February 23rd

Snowfall is not a common occurrence in the Puget Sound lowlands.  If we get any, it usually comes between late November and early January.  Sometimes we don't even get frost until late December or January.  Other parts of the US have been clobbered by repeated waves of heavy snowfall this winter.  In the Pacific Northwest, we have tried to keep a low profile, hoping to escape La Niña's attention.

When February arrived, we thought we had staved off any chance of snow for the winter, but no such luck.  On February 23, 2011 a Pacific low positioned itself off the coast in a perfect location to draw Arctic air down the Fraser Valley into Puget Sound.  At the same time, it pushed moisture from the ocean into western Washington.  This was a recipe for heavy snowfall and it came very quickly.  For a time, 30 miles of Interstate 5 was shut down in Skagit County north of Seattle where drivers where overwhelmed by the volume of snow.  Up to 14 inches/36 cm fell in some spots.

The BirdCam, now set up with safflower seed, caught some interesting winter weather action.  On South Fidalgo, about 6 inches/15 cm of snow fell in the morning.  By noon, it was already starting to melt.  In the photos above, we catch a Spotted Towhee, Dark-eyed Juncos and a female House Finch negotiating the snow to get to the seed.

With the ground covered by snow, the usual feeding sites are unavailable.  A group of House Finches (called a "development") and a Spotted Towhee take advantage of the BirdCam feeder.  The pink blur in the lower-right corner is caused by a water drop on the lens cover, one of the hazards of an unattended, outdoor camera.

A handsome Northern Flicker also attends the feeder.  This is a Red-shafted female lacking the red moustache mark of the male.  In my semi-wooded yard, Flickers are year-around residents.  They will soon begin their courtship dances at the top of a dead fir at the edge of the back garden.  The males also like to drum on my metal chimney cap...at 5 in the morning.

Towhees are the largest birds in the Sparrow family.  The Spotted Towhee is also a year-around resident on South Fidalgo and one of my favorites.  Again, the forest edge habitat of my yard is to their liking.  They nest near the ground hidden in dense shrubbery.  Our "oregonus" race is the least spotted of the species.

As the Towhee flies off, a Fox Sparrow checks out the safflower seed buffet.  These sparrows are abundant winter visitors in western Washington.  Their breeding range is Alaska, Canada and the northern US Rockies.  A group of Fox Sparrows is a "slyness."  Think "sly" like a Fox Sparrow, I guess.

By late afternoon, the snow started to fall again.  The BirdCam even managed to catch a falling snowflake.  Temperatures would drop into the teens and twenties and stay below freezing for the next few days.  Our normal February temperatures are in the 40's and 50's F (4° to 13° C).  As I write this, it is still below freezing and snowing again, but tomorrow promises the return of more normal conditions.

Species List:
  • Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
  • Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliacus)
  • House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
  • Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
  • Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)