The Bird Word: Birding Between Raindrops

Wet:: It’s Foul Weather Even for Ducks

By Kimberly Mason
For The Chronicle

There hasn’t been much of an opportunity to photograph birds this week. The rain doesn’t bother me, but it surely bothers my camera.

I’ve been waiting to hear the sound of a flock of ducks overhead so I can sneak down to the ponds, jump a few ducks and get a couple of shots with my longer lens. But I haven’t heard so much as a “quack” for a quite a while.

A trip to the pond last week produced a sad pair of ring-necked ducks and a lonely pair of Eurasian widgeon, neither of which would hold still long enough for me to get off a good shot.

A young hunter friend who has been stalking our ponds while the community college is on winter break has been disappointed with the local turnout. He spotted a few widgeon and a fair showing of teals this week, but is hoping for a good chill to drive the birds our way.

He had a few wise words for one so young.

“If I’m not miserable, the hunting’s miserable,” he said.

I think he’s right. Duck hunting, with a camera or a gun, is surely an endurance sport.

Pine Siskins Abound in the Rain

I have a flock of pine siskins that seem come and go — they come with the rain and go with the sun. I’m always glad to see them when they show up and always glad when they go because they can eat you out of house and home.

A flock of siskins, even a small flock, can clean out a bird feeder almost faster than you can turn around to give them another scoop.

A group of pine siskins can be called a “charm,” a “company,” or a “trembling” of finches.

The pine siskins are a lively and gregarious bunch, they seem to hold their own against the bigger birds at the feeders. Look for the yellow flash of color when their wings are open.

And don’t forget that even though there seems to be plenty of water to be found for bathing, there’s nothing like a quick dip in a protected pool of clean water that you provide for your feathered friends in your own backyard.

Wintering Raptors and Other Predators

Spotting wintering hawks can be as easy as taking a drive through farmland. On the way to clamming last week we sighted an average of one hawk every three miles down state Route 6.

A comparatively tiny predatory bird has taken up residence on the farm, traveling the same hunting grounds as the pair of red-tailed hawks that inhabit the back 40 — a northern shrike.

I found him standing on top of my tallest evergreen the other day, making a racket for all to hear. The bird books say this bird is usually silent; this youngster was anything but.

“Each winter, a small number of these predatory songbirds migrate into Washington, where they perch, hawklike, to survey semi-open hunting grounds,” according to “Birds of Washington State” by Brian Bell and Gregory Kennedy.

The northern shrike is known to be a loner and a fearsome predator. They eat mice, snakes, frogs, insects and even other birds.

Shrikes are called “butcher birds” because they will impale their prey on a thorn or broken branch to hang, as if in an open air pantry, while they continue their hunt.

I just hope my tiny pine siskins aren’t on their menu.

Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer who enjoys watching and photographing the wildlife in action in her own backyard in Cinebar.  Contact her via e-mail at