IN THE BACKYARD : Philadelphia in February
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After a mild January, February jolted us into winter reality with repeated snowstorms and chronic freezing days. Snow piles are still lingering in the last day of the month, which happens to be raining. Backyard bird feeders have been hopping with the usual assortment of species, and we’re always on the lookout for something different. Friends in the county have reported both Orange-crowned and Pine Warblers at their feeders – maybe they’ll stop by ours, too! House Finch numbers fluctuate from 10 to 30 on a daily basis, making me wonder where they go when they’re not in my backyard.
A Brown Creeper was seen every day for weeks, and just disappeared in the past few days, perhaps moving on to northerly breeding grounds. I enjoyed watching it early each morning as it would visit the suet that I scraped into the crevices on the snag. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Hairy Woodpecker were sporadic visitors.
Birds are on the move this time of year, with skeins of Canada Geese honking across the sky, and a few wavy lines of Snow Geese seen high overhead. Blackbirds are roaming around in huge, noisy flocks – Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, and Common Grackle occasionally invade our feeders and linger in neighborhood trees. A lovely surprise was having a male Rusty Blackbird in the maple tree on February 2nd. He stayed long enough for me to photograph him before moving on. This was a first record for our yard, bringing our total to 125 species seen!
A Fox Sparrow showed up, and has been scratching in the leaf-litter for the last several days; it’s a nice treat, since our last backyard sighting was December 1st. Spring is in the air, and Song Sparrows and Northern Cardinals are beginning to sing, even on the coldest mornings. These local breeders are likely triggered by longer daylight hours, though the White-throated Sparrows, which breed farther north, have yet to get into song.
For several days, I’ve been watching an oddly-colored Dark-eyed Junco amongst the handful of ‘slate-colored,’ the normal sub-species that frequents our feeders. This bird gives the appearance of a female ‘Oregon’ type. It shows pale, salmon-pink flanks coming into the shoulder with a hint of gray markings amongst the flanks, and a contrasting brown back with gray head and bib. And the individual seems to be often shunned by the other juncos. Is it an ‘Oregon’, or could it be a ‘Cassiar’? Both are uncommon in the East, but possible. One problem with nailing down the identification is that female looking individuals are tough to separate. Opinions are not definitive, but it’s interesting to see and study the bird.
March is an exciting transition month, when winter birds depart for their breeding grounds, migrants arrive, and local breeders start staking out nesting territories. I look forward to seeing what the change in season will bring to my Philly backyard!
updated February 1-28, 2021