What happens to the common birds of our region (of the state, of the continent) is of primary importance to assessing what is going on with the environment as a result of storms or unusual weather or as a consequence of habitat loss.

The populations of waterfowl, the nesting success of flycatchers and bluebirds and the number of migrant hawks and shorebirds are the kinds of observations which are most meaningful to the natural history student. And yet ...

And yet, when an out-of-range bird shows up, it’s fun to try to see it. A bit of excitement, a chance to look at an unexpected critter, an opportunity to speculate on how the bird got here, where it might go next, whether it can survive. We have (or had) a couple of out-of-range birds in the area just now: a chestnut-backed chickadee and eastern blue jays.

The chestnut-backed chickadee is tiny, with a big head, a small bill and a round belly.

Similar to other chickadees, but with a chestnut back and sides. A handsome chickadee that matches the rich brown bark of the coastal trees it lives among. Active and acrobatic, it clings to small limbs and twigs or hangs upside down from cones.

Sociable, and noisy as any chickadee, you’ll find these birds at the heart of foraging flocks moving through tall conifers with nuthatches and sometimes other chickadee species. Though they’re at home in dark, wet woods, foraging higher in the canopy than other chickadee species, they’ve also readily taken to suburbs and ornamental shrubs of towns and cities, often coming to bird feeders.

The chestnut-backed chickadee is not truly migratory, but it does make some seasonal movements. In late summer some birds move higher into the mountains. They move back to lower elevations when winter starts, particularly after heavy snowfalls.

There are no e-bird reports of the chestnut-backed chickadee in Wyoming.

The blue jay is crested, as is its family relative the Steller’s jay, our jay. Our jay is dark blue and black overall, with only minor flecks of white on the chin and forehead. A blue jay is a lighter blue on back, head and wings, has some white on the underparts and white spots in tail and wings plus a black necklace. Each is pretty nifty.

Blue jays are widespread east of the Continental Divide and the Rockies but are apparently expanding their range westward and northwestward, even into Jackson Hole and its environs. Blue jays tend to roam in fall; most of our records, if not all, have been in fall. (We also get pinyon jays sometimes. These jays do not have crests, tend to be in flocks and are an overall bluish color.)

There have been several blue jays in the Hole in recent days.

— Includes excerpts from a column originally published in the Nov. 12, 1997 Jackson Hole News

Field notes: A report came in from Susan Brooks that on Oct. 23 a chestnut-backed chickadee was observed in John Dodge, foraging with other chickadees, both black-capped and mountain.

Many reports from widely separated locations have been received of blue jays. On the list of reporters: Patty Ewing, Diane Birdsall, Benj Sinclair, Franz Camenzind, Susan Marsh, Deb Patla, Bruce Hayse, Tim Griffith and Mary Lohuis.

Bev Boynton spotted a dusky grouse on Oct. 29. Bru Wicks observed an evening grosbeak. A red male pine grosbeak was seen at my Skyline feeder. Trumpeters are beginning to show up on Flat Creek, reported Chuck Herz.

On Halloween, and seen from Jackson Lake Dam, Bernie McHugh noted approximately 850 coot; about 300 redhead; approximately 42 widgeon; 89 adult trumpeter swans and 23 cygnets; two male canvasback and one female; and one adult bald eagle in the lake. Below the dam he counted seven male and seven female Barrow’s goldeneye. He also spotted a wolf running across the road between the chapel and Signal Mountain Lodge.

Susan Marsh and Frances Clark spotted about six golden-crowned kinglets on Oct. 30 on the Hidden Falls Trail. Goldfinches are really coming in to Frances and Bernie’s feeder in Wilson — 24 were counted at one time. Also, they had their first Clark’s nutcracker ever.

On Thursday Susan Patla had eight pine grosbeak — half female, half male, some immature — show up at her feeder in Teton Valley, Idaho. She’s also been seeing a few American goldfinch. Redtail hawks have been numerous in the valley and a few rough-legged hawks have been spotted.

Susan Marsh reports her suet feeder has been popular with the Clark’s nutcrackers and a female downy woodpecker. She flushed five Wilson’s snipe on Thursday while at South Park Feedground. The same day, Tim Griffith found a rough-legged hawk on the National Elk Refuge, the only bird he saw the hour he was out there.

Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature. Contact him at columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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