Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Winter is here... but, so is Spring, say the birds

© 2012 Joshua Stark

Last week we got our first Winter storm (1/2" of rain in 24 hours) and this week the storm doors have really opened up.  It looks like Winter through the week and on into the next.  For here, that means rain and rain and more rain in the Valley, and big snows in the aptly named Sierra Nevada. 

Of course this happens during my wife's two-week break from her 70-hour-per-week job, and my chance to get outside and work in the yard and garden...

Speaking of the garden, the severe temperature swings over the last few days (70 degrees F to 35), plus my not-by-the-minute watering, have caused my three-inch cabbages to bolt.  Thankfully, the bok choy and collard greens still look good.

The trees and vines are happy, and a few successful cuttings from my first pomegranate pruning are leafing out.  The latter is especially exciting, as I am happy to get additional trees started for either privacy from the neighbors or for sale (both?).  Heck, I could start a pomegranate orchard... if I had more than 1/8 acre, including house. 

To me, the real signs of Spring come from the sky: the local birds are paired up.  Scrub jays, mockingbirds, yellow-billed magpies and white-tailed kites are among the bigger nesting birds in our neighborhood.  The poor doves (Zenaida macroura, mourning doves) are as dumb as posts when it comes to nest location and building, building on grates, in windy spots, or so close to the door that they spook and knock their eggs through their horribly constructed nests.  The act would be quite funny if it weren't so tragic in its conclusions and came with such a melancholy song to go with it.  Nevertheless, mourning doves seem to have taken a page from the rock doves and Eurasion collared doves and are becoming quite successful city dwellers.  

I'm always happy to see our endemic magpies, Pica nuttalli, the yellow-bills.  Like all magpies, they have suffered greatly from the invasion of West Nile virus, and I fear their numbers might not adapt quickly enough to survive.  They are wonderfully colorful, and a little exotic to me, as there were never any magpies on the Delta where I grew up.  We would only see them on trips to the movies or the grocery store "in town", a forty mile drive. 

The kites are amazing flyers, passing food in mid-flight and doing other tricks, showing off to one another, and also careening into the neighborhood redtailed hawk.  They make a great example for a successful marriage.

If you've never seen Elanus leucurus you are missing out on a wonderful show.  Their hunting style is rare: they not only kite, per their name (every raptor around here kites, else they'd never eat, what with the wind). Kites hover.  Only two other birds I know hover around here, hummingbirds and kestrels.  In fact, their striking colors, plus their hovering ability and, I'm sure, their breathtaking stoops (a straight drop from hover, wings extended above) have given them another common name:  Angel kites.

We also have regular "lbb's", little brown birds of various species.  Our gigantic trees allow a number of mountain migrants to overwinter, and we often see nuthatches, creepers, juncos (whose tiny, sweet song I noticed for the first time this year), and the occasional warbler in them.  In the backyard cover, a hermit thrush makes an appearance.  A nuttall's woodpecker visits the walnut tree.  High overhead, snow geese and white-fronted geese pass to and from the local wetlands conservancy, fattening up for the couple-thousand-mile trek to Alaska for the Summer.

And, frustratingly, since my neighbors cut down their palm tree home, a mugging of starlings now pressures and bullies and pushes their way into other birds' nests.  Vile European colonists spreading their urbanizing, monochromatic influence into the neighborhood, literally kicking out eggs onto the street.  Yes, I get the irony.

Sacramento is still blessed with a good variety of birds, even with the colonizers, because of our location (on a waterfowl flyway and at the bottom of a ten thousand foot mountain range) and the amount of land we conserve for habitat.  Shoot, we even have a federally protected Wild & Scenic River running right through the city proper.

Listening to the birds, I am heartened.  I know that Spring is springing, even in this storm.  All's right with the world.
The typical salacious photo to get all the reader traffic going...


Hippo said...

You make it sound like the nicest place in the world!

If you like twitching, you'd love it here, the place is swarming with birds none of which, I am sad to say, I can identify except to say, Kingfisher, Looks-Like-A-Toucan-But-They-Don't-Have-Toucans-Here-So-It-Isn't-A-Toucan-But-It-Sure-Looks-Like-One, Eagle, Like-An-Eagle-But-Smaller etc.

I will have to get myself a book.

Bpaul said...

"a mugging of starlings"

Bravo sir, bravo.

Your blog pal up North (who doesn't blog anymore),


Josh said...

Hippo, it is a very nice place. I love your style of birdwatching (I had to understand "twitching" in context). It reminds me of a line in a movie about a famous physicist. In it, the man as a young boy asks his Dad "what is that bird?" and the man describes it to him. Then the boy says, "But, what is its name?" And the man says something like, "To know its name isn't to know the thing." I'd rather have your experiences with those birds than a checklist.

Bpaul, thanks! I needed some word to describe what those little devils do. By the way, what are you doing, lately?

Bpaul said...

In the realms of our shared interest (other than raising/supporting family, etc) -- airgun hunting on organic farms, a bit of nettle foraging, waiting on morels, Working working working on boar hunting permissions on private land in your neck of the woods, waterfowling for the past few years, making my own fertilizer, still slowly learning to keep bees (lots of lessons there). But mostly, working and raising up munchkinface, who is turning 3 soon.

Thanks for asking,


Hippo said...

Hell, Josh, that is the nicest way anyone has told me I am thick!

Seriously, I was very pleased to see you put it that way. I have never had time to just look around me and see what is there. Now that I do, I regret not being able to answer my boy's questions but we all enjoy the nature I now live amongst and that is no little compensation for my ignorance.

Bpaul, sounds like an honourable vocation you have.

Josh said...

Bpaul, if I had a good private spot, I'd let you know about it. However, I do have advice for pig hunting in California: if you can't get free permission to hunt somebody's property, then hunt them through Bryson-Hesperia resort:


Deedy is a hell of a tracker and guide, and she offers a semi-guided hunt for $250, which is waaay cheaper than any other place I've found. In her spare time, she head-hunts lost cattle and kills mountain lions on owners' depredation permits. She knows her stuff. She hunts on local farmers' properties; it isn't a closed-fence operation.
(She doesn't remember me, I'm sure, and I sure as heck don't make any money from pitching her here.)

Josh said...

Hippo, "thick" is the last thing I'd call you, even in a backhanded compliment.

I did a bit of poking around... okay, I googled, "birds of Angola", and found this website:


Also, there is a wikipedia entry on Angola's birds (probably written by the chap at Birds Angola).

I'd give up my computer to be able to "live amongst nature"...

Bpaul said...

Thanks for the tip. I often start off a new fishing area by hiring a guide once to get a feel for it. This might be a good intro into California piggies.


Josh said...

Bpaul, if you get down here, definitely let me know; maybe I'll meet you.

Bpaul said...

That's a "when" sir. May be years but I'll hunt boar in Cali yet. Bank on it.