Blue-Violet Iris Interior

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Birds at Teddy & Roo's

A decorative bird and a real bird silhouetted against the sunset.

A black-capped chickadee about to fly off
with a seed it grabbed from the feeder.
One huge bonus of looking after the smooth collies, Teddy and Roo, is that there is some excellent bird-watching to be done at their house. This may be surprising, since unlike many of my other clients, they live well within in the confines of traditional suburbia, but T&R's people love birds and have a patio off their kitchen specifically adapted to cater to feathered residents of the neighborhood. Surrounded by shrubs that provide excellent cover, it features two feeders, four birdbaths, and loose seed distributed daily. I spent quite a bit of time over two stays hanging out on the fringes of the patio, attempting to win the trust of the birds in order to photograph them. That time was well-spent and I was rewarded with great pictures of the most common visitors to the patio. I've shared the best below, more or less in alphabetical order, though I saved the quail for last! As always, you can click on photos to enlarge them.

The bird-friendly patio

House Finch

The house finches were the hardest of the regular patio visitors to win over. I spent a lot of time waiting and waiting and waiting and passed up several possible shots early on in hopes that the skeptical finches would come to trust me. They were obviously keeping an eye on me because within minutes of me going back inside the house, the feeder would be swarming with them. It was frustrating, but I had to work with the finches on their timeline. So I spent lots of time sitting still, listening to the finches twittering away as they visited the other yards and fluttered overhead, hoping that one day they would come to tolerate me.

A male house finch checks me out from the shelter of the large rhododendron at the patio's edge.

The males get the red coloring of their feathers from their diet. This very red individual clearly has access to the best food, an attribute that makes him attractive to female finches, who prefer to mate with the reddest possible male they can find.

A male and female house finch.

On my very last day with Teddy & Roo, this finch family showed up with a baby in tow.

Juvenile house finches have funny little "horns" of down on the top of their heads.

Only once over the course of two stays with T&R did a finch allow me to take its picture on the feeder.

On this occasion, a male finch permitted me to photograph it from around the corner of the house.

Northern Flicker (Red-shafted Race)

The flickers were busy establishing their springtime territories and picking their mates while I was at Teddy & Roo's, so the air rang with their wild calls and the sound of their drumming. I saw them most often on top of chimneys around the neighborhood, but every now and then one would come down onto the patio to get a snack or take a drink.

A female northern flicker is surprised to see me on the patio. Compared to the sparrows that were the most common visitors, she was huge!


Both Anna's and, more rarely, rufous hummingbirds visited the feeder and flowers at T&R's. The feeder was hung in the yard above the kitchen patio, so I had fewer opportunities to photograph them up close, through I saw them often when I went up to the backyard with the dogs.

A male Anna's hummingbird sips nectar from flowers.

A female Anna's hummingbird at the feeder.

I managed to capture the brief tangerine flash of a male rufous hummingbird hovering near the feeder before it zipped off at high speed!

Dark-Eyed Junco (Oregon race)

I initially didn't take many photos of the juncos that were some of the most common birds to visit the patio because juncos are also one of the most common visitors at my house and I have plenty of junco photos as well as abundant opportunities to add to my collection. That, however, was before the juvenile juncos made their appearance. I've long been in love with baby juncos and I especially love to photograph them being fed by their parents. It's not always easy to do this in my own backyard, which is landscaped to resemble a forest clearing, allowing the juncos and their little ones to forage and hide in and around a variety of bushes and ferns. It was much easier to get pictures of the papa juncos feeding their babies at Teddy & Roo's, where the presence of the seed I scattered several times a day for the birds provided a reliable source of food for them with open sight-lines for me.

A female Oregon junco feeding on scattered seed.

A young junco waits near the edge of a protective shrub for its parent to return to feed it.

A male Orgeon junco with two youngsters.

"Open wide!"

I've only once seen a female junco feeding a fledgling--it seems that the males do most of the childcare once the babies are old enough to leave the nest.

