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“Red Taiga” visits the creek
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“Red Taiga” visits the creek

“Red Taiga” visits the creek

posted from Seattle WA on November 2, 2023.

By this time in the fall the birds we see coming to the creek for a bath are a pretty settled group, without a lot of variability. But Delia was watching the birds in the creek and noticed a Fox Sparrow, which we get regularly, but became consternated by the fact that the back was heavily streaked in red, plus the bird was unusually bright. We normally get Sooty Fox Sparrows, the bird of the western edge of the continent, or, to a lesser extent, Interior-West Fox Sparrows. With these two you can use a simple rule, and we’ve gotten used to it: If the back is satin-smooth with no marks at all, it’s a Fox Sparrow. So Delia knew she had something we weren’t used to. It wasn’t till she got a good look at the bill that she was even sure it was a Fox Sparrow. One of the enduring field marks of a Fox Sparrow is a two-tone bill–the upper mandible is gray or blackish, the lower mandible is yellow. But the smooth-back rule needs to be used with caution. We looked in the book and there was the Red Taiga subspecies, morph, or race, not sure of these ornitholgical details, that perfectly matched our bird. It was similar but different from the Red Fox Sparrows I used to see in Pennsylvania, they are uniform red above–very striking, (dare I say for a sparrow?) but this bird had the same red tones but a lot more plumage features. Being from the Taiga, it could easily be from Manitoba or Saskatchewan but I’m wandering out of my pay grade here. Brian Pendleton remembered seeing this type all the way east in Newfoundland.

This is Red. The yellow lower mandible is an enduring field mark of Fox Sparrow.

This is another shot of Red

This shot of Red shows its cool gray patch on the nape, shoulder and head.

There were also a couple of Pacific subspecies Fox Sparrows at the creek. Here’s one

Now here’s a familiar bird at the creek, which was dry that day, we had to fix a leak, a Varied Thrush. This photo shows how much this bird’s beauty is telling us to not rake leaves. It’s a bird that forages in leaf litter, and as such it’s “designed” to be camouflaged when it’s among fallen leaves, as this photo shows, when you back up and squint it’s not there. So raking leaves deprives this gorgeous Northwest Specialty bird of both it’s natural camouflage and its food source. Butyl Creek was dry that day, we had to fix a leak in Pumphouse Lake.

We were down in Tacoma at Dune Peninsula looking for some Lapland Longspurs but during the search I made sure to turn around and see how the mountain was looking. Then I put this shot up on Nextdoor and accused Tacomans of being spoiled because they have such great views of the mountain on a daily basis.

We always love to see Kestrels and we saw a few last week in the Snoqualmie Valley including this one that had caught a pretty big Vole.

This is just a random shot from the Carnation trail at Stillwater in the Snoqualmie Valley where the Kestrel shot was taken.

Is this the worst shot posted on the internet this year? Do I get a prize? However, this is one of the most unusual birds everto be seen in Washington state. A Nazca Booby that was in the Nisqually reach in early October I think. The bird is strikingly beautiful, white and black with an orange-pink bill and 6 ft. wingspread. A strong flyer, this family is known for diving into the water to catch fish. What’s different from the other birds that do this is they drive down straight and power part of the way and don’t reach terminal velocity because they are pretty heavy so we watched as they hit the water at (I’d have to research this) but what appeared to be over 60 mph and it is quite an air show. Too bad the closest you could get to this bird was about two miles away, from the other side of the Reach, Luhr Beach.

This was a California Gull at Dune Peninsula in Tacoma. The bird is not rare around here, although not everywhere either, but I liked the shot because it shows low long-winged this Gull is. These Gulls are comfortable being far off shore at times, near the continental shelf.

Overheard at the stakeout for this Black and White Warbler that has made the North shore of Green Lake its home for the last three days as of 11/23/23: “The only color they have is black and white, how can they be so beautiful!”

This bird has been known to captivate a viewer before. For one thing, it is a extremely energetic and constantly on the move. You get to look at it holding still for a second or two. And the way it dances on the larger branches of trees, constantly foraging for insects is always thrilling. This was our first Black and White Warbler for Washington state. We missed one two years ago at Ghetty’s Cove in Kittitas County. Here’s hoping this guy (a male we think) makes it through the winter.

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