Pine Warbler, Common Grackles, Dark-eyed Juncos

Like much of the rest of the country, we are in the middle of a stretch of very cold winter weather, with lows in the mid teens and highs only in the 30s. Today was clear and windy, with a pale blue sky and bright but colorless sunlight.

Maybe because of the wind, there seemed little activity even around the feeders in our front yard. Both bird baths remained frozen in solid blocks all day. I poured pitchers of warmer water over them to make a little water available at least for a while, but all day never saw much bird activity – though I admit I didn’t spend much time outside.

Late in the afternoon, the day still clear and blustery, getting even colder, the most noticeable thing when I stepped out the front door was the quiet – no insect sounds, no birds. Only the sound of the wind in the trees, though that was quite a bit of sound in itself. I walked for several minutes along the road before hearing or seeing even the first bird – not even the call of a Blue Jay or Crow, not even a Vulture or a Red-tailed Hawk in the big empty sky.

In one spot, along a stretch of road lined with cedars and lots of shrubs along the edges of grassy yards, however, dozens of little birds were active – Eastern Bluebirds, White-throated Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, an Eastern Phoebe and a pair of Cardinals all flitted from tree to shrub to grass, and feeding among them on the ground was one warm, deep-yellow Pine Warbler, the first I’ve seen in several weeks. A nice surprise.

In the same area were Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker and a Northern Flicker that flew out across several open yards, flashing the broad “yellow-shafted” undersides of its wings in the sunlight, then perching in a treetop where the black bib on its breast and red crescent on its nape glowed.

A little further up the road, a flock of at least 60 Common Grackles perched noisily in the treetops. I stopped to watch them for a while, but could find no other Blackbird species among them, even when they flew, streaming low over me. They all seemed to be Grackles. This is the largest flock of Blackbirds I’ve seen so far this winter and is still considerably smaller than the numbers we usually have seen.

Dark-eyed Juncos today seemed to be almost everywhere – maybe the bird of the day. They’re often called “snowbirds,” and snow is in our forecast for later this week – a rare occurrence for us, if it comes. Juncos are common winter residents here but I haven’t seen too many this year until now. Small, familiar soot-gray birds with round heads, pink bills, white belly and white outer edges on the tail. I think they are making calls I would describe as high “little-bell-ringing” trills, but so far I haven’t found this call described clearly, so I’m not completely sure, but am trying to listen for them more closely and try to learn them. In our yard early in the afternoon, I watched for a few minutes as four emerged cautiously from the bushes and made their way across some open space to the area under the feeders – darting back to a shrub now and then, nervous in the wind.

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