This juvenile junco is starting to explore its environment instead of waiting in the shadows for its parent to return.

I never got tired of watching the juvenile juncos being fed.

Fortunately for me, the adult birds only gathered a few seeds at a time before returning to feed their offspring, so I had many opportunities.

This little one waited on the edge of a stone wall while its father foraged on the patio below.

The juvenile junco is so eager to be fed that it has hardly left space enough for its returning parent to land.

Crouching low and fluttering its wings, the junco begs to be fed by its father.

Don't worry, little junco, Papa Junco has plenty of seed for you.

By the time I finished my stay with Teddy & Roo, the oldest of the juveniles were starting to try foraging for themselves.

Golden-Crowned Sparrow

The golden-crowned sparrows were the most trusting of all the birds and quickly adapted to my presence. I was glad that I had those early opportunities to photograph them because not long after I started my second gig with Teddy & Roo, the golden-crowned sparrows departed for their summer residences in northern Canada.

The reason for the name "golden-crowned sparrow" is self-explanatory!

A golden-crowned sparrow drinks from one of the water sources on the patio.

Feeding on the seed mix I'd scattered across the moss.

This handsome bird soon departed for the Far North. The areas where golden-crowned sparrows breed are so remote that very little is known about their summer behavior.

Song Sparrow

Song sparrows were busy and abundant on the patio and the repeated refrains of the males' songs echoed throughout the neighborhood. They quickly overcame their fear of me as soon as they figured out that the sound of my camera did them no harm and their lack of concern about my presence helped reassure other birds that I wasn't dangerous. I didn't make a particular effort to photograph the song sparrows because song sparrows are busy and abundant just about everywhere and I already have many pictures of them, though I was pleased to have a chance to observe the immature song sparrows--old enough to be fully independent of the adults--as they fed.

A song sparrow with a seed.

Song sparrows are attractively clad in shades of cinnamon and clay.

There is considerable regional variation in the appearance of song sparrows and the ones here in the Pacific Northwest tend to be darker and browner with more heavily streaked breasts than ones found in the Eastern United States.

A juvenile song sparrow. It does not yet have the clearly differentiated stripes of color on its head.

A young song sparrow perched on a fence.

The juvenile song sparrow is primarily brown in appearance.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-crowned sparrows were frequent visitors to the patio and while I initially despaired of getting good photographs of them, my patience paid off. Strikingly attired with gray heads and breasts, strongly streaked brown backs with white wing bars, yellow-orange bills, and the bold black and white stripes on the heads that give the sparrows their name, the white-crowned sparrows stood out dramatically against the moss.

One of my favorite photos from my entire stay with Teddy & Roo is this shot of a white-crowned sparrow, head feathers elevated, perched in a shrub and framed by bluebells.

In contrast to the pictures both preceding and following this photo, the sparrow in this image has its head feathers laying flat, giving the head a smooth and rounded appearance.

A white-crowned sparrow with feathers fluffed.

Pausing to take a drink at one of the patio's several bird baths.

White-crowned sparrows eat both seeds and insects. Although I usually saw them consuming seeds while visiting the patio, I did spy this bird subduing and consuming a bumblebee!

A white-crowned sparrow with a seed in its bill.

One of my other favorite photos is this one of a white-crowned sparrow taking a drink.

Spotted Towhee

I love spotted towhees, but they only came by T&R's house once or twice a day and they are wary birds under any circumstances who prefer to forage in tangles of shrubbery. If I wanted to get towhee photos, I had to already be in place when they came around. I was aided in my attempts by the fact that the towhees had paired off for the spring and the males and females would call back and forth to each other as they foraged. Tracking their calls gave me some idea of where the towhees were and if they were coming my way. Despite my efforts, the towhees disappointed me far more often than they rewarded me.

A spotted towhee silhouetted against a blue sky, red eye blazing in the light. 

