BIRD WATCH: The bustle of fall arrives

“Where have the birds gone?”

That’s a question heard multiple times in recent months.

The easiest answer was to blame our hot, dry summer.

Recent rains have changed things.

Everyone has their birds back. Right? I hope so.

Last week, everything began to point to fall’s arrival. Days and nights turned cooler and action around the feeders picked up.

Much of this activity was created by the familiar nuthatches, chickadees, bushtits, song sparrows, juncos and towhees.

One surprise was a visit by a brown creeper.

Other birds suggested they may be fall migrants.

About a half dozen white-crowned sparrows showed up.

There were both immatures and adults and they were a reminder to look carefully at the birds arriving at the feeders.

White-crowns do nest here but migrants also pass through from nesting areas to the north of us.

The sounds of fall also began in earnest this past week.

Starling flocks and robin flocks were calling throughout the neighborhood.

Both the flickers and pileated woodpeckers added their calls to the cacophony.

They were eyeing the berries on the mountain ash trees as well as the wild hawthorns.

Lacking from all the activity were the cedar waxwings and band-tailed pigeons.

They often arrive to devour the reddening buttons on the dogwoods, but they have been absent from my yard the last two years.

It had been almost four years since I’d enjoyed a trip to our cabin on the Olympic Peninsula’s Hoh River.

I was hoping to hear the ruffed grouse drumming and the grunting sound made by the blue grouse.

They make it by inflating air sacs on their breast which they then beat with their spread wings.

They were silent during our visit.

Only once did I think I may have heard a blue grouse, but it could also have been my hopeful imagination.

There have been major changes in the Hoh Valley.

Thousands of acres of timber have been harvested.

Clear-cuts have denuded the foothills.

The terrain was so changed that it took us two tries before we found the old, familiar road to the cabin.

We didn’t see any birds.

Even the ravens that fly up the river every morning were missing.

The sight of four mallard ducks feeding on the river in front of the cabin was the total wildlife number for this trip.

I hope this lack of bird activity changed overnight on the Hoh just as it has at home.

When the rains settle in for real, the river’s level will rise and some of the southward bound migrants will follow the river’s course.

It can be exciting to bird the large rivers that flow from the Olympics at this time of the year.

Dippers (water ouzel) are resident along the Hoh and in a few months, they will start their winter serenading.

Common mergansers and harlequin ducks nest here but they move to the salt water at this time of the year.

Migrating passerines bring some great surprises.

One year it was several Say’s phoebes and there are always the opportunistic hawks to watch for.

If there was a way to encourage the hawks and the owls to dine on several visitors at the cabin, I wish I knew it.

It was very evident that during some long absences, the local mice colony has begun moving in for the winter.

One area resembled a mouse nursery. If anyone knows how to find a “mouse entrance,” I would love to hear from them. This type of fall activity isn’t welcome.


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:

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