I’ve been visiting Fritch’s City Park pretty regularly for several years. At first just to walk; 6 times around the perimeter is 3 miles and takes about an hour at my FOG (Fat Old Guy) speed and, since last year, to bird. It’s not a highly developed kind of park. There are swing sets and playground equipment on one end and a covered picnic area on the other and a set of porta-potties in between. They put in a sprinkler system in the middle part last fall and over the winter they trimmed a lot of dead branches out of the elms and cut down several that were completely dead. I’ll admit that it looks better than it did but I’m worried that the Flickers and Ladderbacks that lived and fed in the dead wood might not consider it an improvement.
Last summer, when Sheila and I started birding, we discovered that there is a quite varied bird population at the park (and coyotes, gray foxes, mule deer, skunks, opossum, and raccoons) and we started going there to watch birds as well as exercise. The avian population dropped considerably over the winter and our visits declined as well-waterfowl at the lake was much more exciting.
During winter I went there every week or two to see if there were any birds that I hadn’t seen there before. Mostly all I saw was a few European Starlings and Common Grackles, and an occasional meadowlark or robin or dove. I hadn’t been by in a week or more, so this morning I stopped by and was delighted to find that along with the starlings and doves and grackles, a pretty sizable crowd of old friends had shown up, and they brought along a newcomer that I was very happy to meet.
There were a couple of Blue Jays screeching and careening from one end of the park to the other. They are supposed to be year-round residents but I hadn’t seen any since late last fall. Same with the Northern Mockingbirds, although I saw one of them a few weeks ago near the ranger station on Sanford-Yake Road. I’m not sure where they went, but I was very glad to see them back.
The other was putting on a display, trying to attract a mate, that was pretty cool to watch. He would leap into the air, flair his wings, drift backwards on the wind and then settle back onto his branch. He was still doing this when I left.
Both of them had an amazingly varied vocal repertoire.
There have been lots of Rock Wrens at the lake this winter and I have enjoyed their singing immensely, so I was glad when I thought I saw one land on a pile of some of the cutoff branches. As I watched and listened I noticed that its song was different than I expected and the bird wasn’t bobbing up and down as it sang. Turns out is was a Bewick’s Wren, another year round resident of the Panhandle that I hadn’t seen in a few months. Nearby was a Loggerhead Shrike. American Kestrels, petite raptors that feed on insects and small rodents, stay here all year, too. Check the passerines gallery for pics of these birds.
Back to the park, now. This is the newcomer I mentioned. I was only able to get one shot of him before he took off. He was in a woodlot next to the park in some underbrush about 20 meters away. I missed the focus-his butt is perfectly clear, his eye and bill not so much, but is was good enough for an ID. This is a Bullock’s Oriole, the first oriole I’ve seen. The Bullock’s Oriole is a common summer visitor in most of the western part of the state, but is very difficult to see in spite of it’s flashy colors. I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t heard it. I thought that it was just another starling cawing, but for some reason followed the sound and was rewarded with this.