Monday, September 5, 2011

A Cold Front and a New Bird for Labor Day

Happy Labor Day! Hope you are all enjoying the fruits of your labors.

Last night we got the first cold front of the season, though it was a dry cold front. You know it's September in Texas when the weatherman is describing a forecast with a high in the low 90's as "nice" and "pleasant" and "fall-like weather."

The extreme dryness continues, though. The cold front brought cooler weather, but also dry air and high winds. Yesterday it smelled smoky outside, and I hoped that meant a neighbor was grilling for the weekend, but burning grass smells differently than grill charcoal. The local news confirmed my suspicion. In fact, it seems that there are wildfires burning all over the place, with an especially bad one in Bastrop. Pine forests are very fire-prone ecosystems. The Lost Pines are beautiful, but I don't think I'd ever want to live there, with how many fires they seem to have.

Saturday we put up a second bird feeding station in the back yard, with a seed feeder, suet feeder, and birdbath. I also put out some fruit in the front yard to see if that attracted any critters. If nothing else, I would think they might appreciate some nice juicy fruits for the moisture. The apples were gone in one night, probably chomped up by raccoons or opossums, but the oranges are still out there.

This morning I saw a bird eating out of one of the orange halves. At first its black back was turned to me, so I thought it was yet another European starling. I'm having a lot of trouble with huge flocks of starlings gobbling up all the suet and chasing the native birds away. But this turned out to be no starling, but a native bird I had never seen before!

Sorry the picture quality isn't good. There's always a lot of glare trying to take pictures through the front window in the morning. But that is a male Baltimore Oriole! I looked it up in my bird guide. Black head and back, white on the wings, and neon orange belly. Isn't he striking? He's surrounded by white-winged doves eating the seeds that other birds spill on the ground out of the bird feeder.
The bird guide says our area is in their migratory range, so I guess he's on his way to Mexico already. I'm happy to have provided him with a nice refreshing orange during his journey.

Later I found his wife up in the tree. She was a little more shy, and a more muted pumpkin color with grey rather than neon orange and black.
She decided to have some suet to fuel up for migration. It's probably extra important to have plenty of food out for birds during the spring and fall because that's when you get the migrants. Texas is right smack dab in the middle of a major migratory route, with birds going to and from the northern part of North America to Mexico and South America. It's the reason why Texas is one of the best birding sites in the world.

That means having feeders set up is basically a roadside diner for birds. Having a variety of food helps too. Some birds prefer seeds, while others like suet, and now I've discovered others like fruit. I'd better make sure to keep them well-stocked. I went ahead and put out another fresh orange, and a peach that was getting a bit mushy.

Finally, right before I post this entry, I checked again and saw that there were now THREE orioles out there. (And the house finches have already started on the mushy peach.) The third oriole looks a lot like the female, so I'm guessing it's a youngster, maybe this pair's baby of the year. Our pair of Golden-fronted Woodpeckers also had a baby this year that looked a lot like the mother woodpecker when he was young, before he started getting his red forehead spot showing he's a boy. Right now there's also a family of cardinals at the seed feeder with a father, mother, and some fledgelings. I'm kind of surprised that these bird families are managing to raise kids in such a horrible drought. I wonder if my feeders are really making a big difference.

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