BIRD WATCH: Weather ushers in some surprise visitors

SOME YEARS, THE population of sea ducks wintering on our protected waters is much less than others.

This appears to occur during mild winters.

That has been the case in recent years, and I missed the large groups of goldeneye, scaup and scoters cavorting about on the water near my home.

This year, it’s a different story. There are good numbers of goldeneye flirting with one another and adding life to the bay.

I’m enjoying them the same way one enjoys a visit from a friend you haven’t seen in a while.

A recent email reminded me that we are in for an El Niño winter and harsher, colder weather is expected.

The appearance of the goldeneye wasn’t the first hint that this may be what we are in for. The varied thrush have also entered the picture.

This attractive cousin of the robin doesn’t always arrive at our feeders during the winter months. When they do, it’s often December or January before we see them.

This is most true for those of us who live near sea level or in more populated areas.

Varied thrush nest in the mountains, but they also nest at lower elevations where there are heavily forested areas.

They move to the lowlands during extreme cold and are even more likely to show up when there is a good snowfall.

Most of my memories involving varied thrush in the yard also have snow-covered scenes in them.

Even though they frequently show up with the robins, the two aren’t particularly fond of one another. They eat the same foods, so they show up where the robins are.

This November, early November, a female varied thrush appeared near the feeders. She was a big surprise and a happy one.

This just might be the earliest I have seen one in the yard.

While the robins and varied thrush may both eat berries, fruits and worms, the varied thrush also eat seeds. They eat mixed bird seed from feeders and when it is scattered on the ground.

That’s how I prefer to feed them along with the juncos, sparrows and towhees. It is cleaner and healthier than putting seed on an open, tray-type feeder.

It’s also easy to scatter the seed about so the ground isn’t contaminated by uneaten seed and bird droppings.

Another visitor that makes the idea of a cold winter a possibility is an inhabitant of the far north who doesn’t always come this far south.

Snow buntings rank right up there with snowy owls when it comes to exciting winter visitors.

There are well-known areas where they are usually seen during their occasional winter visits. One of those is Ediz Hook, the spit that curves into the waters off Port Angeles.

Four of these beautiful birds were reported seen on the spit on Nov. 4. That’s early.

Dee Renee Ericks let other birders know of their presence while noting the buffleheads and mergansers were also back.

Snow buntings nest in the Arctic. They winter mostly in Canada’s provinces and in some of the states bordering Canada.

They prefer the open prairie and avoid the mountains.

These hardy sparrow-size birds are also year-round residents of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. They travel a long distance to reach the Pacific Northwest, and we can only wonder what has moved them south this year.

What the future will bring when it comes to weather is rarely predictable. Still, we keep trying.

These interesting bird sightings are making it impossible to resist doing so. What will December and January bring?

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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: joanpcarson@comcast.net.

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