbors back yard a couple times now. They almost seem to “growl” or “hiss” at each other, flitting about in the trees. My spruce in the front yard definitely has at least one nest in it already. The Chickadees are definitely coupled…and they have scouted out my nest boxes a few times. I really hope they do nest in my yard, I think that would be great! I’m not sure if or when they actually will…none of the trees or bushes have any leaves yet (STILL!…crazy winter), but maybe once the trees finally burst to life the real nesting will begin.

The doves are all coupled as well. There seems to be one Eurasian Collared dove couple. Those are rather large doves, and they seem to squabble with the Mourning Doves over food, and with their greater size, they usually seem to win. The Mourning Doves, of which there are maybe four couples (maybe…there might just be an extra male hanging around, as the males seem to fight frequently), sometimes gang up on the Collared Doves, gaining the ground they periodically lose. It seems Collared Doves are an invasive species, and have recently been spreading like wildfire through the southern half of the United States. It is not yet known whether they actually encroach on the ecological realms of other similar species…its thought that they actually survive in a niche between Rock Pigeons and Mourning Doves. They breed as much per year as the Mourning Doves (up to six broods), so I suspect Collared Doves will spread through the entirety of the country within a couple more decades. Unlike the Mourning Doves, they don’t seem to overwinter here…and I am not even sure they stick through the summer…we’ll see. Regardless, they certainly seem to be competing with the Mourning Doves for the food in my yard. I certainly hope that doesn’t spell eventual doom for the Mourners…I much prefer them, their calming call, and theirĀ temperamentĀ over the Collareds.

With hope, assuming spring well and truly has arrived and warm, 70 degree weather is on the way, I hope to attract even more birds to my yard. This year I plan to finish up the landscaping I started last summer, plant a few vines and flower beds to attract Humming Birds and hopefully Warblers, and maybe outfit my hard with more planters for bulbs and other flowers to attract additional species, more insect life (really wanting to get back into macro photography, too!), etc. I’m truly hoping that by mid-may, the nurserys will be stocked, and I’ll be able to pick up the vines and some trellis’ at the very least! I really want to attract the Humming Birds and start building up my bird flash photography skills.

Till next time!