After much waiting on my part, this spotted towhee hopped briefly into view. The subspecies (Pipilo maculates oregonus) found here west of the Cascades has very little spotting, to such a degree that "spotted towhee" can seem to be a bit of a misnomer!

California Quail

As happy as I was to get good photos of other birds, it was the quail that provided the greatest delight. I had not expected to ever have an opportunity to photograph quail--I haven't seen any for years--so I was extremely excited to learn that several quail were regular visitors to the patio. While I was at Teddy & Roo's, two pairs came several times each day, affording me many opportunities to photograph them. Easygoing birds, they soon adapted to my presence as long as I didn't move around too much and they didn't even mind when the dogs joined me on the patio, as long as they didn't move around too much, either! At first, four quail came together, but as the spring wore on, I saw individual males more often than the females and when a female did appear, the male would select a high perch for watching over her rather than feeding with her at the same time. Quail are incredibly handsome birds and it was so neat to have a chance to get to see them up close.

A quail pair.

Male California quail.

Female California quail.

The males are incredibly attractive birds...

...though the females are beautiful, too, if not quite so splashily attired.

A male eating the quail food I scattered by the handful on the patio several times each day.

A female regards me from a perch atop a horse.

One day I heard a noise and looked up to see a male on the wall directly above me!

The female stretches...

...and then fluffs her feathers.

The male quail takes advantage of a lofty sheep-top perch to survey the situation.

One day, I heard the quail making calls that I hadn't heard before. I soon found out the reason: mating season had begun in earnest! I was lucky enough to catch one of the attempts on camera.

The male clumsily mounts the female, failing to get his body properly aligned with hers.

He solicits her for another attempt...

...but she would have none of it and leaped over him! They were soon canoodling together in a bush, though, and there's an excellent chance that there will be baby quail to photograph when I visit Teddy & Roo in July.

The female quail and her mate.

A gorgeous male California quail.

Northern Alligator Lizard

The next animal is not a bird at all, but a reptile. I only recently learned that there is a lizard species native to the Western Washington, which is on the whole rather too cool and damp to support many reptiles. Once I'd heard of their existence, I naturally developed a great yearning to see and photograph a northern alligator lizard. As it so happened, one lived in the wall next to the patio at Teddy & Roo's! I kept a close eye on the crack where it was reported to live and was rewarded by a single sighting. I did manage to get a few photos of what is admittedly a rather unattractive lizard before it scuttled off and was never seen again!

A northern alligator lizard emerging from its home in a crack in a wall.

This particular individual sports two tails. Northern alligators can drop their tails as a defensive maneuver and I suspect that this double tail is the result of an error made during either the dropping or regrowing process.

More Animal Life at T&R's

One evening I spied a rabbit grazing on ground cover in the backyard.

A bumblebee visits a delphinium growing on the edge of the patio.

Teddy keeping me company while I waited for birds. Roo preferred sleeping in a dog bed beside my chair over sunning himself in the dirt with his brother!

The tall pink rhododendron, seen here with
its flowers freshly washed with rain, sheltered
the patio, giving cover for the birds and providing
 a delightful soundtrack of buzzing bees.
In summary, the birding at Teddy & Roo's was excellent and I spent many a pleasant hour on the kitchen patio, the grape vine creaking in the wind on the western wall while the nearby rhododendron, lush with blooms, hummed with bumblebees. I followed the progress of the birds through the neighborhood with my ears--the feeding call of the baby juncos, the squeaky song of the hummingbirds, the twittering of the house finches, the back-and-forth conversation between the male and female towhees, the drumming of flickers, the chuckle of robins, the quiet burbling of the quail as they foraged, and the whistles and chirps of the sparrows on the moss--and came to know their quirks and behaviors and personalities with my eyes as I watched them go about the business of feeding, drinking, squabbling, chatting, mating, and raising their broods. I feel lucky that I got to take some lovely photographs of this little slice of avian life.