Cabin Birds (Earth Day 2020)

My love of birds was born by spending time at my family’s cabin above the backs of the San Lorenzo River in the Santa Cruz Mountains. My grandma put up a feeder on one corner of the deck that attracted the local chestnut-backed chickadees, pygmy nuthatches, and Steller’s jays.

While I was planning to spend my Spring Break traveling on the California Zephyr to Chicago, the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench into the works (and changes the lives of others across the world). Instead I headed down to my cabin to shelter in place.

The spring is one of my favorite times at my cabin. Things are finally starting to dry out and temps are gradually warming up. You really start to feel, see and hear the changing of the seasons.

First you feel the air warm against your skin. You start to see the world of green slowly coming alive on the trees and bushes from the desk. And you start to hear the sounds of the neotropic migrants arriving on there summer breeding grounds.

These are the birdsongs that I have not heard in almost a year and I sometimes have to become reacquainted with them, like hearing the voice of a forgotten friend.

The most vocal newly arrived avian member is the diminutive Wilson’s warbler. This little flash of gold is a very vocal member of the spring choir. It calls constantly from the midsts of trees out back. The males at this time of year are setting up their breeding territories and also hoping to attract new-arrived females.

Another migrant is the Pacific-slope flycatcher, of the tricky genus Empidonax. Most of these similar flycatchers can be identified by call alone and I far more ofter hear the “pee-wheet” call of the Pac-slope. Welcome home.

A resident that becomes very vocal at this time is the diminutive Pacific wren, which boasts one of the fastest songs in the avian world at about 32 notes per second! What is amazing is that such a small, drab looking bird can create such a loud and splendid song. I painted a wren from a photograph of a singing male in my backyard bramble.

A pair of common mergansers roosting near the waters of the San Lorenzo River.

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