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This winter birders are observing many Varied Thrushes in North Central Washington. These birds are closely related to American Robins – same general size and shape but with some very distinct markings. We counted quite a few on the Christmas Bird Count around Twisp. More than usual although it is an expected species in the winter.

Saturday in Twisp, I noticed lots of them in the crabapple trees in the park. They would fly if I walked but if I stayed in the car I could photograph them for as long as I wanted. The bird with the gray band across its chest is a female and the one with the black band is a male.

American Kestrels are the smallest falcons in North America. This tiny raptor has a wingspan of 22 inches and weighs 4.1 ounces. It eats small mammals, insects and today it ate a finch from our feeder. This bird is a male because of the blue on its wings. It was minus four this morning before the sun came out. Normally this bird has a sleek appearance but it fluffed its feathers in order to keep warm.

Last Sunday we had a good snowfall and I was thankful I’d filled the bird feeders the afternoon before. The finches and juncos appreciated it too. And then, I noticed three Red-winged Blackbirds at the feeders. Oh dear. There have been winters when the blackbirds stayed and didn’t migrate to warmer climates and each day they would empty the feeders in no time. I like blackbirds, especially when they are singing over a cattail marsh in the spring and early summer. But if they are going to be coming to the feeder all winter, I might need to start a fund raiser to buy seeds for them.

The three birds soon left and I figured they would be back with their friends. That’s just the way they are. Well. They had a lot of friends. Soon, there were waves and waves of Red-winged Blackbirds coming up from the valley floor. I estimated at least 250 birds. It was like that old Alfred Hitchcock movie. Every tree, snag and bush in sight of the feeders was covered with them. Some of them got to the feeders but most just stood around or flew around and watched. After a while they all left. Later in the afternoon the big group returned. Since then I’ve only seen smaller groups of blackbirds here. What a relief. Maybe they will just come on snowfall days? I would not have even guessed there were that many Red-winged Blackbirds in this valley at this time of year.

We are finally getting a little bit of snow but nowhere near enough for skiing. Hopefully it will come soon.

I have been keeping the bird feeders full and enjoying the little birds – mostly finches and the occasional woodpecker. This year we have quail too. That’s quite unusual. They roost in a brush pile down below the house. Eagles are all over the valley, scavenging dead fish and roadkill. I watched a young Bald Eagle as a pair of Black-billed Magpies tried to share its lunch.

The Bernardo Wildlife Area was just minutes from our campsite. I had read a small article about it in the National Audubon magazine so I knew it could be a good spot to see cranes and I had driven by it before setting up the camper earlier in the day. We went there for sunset and were not disappointed. And the next day it was even better at sunset. With colder weather and more wind, I never did get back to Bosque.

Bernardo had a very nice, short auto route and several really nice blinds for watching wildlife. The best part (besides the birds) was that no one was there! And the dogs could get out of the car. They are pretty good bird watchers. Sometimes all of us stayed in the car and used it as a blind to watch and make photos. They watched and listened while I made photos.

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