Winter birds coming to feeders in wake of arctic blast

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Our Evergreen World

By Sylvia Brockner

November brought us some variable weather. Not unexpectedly, we received our first measurable snow and a few brief snow squalls. November also brought us some fine spring-like days with temperatures in the foothills in the high 60s and Denver even reached 71 one day.


Now, the weather forecasters are predicting a severe cold spell with a huge arctic cold mass of air moving out of Canada. We are told that it may well go below zero within the next few days. This large a variance in the temperature is not unusual in November because our local weather is influenced by the jet stream above as well as our latitude here in the foothills and movements of arctic air from the north.

I cling to each lovely late autumn day for it helps make winter a bit shorter. The ski season is already doing well with much more snow in the high country.

Birding locally has been spotty at best just like the weather. A few late warblers have been seen drifting south, but mostly birds seem to have dwindled down to the permanent residents and a few winter juncos.

I just listened to the Rare Bird Alert, 303-659-8750, and it seems that most of the interesting sightings have been on the plains with many gulls, swans and ducks being reported. Most of the lakes and ponds at this altitude are frozen over, so the lower lakes seem to be filled to overflowing with water birds.

Long-tailed ducks were reported on several reservoirs, both lesser and greater black-backed gulls and many ducks were reported as well as swans, loons, grebes and other birds. If you want a day of interesting birds at this time of year, I suggest you drop down to the many lakes, ponds and reservoirs in the Denver-Boulder area. As they begin to freeze over, you may have to go a bit further south, such as to Pueblo Reservoir, which stays open much later.

Many of the waterfowl like to hang along the freeze line. Therefore, it often seems that the ponds are filled with ducks, but as the winter settles in, they will not be as abundant as they are right now for they will continue to move south a few at a time as the water begins to freeze around them.

I only have a few black-eyed juncos at my feeders, but more will probably move in ahead of the cold arctic air that is predicted to arrive here on Tuesday or Wednesday. By the time you are reading this article, more of the winter birds should arrive. In fact, more juncos that it seems may well already be in the area for they prefer to eat the native seeds when the fields are not covered with snow.

There were four different warblers on the Rare Bird Alert. They were chestnut-sided, Wilson’s, Tennessee and Prothonotary. They were mostly on or near the plains, and all single birds were seen briefly. Warblers this time of year are usually single birds for the main migration was much earlier.

These are birds that for some reason didn’t or couldn’t migrate with the main movement or perhaps they were blown off course by a severe storm and are now moving hopefully south to find the wintering area that they are familiar with. Every fall, we seem to have a few of these sightings of single warblers during November.

One of these this year was a chestnut-sided warbler that was found by the Tuesday Birders on Nov. 26 in Jefferson County. Mary Keiphler reported this bird to Marilyn Rhodes.

It has not been seen since. It may well have kept moving because a warbler this late in the year is made uncomfortable by the weather changes.