Thursday, January 22, 2015

A winter catbird

It's amazing how a fresh layer snow—even just a dusting—can suddenly make birds more active. We got about half of an inch here last night, enough to obscure the frozen ground. I'm not sure if natural food sources were now inaccessible or what, but the feeders were more active this morning than during the past few days. A small flock of half a dozen goldfinches has been loitering in the trees on the edge of the yard, but this morning they dared to fill up the available perches on the hanging sunflower feeder.

As I headed outside around noon, the sun was just starting to poke through the overcast, and the haze in front of the mountain began to clear. 

I crossed the road and headed to the edge of our field, where I thought I heard some sparrow commotion. Sure enough, I flushed about fifty birds into the brush. After the birds flew into woods, they sat atop the tangles of wineberry, barberry, and greenbrier long enough for me to get a quick look at them. Most were juncos and white-throated sparrows, with a smattering of cardinals, song sparrows, and American tree sparrows. 

American tree sparrow

A few chickadees and titmice and a single downy woodpecker moved around in the walnut above me, but it was another bird that caught my attention. When a bunch of the sparrows took flight, a larger bird went with them. It was pretty far back, but I could see that it was dark, flew with its tail drooped down, and had noticeable dopey wing beats as it made this short flight. I was confused for a second, then realized it must have been a catbird! Gray catbirds are one of the most abundant summertime birds here, but it should be in Central America or at least the southern United States this time of year!  
I've seen a few of these in the winter here in Pennsylvania, both during Christmas Bird Counts. However, this was the first wintering catbird I've seen on my property.

The bird eventually came out in the open, where I was able to confirm my identification and get a few quick photographs.

The catbird eventually took off along the forest edge and disappeared. About half and hour later, I was walking along a fencerow in another part of the field and found the bird again. This time, it was picking poison ivy berries off the vine alongside a Hermit Thrush.

poison ivy berries

My catbird is a perfect example of why I find winter birding so exciting. Sure, the bright warblers have left and nothing is singing, but there is a much higher chance of surprises. Western vagrants pop up, finches and owls invade from the North, and sometimes local breeders decide to stick around. Of course I love spring migration, but I basically know what to expect when I go out. That certainty is decreased somewhat in the winter months!

a wren's summer home... maybe home to a deermouse right now

Before I went back inside, a single pine siskin flew over the yard, chreeeeeeing as it moved west. Siskins are one of those winter finches I mentioned, and they are heading south with some redpolls right now. They've reached Pennsylvania just as I head back to the city for the spring semester, but I'm glad I got a glimpse of one before I leave home again.

American goldfinch and pine siskins at a feeder a few years back

1 comment:

Julie Zickefoose said...

Beautiful photos, Co. Hope that little catbird finds enough to eat this winter.