Cabin Birds Part Two (Audubon’s Birthday)

“Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm.” —John Muir

“to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go”. -Mary Oliver

Spending two weeks during my Spring Break at my cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains gave me the opportunity to slow down and notice the most important things in life. That is life itself. (A nod to you Mr. Ebert)

Birding just adds another layer to experience. It is a soundtrack that not many hear. To those aware, the signs of spring are everywhere. To the calls of the Pacific wren and dark-eyed junco to the sounds of the newly arrived neotropic migrants like Wilson’s warbler, Pacific-slope flycatcher, and black-headed grosbeak. The latter bird I heard on my last day at my cabin, when I heard a district “clip” contact call. I headed out to the deck to see this beautiful flash of orange, back, and white.

This was a First of Season (FOS) bird for me. The males arrive on their breeding grounds from Mexico just ahead of the females and the males proclaim their place in the world with their robin-like song. This has always been a favorite cabin bird and it arrives in mid April most years.

The sky above the San Lorenzo River is filled with newly arrived swallows at this time of year. The most common species are tree and violet-green swallows. Swallows are insectivores and are aerial acrobats that catch flying insects on the wing. Like the Swallows of San Juan Capistrano, swallows are a sign of renewed and the turning of the season from winter to spring.

The aerial insectivore, one of North America’s most beautiful swallow.

Just as I was packing up the car to return to San Fransisco, the natural world gave me a parting gift. I noticed that a pair of chestnut-backed chickadees were cleaning out one of the nesting boxes that I had built and hung on a redwood near the parking lot. This gives me such a sense of joy that I have played a small part in helping to create life.

The two weeks I spent in Paradise was a great was to slow down and really appreciate life.


The Renewal of Life

Marin Headlands-Sunday March 24, 2019

This morning I spent a few hours in one of my favorites places in the Bay Area, the Marin Headlands. For 14 seasons I spent each fall as a volunteer hawk bander for the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory (GGRO) but now I was here in the early spring.

The signs of spring were all around. Especially with the avian fauna of this open space, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

When I pulled in to the parking lot of the visitor’s center, a quarter of a hour after eight, I heard the call of a northern flicker, followed by rapid drumming on metal. This was a sign of a male proclaiming his place in the breeding world and he was using a roof vent  on one of the old military buildings to help amplify his announcement. Shortly afterwards I saw a pair flying from tree to tree. This was followed by an American crow flying overhead with a twig in it’s beak, a sure sign of nest building.

Spotted towhee at the Marin Headland Visitor’s Center.

Another sign of spring was the shear depth of bird song. Spotted towhees were calling from the coyote brush and a hidden purple finch was letting loose his fluid song from the top of a eucalyptus. Juncos trilled from the roof and as I walked west along the eastern shore of Rodeo lagoon with Dickcissel, a first of season (FOS) song made me dig into the depths of the catalog of bird songs in my head to identify a singing male Wilson’s warbler, recently arrived from the south.

A FOS singing Wilson’s warbler.

Along the trail, bushtits, normally found in large groups, were now only found in pairs as they foraged and prepared for nesting season. Orange-crowned and Wilsons’s warblers sang from the upper branches of trees. Ravens playful harassed a red-tailed hawk (ravens seem to do this all year long, to the annoyance of red-tails).

We came upon a chestnut-backed chickadee excavating a nesting cavity in a tree, prepared for a future brood of birds. The chickadee would disappear into the tree cavity and reappear with tiny bits of wood in it’s beak. Time for some spring cleaning!

A spring cleaning chestnut-backed chickadee.

Spring was certainly here and the biological clock proclaimed the hour. This is the time of growth and renewal!