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Cold weather brings out unusual winter birds

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By Sylvia Brockner

As the holidays finally came to a close, a brief winter storm left about five inches of snow on the ground around the yard. It also brought bitter cold weather with temperatures way below zero.
However, this is not surprising since January is usually our coldest month. Winter is here. It is the one month that I would gladly leave this area for someplace warmer.
This is the month when the old-timers drag out the myth that if temperatures fall to 35 below 0, it will kill all the pine beetles. Nice thought but probably not true. It seems that just an hour or two before dawn of 30 below isn’t going to penetrate the trees enough to kill the beetles. It would take a week or so of such cold to do the job. In the 1970s, when we had a serious outbreak of beetles, a week of 30 to 35 below in January sure seemed to help. It sure would be a welcome solution to the beetle problem, but it is just too cold for me.
I telephoned the Denver Field Ornithologist’s Rare Bird Alert today and was amazed to hear of the large number of unusual winter birds that were being seen in the area. The feeder behind Red Rocks Park trading post is a usual place to see several unusual winter visitors. Curved-bill thrasher, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow and golden crowned sparrow have all been seen there during the past few days. Other birds of interest were a tundra swan seen on the horseshoe reservoir north of Boulder, some black-backed gulls, a Thayer’s gull, and several good birds near the Pueblo Reservoir. A varied thrush, winter wrens and some of the rarer rosy finches have also been reported. With all of these to choose from, eager birders should be able to start out the year with at least 10 good birds on their year’s list.
The Rare Bird Alert phone number is 303-659-8750. This service is supplied by the Denver Field Ornithologists and is free to anyone who wishes to make a phone call to find out what has been seen in the area recently. Although you can call with no charge, they do have to pay for this phone service, and the club would be grateful for any small contributions made to it to help maintain the service. It is a great help for both local and visiting birders to find out what and where any unusual birds have been seen.
I have nothing unusual at our feeders except that the snow has brought the local red-shafted northern flicker into the feeders where he has been eating millet. I hope he survives the winter. If so, the first warm day will find him back on the south-facing slopes looking for ants. They are very hard-pressed for food when there is snow on the ground and suet or insect suet cakes will help supply the energy they need. All the usual winter birds are present at the feeders and appear to be doing well.
Winter is well entrenched, and we can count on at least another month of cold weather. Hopefully I will be able to endure a few more months of snowy weather, but I most certainly will be ready for spring. Bill and I always took part of his vacation at this time and spent a week or so along the Rio Grande Valley where it was warmer and a few early spring migrants would be arriving. I shall miss this trip almost as much as I miss him, for I do not function well in cold weather. But, I do know spring will come and in February the first signs of it will begin to appear.
The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is ominously silent these days, but that just means the media consider it old news and are not reporting it any more. This is too bad because it is not over, and I fear British Petroleum is going to say it is and stop paying for the ongoing damage it caused. There was an excellent article in Readers Digest, I think the November issue, which still should be available at the Evergreen Library, about oil spills and the long-lasting damage they do. It is well worth your time to look it up and read it for unless we stop offshore drilling, there will be more. Cold weather is a good time to read. Happy New Year.