bearriver Blog

“What’s a nice bird like you doing in a place like this?”

Wednesday, October 10

"What’s a nice bird like you doing in a place like this?", I thought, as I realized that the small bird landing on a fence post near the observation tower was a Red-breasted Nuthatch … no kidding, a nuthatch, likely a dozen miles from the nearest wooded habitat where it might be just a wee bit more comfortable. Apparently, I needed another dose of you-never-know-what-to-expect at Bear River Refuge, and that’s what the nuthatch gave me.

red-breasted nuthatch

My October general bird survey started with a pleasant, seasonal surprise—a milk chocolate and off-white female or first-year Richardson’s Merlin hunting low along a canal near the Perry gate. It was my first Merlin of the fall, and right on time. Another seasonal pattern very obvious today was the use of the sunflower crop by the seed-eaters. Red-winged Blackbirds are dominating the scene in high numbers and billow into patches of roadside sunflowers until a Northern Harrier cruises by, pushing them along or out into the marsh. American Goldfinches tweet and twitter as they flush from the seed-laden heads, and several species of sparrows—White-crowned and Song and Dark-eyed Juncos—work their way deep into the tangles and peck at the seed heads.

Migrating Barn and Tree Swallows leave their roosts on the playa or in phragmites stands as the day warms and insects take to the air. The numbers of both swallow species is humbling, especially because I have to count them. The refuge hosts more than enough of what they need (bugs) to fuel their journey south. Come back in the spring! We’ll make more!

Other signs of the season appear in the species list: Thirty-six Western Meadowlarks distributed throughout the survey route; in spring and summer, I find them only at the east end of the D-line; American Pipits, first of fall migration for me; a Mourning Dove, a species I only see in fall or winter far out on the refuge.

By next month, the first Bald Eagles and Rough-legged Hawks will be on the refuge, and the species count will dwindle to just over a dozen in preparation for the icy lockdown. But I hesitate to predict exactly what the refuge will be hosting then, because after all, I couldn’t have told you that today’s highlight would have been a nuthatch at the observation tower!

 - Kris Purdy

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