Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bird Watching

It's a birder's paradise here Amongst The Oaks. Not only do we live on the Pacific Flyway so we get plenty of visiting birds throughout the year, but our little ecosystem beneath the oaks maintains a special year-round bird population. We always have Acorn Woodpeckers, Red Shafted Flickers, Sparrows, Finches, and Crows. Also Hummingbirds, Jays, Robins, Doves, and Starlings. My favorites are the Anna's Hummingbirds. In June of this year we found a nest with two tiny eggs in it and watched them as they hatched, grew and flew away all within 45 days. The photo above shows the two babies the day before they left the nest. It was getting a little crowded, wasn't it? Just yesterday a hummingbird hovered 2' from my head with its magenta throat glinting in the sun. It didn't seem afraid of me; I wonder, was that one of our babies?

Another of my favorites is the Mockingbird. Very early in the mornings they can be heard running through their repertoire and if you watch long enough, you'll see them fly up into the air a few feet and then settle back down, singing all the while. It seems to me they just can't contain their enthusiasm for life. I also enjoy seeing Mourning Doves snuggling on the power lines, they seem so faithful to their mates. Another attractive bird here is the Robin. They frequently gather on the wet lawns searching for worms, but must compete with non-native Starlings. I find the Starlings annoying; they've adapted too well and there are now large groups of them chattering and waddling where the robins used to feed.

Another common resident, not necessarily one of my favorites, is the Western Scrub Jay. They seem bold and pushy to me. They will often dive down squawking an alarm just to scare the robins away. A pair nested in our climbing rose once and hatched four eggs, but the babies left the nest before they could fly and I'm afraid they ended up as kitty breakfast. One year a particularly bold jay took to hopping about on our patio table while we were using it. We had to be careful because it stole small items like pencils. Then it started coming in the kitchen through the open door. I made the mistake of feeding it to get this photo, and then it really became a nuisance. See what I mean about bold and pushy?

During the winter several species make their way through our area. One winter our persimmon tree was inundated with Cedar Waxwings. It was a beautiful sight to see their colorful forms among the bare branches. They stayed for several days eating every last bit of fruit off that tree, then they were gone. Ruby Crowned Kinglets and Dark Eyed Juncos spend some time in our garden every winter too. Their fluttering and chirping is always a welcome addition to our winter garden. To help me identify these seasonal visitors I use Cornell's site. Their recordings are fabulous for positive identification.

Our high flying predators are Barn Owls, Great Horned Owls, Red Tailed Hawks, Swainson's Hawks and Cooper's Hawks. The owls eat pesky rodents, but it's common to see songbirds harrassing the hawks because they eat their young. By walking only a few blocks, I can see Phoebes, Kingfishers, Barn Swallows, and Geese around the sloughs and man-made lakes. With a trip to the marina we can easily see Turkey Vultures, Herons, Bitterns, Mallards, and Coots. A friend of ours is re-establishing Wood Ducks along a creek near his home. Venturing into the surrounding farmland we can see Red Winged Blackbirds, Ring Necked Pheasants, Meadowlarks, Killdeer, and California Quail. If we venture further afield, we can easily see migrating Swans, Sandhill Cranes, Egrets and Geese. We make a point of visiting these Sandhill Cranes every winter. I've always enjoyed watching birds, how 'bout you?

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