Though Bert Raynes’ Far Afield column has been temporarily suspended, bird and wildlife watchers are still calling and emailing in with their sightings. — Eds.
On a Christmas Eve stroll along Cache Creek, Susan Marsh was treated to a pygmy owl on the top of a Douglas fir. He sat there, not far off the trail, ignoring the walkers, busy hunting. Susan also spotted several Townsend’s solitaires, black-capped and mountain chickadees, a glorious rough-legged hawk being harassed by a raven — pure white and pure black, one bird looking like the other’s shadow — quite a few Cassin’s finches, two downy woodpeckers and a robin. What a nice day.
And on Saturday, when Susan came home from town, the chickadees and nuthatches were having a fit, so she knew it was a mob. Looking into the spruce where the small birds were was a great horned owl.
While John Hebberger Jr. mostly focused on Christmas at his house this week, during that last snow he did see: lots of pine siskins, a steady flow of house finches and red-breasted nuthatches, Clark’s nutcrackers on the suet block, a sharp-shinned hawk coming in once to scare the small birds away and, as always, lots of magpies. Mule deer wading through the snow to feed on berry-laden bushes. John wishes: “May the year end well for you, and may we all have a better 2021.”
Late Christmas Day, Diane Birdsall wandered along the Snake River south of town. Two bald eagles flew off together, leaving their perch on a snag as soon as she disturbed their solitude or, more likely, their hunt. Three trumpeter swans also flew low over the water. Diane heard a group of ducks flying to the north but could not say what they were.
The sun hung low to the southwest, lighting the hoarfrost and crystal pools that adorned the beach. Along that edge, between beach and water, a dipper worked hard to find dinner, diving repeatedly into the dark water and mysteriously popping up elsewhere. A dark, curved silhouette, always in motion. Then she saw the bird was not alone; there were two others working the river’s edge as well, maybe 50 feet apart.
Deb Patla reported the usual array of birds in Buffalo Valley. The magpies in her neighborhood are very wary; they keep their distance from people and even from windows. But they are watching the feeders. When Deb scatters peanuts-in-the-shell outside, a magpie appears within seconds, as soon as she is inside. Then another and another ... impossible to count because they grab their treat and fly away, fast and low, disappear, then return. Some magpies spend time trying to cram two or three peanuts in their bill, selecting according to their best-fit shape.
Wes and Shirley Timmerman reported a few regulars in their yard: mountain chickadees, house finches, a magpie couple and, on Christmas Day, a northern flicker. Last week at the Bear River Migratory Refuge they saw 12 starlings, nine ravens, five American kestrels, 22 northern harriers, 19 pied-billed grebes, eight tree sparrows, six Canada geese, six Barrow’s goldeneyes, 55 American coots, four horned grebes, a pair of mallards, two red-tailed hawks, 20 common goldeneyes, 30 song sparrows, one dark-eyed junco, one ring-necked duck, 31 great blue herons, 400 tundra swans, eight ring-necked pheasants (females) and one rough-legged hawk.
The Teton Raptor Center has five patients in its rehab clinic representing three species: great horned owl, American kestrel and great gray owl. Last week the Raptor Center was able to transfer two juvenile ospreys to a rehab center in Texas to finish their flight conditioning and be released in their wintering grounds.
Merry Boxing Day from Dennis and Marian Butcher! They saw a northern shrike near Kelly Warm Springs early in the week. The next day, Dennis saw his first northern pygmy owl up Cache Creek. A handsome Townsend’s solitaire appeared in their aspen tree; Dennis had not seen one at their home before. Their feeder continues to attract house finches, both types of chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches. They had the return of a small number of dark-eyed juncos after a storm. On one subzero morning the breath of a house finch on the feeder was visible.
Susan Marsh has received about three-quarters of the reports from the Christmas Bird Count held Dec. 19. Preliminary results confirm 55 species so far, and six for count week — an unusually high number.
You have a Happy New Year!