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Notes From a Northwestern Ontario Backyard – January 2021

Hello again & Happy New Year!

I’m hoping the series of photos I’m going to post here can help bring you some smiles during these difficult times of pandemic, lockdowns and mid winter blues.

I certainly don’t have large numbers of individual birds coming to my yard but I do have a fairly good assortment coming around, including two winter/seasonal rarities for me: a Western Meadowlark and a White Throated Sparrow. The sparrow isn’t TOO far out of the norm here ….. it’s always possible to see sparrows of some kind here in winter ….. but the Meadowlark is a WHOLE other story. I’ve never seen one even in spring or summer, let alone all winter!

Western Meadowlark

 

Earlier in the fall, the Meadowlark wasn’t getting along with or tolerating ANYone out there, especially the Blue Jays. But, as winter moved in & got a solid grip on the region, the battles outside mostly stopped. Feeding had to take priority.

 

I was happy to see the Meadowlark come back up to the platform feeder today, after feeding solely on the ground the past couple of weeks.

 

Now, here is where things get really odd. The Meadowlark and the White Throated Sparrow appear to have befriended each other! I have nicknamed them the Odd Couple! They feed together on the ground every day. I’m not sure if it’s my imagination or not but it seems to me that the Sparrow purposefully seeks out the Meadowlark. I see them feeding like this a few times per day! The Sparrow is still living under my back deck where he is very well protected and able to stay out of the weather. I’m not absolutely sure but I think the Meadowlark may now be going under there too. How smart is that!

 

The fluffed up White Throated Sparrow on my deck steps.

 

In other backyard news, it’s been another exceptionally quiet season for the webcam. Virtually NO Grosbeaks, whether Pines or Evenings. I hear them in the neighbourhood sometimes or I’ll see them way up in the tree tops but they are seldom coming to feeders. Today, I finally had 2 beautiful male Pine Grosbeaks come down to the platform feeder. They look almost neon in the early morning light.

 

The past week or so, I’ve also finally had some Redpolls coming to the yard! They still have not discovered the nyjer feeder yet though. I’m not really sure they will this season. They will feed on the ground & sometimes, the platform feeder but boy, they don’t stay long. After 2 or 3 minutes, they usually fly off.

 

 

I’m happy to have a regular flock of Blue Jays that come to the yard every day. I’ve never been able to figure out where they go in summer but I never see them from May to October, then I get anywhere from 6 to 10 of them all winter long.

 

My beloved Canada Jays come around daily now too, usually two of them but on rare occasions, a third one will show up. It causes a ruckus out there because the regular two are a mated pair. The third one could very well be there offspring from last season for all I know.

 

I like this next photo. There are actually two Canada Jays here: one having a drink from the birdbath, the other on the platform feeder behind.

 

The only photo I’ve managed to get so far this winter, of all three Canada Jays together! The Pair Plus One!

 

I’m finding that Woodpecker visits are down this winter too. I normally have both Downy & Hairy woodpeckers here almost daily all winter but this year, I go weeks at a time without seeing any of them. I sometimes hear them calling or hammering from the woods behind my backyard though.

Female Hairy Woodpecker

 

Ruffed Grouse visits have been few & far between, as well. I may see it 3 days in a row on the platform feeder, then go two weeks without seeing it at all. Being the Rock Star of the webcam, though, it sure causes excitement when it does come around!

In this photo, the Grouse is illuminated by Christmas lights from a nearby shrub.

 

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen ‘my’ Flying Squirrels in over a month now but there is a reason why: we have two Red Foxes coming around most nights …. and some days! They have cleaned up all the mice that were coming in at night under the snow to feed under the feeders. I watched on the webcam twice as they successfully caught two on two different nights. They also will eat peanuts & sunflower seeds left over from the day.

 

One morning a couple of weeks ago, I opened my front blinds to see these two playing & frolicking in the snow, chasing each other around my neighbour’s shrub across the street, chasing each other up and over the snowbanks. I’m thinking now that they are a mated pair courting for the upcoming breeding season.

They can be so playful!

 

I have an interesting story for you, to end with this month. A few weeks ago, my husband and I took a drive out to our camp an hour into the woods from here, to clean the driveway after a big snowstorm. We came around a corner on the road in the middle of the trip and interrupted a hunt: a WOLF had almost caught a FOX! The photo is horribly blurry as we were still moving when I snapped it. We accidentally distracted the wolf … just enough for the fox to turn & bound away over the snowbank! The wolf, missing out on its lunch, then proceeded to run up the road ahead of us for a good 5 miles. We weren’t chasing it, and I felt so bad that it missed its lunch even though I was happy for the fox! … it just wouldn’t get off the road until then, no matter how slow we were going behind it. I’ve never seen anything like this and it never once occurred to me before that a wolf would hunt a fox but I know coyotes will so why not a wolf, right?

 

I’m always watching for owls on the trip to camp and back and that day, I got lucky. We came across a Northern Hawk Owl sitting on the very tip of a dead tree. The lighting was horrible so please forgive the graininess but it sure was awesome to see. It’s probably been a good 5 years since I’ve seen a Hawk Owl.

 

That’s it (and enough, I think!) for this month. I sincerely hope everyone is doing well & staying safe. Until next time!

 

 

 

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