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Bird sightings enhance a simple outdoor chore

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Our Evergreen World

By Sylvia Brockner

The old adage “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it,” came to mind today when the spring weather I have been wishing for came with some gusty winds with temperatures in the 80s. That’s not spring; it’s even warmer than most of our summer weather. I was out cleaning up the yard a bit and sweeping the patio, and I thought I would melt in the process.

As I worked, I could hear the hairy woodpecker drumming on the nearby utility pole. He wasn’t doing any harm, just using this pole as a sounding board. The top of this pole is split, so when he drums on it, it reverberates, making a much louder noise to claim his territory and advertise to his mate. Just a bit later, the downy woodpecker took over with his much softer drumming. Shortly after he flew away, a red-shafted northern flicker took over the same pole with his much louder strident calls and loud rapid drumming.
A flicker has been around all winter. He has come to the feeder when hard pressed for food but has been on the south-facing slope of the hill exploring for ants whenever the snow melted. Now, he has made a pair bond with a female, and she comes often to the feeder.
Once lone dark-eyed junco has just come into the millet feeder. I usually have a pair of gray-headed phase juncos nesting along my driveway where the grass is long, but I haven’t seen but one bird this spring. Perhaps something happened to one of the pair over winter because they have nested in this same area for several years now, and by junco standards, they are getting old.
A pair of chipping sparrows is well established, and an extra male has been hanging around. He is totally ignored by the pair, but perhaps he will find a mate of his own, although the main migration was over in mid-April. He doesn’t sing much, so perhaps he has no territory to defend.
The black-headed grosbeak returned as usual in early May, but I haven’t seen them recently. Perhaps they have chosen a nesting site in the aspen grove down in the valley. If so, they are too far away for me to hear their very liquid call. If they are nesting somewhere nearby, they will no doubt bring their young to the feeder as soon as they are fledged. I believe they have a second brood most years, and while the female is incubating the second set of eggs, the male is supposedly caring for the first brood. However, he apparently thinks that showing them where feeders are available is adequate care. I enjoy hearing the happy “whee, whee, wheeoo” of the young, who are as happy and excited about being out of the nest and flying as children just out of school.
I don’t seem to have any Cassin’s finches coming to the feeders at this time, but the few I had earlier seem to have moved on. Most of them nest farther north or higher up. However, house finches are singing almost constantly and come to the feeders regularly.
Thus you can understand why it takes me so long to sweep the patio. I spend more time birding than I do sweeping. It is a never-ending, thankless job for the pines that shade it are constantly shedding something: needles, pollen, spent flowers or cones, and the patio always needs to be swept again.
Soon the blue spruce at the edge of the patio will be attacked by the cooley spruce gall midge. These are very tiny insects. Some books say they are like flies while others say they are like aphids, but they are small, and soon the females will lay their eggs in the new buds at the tips of the branches. This causes the spruce bud to develop a cancerous-like growth to try to get rid of the grub. The new growth develops at the tip of each branch where the bud should have produced this year’s new growth. It looks a bit like a pine cone with needles, and the midges eat this structure until they are grown. The females leave the cone and fly to a nearby Douglas fir where they spend the winter.
This insect pest can be controlled by spraying twice a year, but I have not and will not have my blue spruce sprayed because it is almost over my well, and any spray that I put on it would eventually end up in my well water. The midges also can be controlled by never planting a Douglas fir anywhere near a blue spruce because these insects need both trees to complete their cycle. My trees are about 50 years old, and I had nothing to do with their planting. Despite the attack of spruce gall midges every spring, my blue spruce is growing well. Some years, the infestation is much less than others, and I wonder if perhaps the wind direction when the females emerge has something to do with that.