Backyard Birds – Early Fall Sightings

Backyard Birds - Early Fall Sightings

An early September snowstorm surprised everyone, but here are the latest sightings reported to Hugh Kingery.

Bill and Joan Eden of suburban south Denver have created a backyard oasis for birds complete with plantings and an enticing water feature. They attract and record dozens of species, including some rarities:

On September 6th, Bill photographed three warbler species at their waterfall at the same time: Orange-crowned, Virginia’s, and Wilson’s. Then on September 17th, they added a new yard bird: a Black-throated Gray Warbler.

Wilson's, Townsend's and Orange-Crowned Warblers at a waterfall
Orange-Crowned and Virginia's Warblers together in waterfall
WIlson's Warbler in waterfall
Black-throated Gray Warbler standing in shallow waterfall

Karen Metz emailed from Franktown various sightings leading up to and after the September snowstorm. On September 6th, she reports:

“It’s International Vulture Awareness Day and Turkey Vultures have been here cleaning up a coyote carcass on my property. It has been exciting to see a few gliding so low, barely above the tops of pines.

“A Cassin’s Vireo has been around for a few days, having replaced the nesting Plumbeous Vireos. Last year both Vireo species were here on the same day in late August and it was nice to compare their very, very similar songs.”

On September 7th, she anticipated the coming snowstorm:

“Before disconnecting the hose and draining the sprinkler pipes, I gave my flower garden a long morning watering. Almost none of the perennials are still blooming but it was a good opportunity to attract birds.

“Bathing migrant species included Broad-tailed and Rufous hummingbirds, Gray Catbird, Townsend’s Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Clay-colored and Chipping sparrows, and Western Tanager. I heard 2 Cassin’s Vireos singing and/or giving their scolding calls.

“A baker’s dozen hummingbirds, almost all Broad-tailed were busy at my flowering annuals on the deck and at nectar feeders throughout the day. Nineteen annual flowering plants are now in my kitchen, awaiting kinder weather.”

Following the storm, on September 9th, she reports:

“I have seen most of the migrants that were here before the snowstorm and cold. Additionally, an hour before sunset this evening, a juvenile Northern Parula landed on my deck and ate one of the mealworms that I had tossed out for bluebirds.

“Twenty-five minutes before sunrise this morning, I saw what looked like a robin-sized bird face down and facing the garage. Made me sad as I thought a bird must have died there. I filled the bird feeders and returned to attend to the unfortunate bird — and it turned out to be two Western Bluebirds huddled close together and next to the house for warmth. They flew off as I approached that second time and perched in a pine and then headed toward a domed mealworm feeder where I had placed chunks of peanut butter and dried mealworm cake. All was well but I have never known of bluebirds to roost on the ground. The warmth of that corner must have been very attractive to them.

“Still at least a baker’s dozen hummingbirds, one juvenile Rufous among Broad-tailed.”

On September 20th, Deb Carstenson (with a pond in her Littleton back yard) sent  a general report:

“I’ve had a snowy Egret almost every day on the pond. Today there were two egrets showing aggressive displays that looked like Sandhill Cranes’ aggression displays. Also fairly regular Great Blue Herons and Black-crowned Night-Herons.

“I’ve had regular Lesser Goldfinches still feeding here as well as Yellow-rumped Warblers and juvenile hummingbirds.”

Black-crowned Night Heron in grass

Leslie Hankerson in Elizabeth also took precautions for the snowstorm, reporting that she “covered as many hummingbird plants as I could before the cold. Also several potted plants for butterflies & hummers. At least 6 hummingbirds are still around and I do believe a juvenile Rufous. That heated hummingbird feeder is so appreciated at times like this. The bluebirds wait for me to spook the starlings from the worm feeder. They’re smart and sit and wait. Possibly 8 bluebirds.

“I had a beautiful little warbler in the garden bushes yesterday. Never got a great view of it so not sure of the variety. Had a large influx of Lesser Goldfinches all over the yellow sunflowers the day before the storm. It looks like the sunflowers may have made it through the weather so they may be back.”

From Littleton, Mary Kay Waddington reported a Bushtit problem on September 10th:

“The other day I was enjoying watching a mixed flock of birds, hoping for a warbler or 2 to pop up when I noticed that a Bushtit hanging by its tail — caught on some sort of twig, it was totally helpless, flapping a little, head pointed to the ground. The interesting thing was that one by one, all the other Bushtits in the flock tried to free it, going over to the spot where it was caught and pulling on the twig and feather. Since there is probably no other bird species that’s more communal than a Bushtit, this seemed not too surprising. However, they weren’t having any luck.

“Finally, a Chickadee went to the spot with a look that plainly said, ‘Come on you guys, it’s a simple matter!’ (Sorry for anthropomorphizing but that’s how it appeared.) Now anyone who has ever banded birds knows that a Chickadee’s bill is one of the most formidable and accurate of share objects imaginable! Sure enough — in a second the Bushtit was released!”  

On September 2nd, Dominique & Tom Loucks, along with Rick and Suzette spotted a new bird:

“Now that I look at my pictures, it’s new to me. I see the white eyering, I see bars under the tail and specks on the wings, an almost-curved bill, possibly a hint of a super-cilium. Dominique thinks it’s a Rock Wren, and of course, the foothills are just across the street.”

Cindy Valentine of Castle Rock shared some observations on September 6th:

“Noticing changes in bird populations in the forest. When we first moved here (3 years ago), the most common birds were Pygmy Nuthatches and Steller’s Jays. Last year we had no Steller’s and only a few nuthatches. The main reasons: decline in forest habitat and a nuthatch disease. This year Pygmys are again common (they have recovered) and this week I have had a pair of Steller’s Jays. So hopefully,  we will have Steller’s again. Plus for variety, visiting chipmunk.”

Pigmy Nuthatch perched on a pine branch
Steller's Jay perched on a pine tree
Chipmunk on rocky ground

On September 7th, Scott Sorenson in Parker “was looking out the window of my new sunroom and one fairly large Scrub Oak bush came alive for about 10 minutes around 5 AM. Goldfinches, a Spotted Towhee, a Mountain Chickadee, a Bushtit fluffed up like a ball of cotton, and what I think is a pair of Cassin’s Finches.”

Finally, a follow-up on the bird pox that Barbara Spagnuolo talked about in our previous Backyard Birds:

Kathryn Dunn emailed from Littleton on September 17th, “Like the woman in Highlands Ranch, I have seen multiple House Finches at my bird feeder afflicted with deformities around their beaks. I wasn’t sure what it was. Based on your article, I now have learned it’s avian pox.”

At Hugh’s home two days ago, his wife, Urling saw a House Finch with a swollen head, and yesterday a Spotted Towhee with brown pox patches on both sides of its head. “We will have to pull the feeders for a couple of weeks — a hardship during our enforced homestay.”

Your contributions write this column. Thanks to all who send in these intriguing reports. Send a note or post card to P.O. Box 584, Franktown 80116, or Email Hugh Kingery at