BIRD WATCH: Expecting the unexpected with our local visitors

THE SOUND IN the garden was as pleasant as 10 fingers scratching their nails on a chalkboard. It wasn’t being made by a human.

After a little looking in the bushes near the sound, the culprit was identified. A Western scrub-jay was perched in one of the neighbor’s large rhododendrons and was obviously upset about something.

Why was one of these handsome birds in my neighborhood?

Eventually, it flew into my plum thicket but continued its scolding. Maybe it was upset at the gray squirrels for eating all the fruit.

The fact that it stopped by was a surprise and one of those welcome surprises we can expect this month. The middle of September — Sept. 17, to be exact — has been highlighted in my memory for decades.

This is owed to the fact that one year, I spent a morning walking through the yard and neighborhood. The birding proved so interesting, I wasn’t about to stay in the house. It seemed like every tree and bush was full of surprises.

Many were migrants that would just pass through within a day or two. I assumed this year’s scrub-jay would do the same. It did. It was around less than an hour.

This was only the second time in all these years that a Western scrub-jay has visited my yard.

While they do nest in the West Sound in small numbers, most of us never see them at our feeders. On the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula, they are seen during migration.

With one of these birds in my neighborhood a rare occurrence, what was the scene up north, in Hansville and Kingston? Maybe I should call Lila.

Five days later, the phone rang. Lila had called me. She had five Western scrub-jays at her feeders in Hansville.

Their arrival wasn’t the surprise; it was the number of jays. They visit her feeders every September, but they arrive in ones and twos.

Five was the most she had seen at one time. Of course, I was delighted to share my one sighting because she knew I normally didn’t have them visit. She was also surprised at how early they were seen.

Their fall visits begin later in September and last through the first week in October. These two visits were at the end of August and the first week in September.

I suppose our long, hot summer is responsible, or maybe it’s the wildfires in British Columbia. It’s always a challenge to determine why birds do something out of the normal. They aren’t as predictable as we would like to think, and that is what makes bird-watching interesting.

Birders expect birds to do something unusual and surprise us. Showing up unexpectedly and in an area where they aren’t expected is … expected.

This bird is one of the most attractive jays in North America. Their name is a little misleading until you know what it means.

They aren’t “scrubby” in appearance. They are found in thickets of scrub oak trees. There are no oak trees or oak thickets in Lila’s yard, and they don’t exist in my yard.

During migration, birds will visit habitat types other than the type they prefer and nest in. That accounts for the surprises that make spring and fall migration exciting, interesting and challenging.

The challenge comes when you see a bird you don’t recognize. That’s exciting.

The fall migration is well underway and you never know who will drop by. Weather, wildfires, wind and other factors will influence the birds’ movements.

It’s time to take some time and take some daily strolls around our yards and neighborhoods. Who knows what surprise may be waiting?

________

Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: [email protected].

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