Friday, January 11, 2013

Midwinter Visitors: 

I am not what you call a “bird person” – However I enjoy paying attention to the natural world that I encounter. This week I want to share with you the most common birds that visit our home in the Niles part of Fremont Ca. this time of year.  I have written about those that I see, and I have included some of my own photos...

Belted Kingfisher - famous for aerial diving for small fish

1.     If I step into my back yard in the dark of night I frequently hear the grebes calling and arguing in the Quarry Lakes Park... They are unrestrained because they think they are all alone in the night...   I would go spy on them – but for that I would need a light – and if I shown a light they would become quiet.  What are they doing ... is it part of a mating ritual or are they simply being in touch with each other..?  Listen to the call of the grebe:

Great White Heron - Standing motionless waiting for food to pass by
2.     In  the early morning as I walk out to collect my newspaper,  I hear pairs of timid Brown Towhees calling to each other.  Seldom do I see or hear one alone. As they hunt on the ground they call back and forth to keep in touch"with their mate.  Their calling song is easily recognized:

Red tail Hawk - Major predator of mice and ground squirrels in the spring

3.     My old friend the Scrub Jay has not moved on for these coldest months. I see him searching for food and warming in the morning sun.  For several years I have seen one particular jay come and perch right next to where I am working in the garden... He is very tame and I talk to him in a gentle voice.  I don’t know why I am so nice to him – he eats my fruit and makes rude squawks!  By April they will meet up with their mate and will spiff up the old nest in the thorny lemon tree.

Scrub Blue Jay
4.     Every year our neighborhood population of crows seems to grow.  At time I see 20 or more in our street or roosting in a tree... All talking at once, strutting around with confidence, just like a happy family with everyone stating his or her opinions without hesitation!  I have changed my feelings toward crows from thinking of them as a nuisance to thinking of them as amazingly smart and adaptive birds.  I love their behaviors... I talk to them too... trying to imitate the number and tone pattern of their “caws”  - sometimes we carry on a conversation back and forth for several minutes.  I wonder what I are saying to him or her?

5.  In my back yard Anna’s Humming Birds can find nectar all winter long. I have planted a variety of native California and Mediterranean plants that produce just the kind of flowers that humming birds and butterflies are attracted to.  I often see the hummingbird  perched on the top most twig on a tree soaking in the sunlight. In the cold of night they enter a torpor state like short term hibernation  - but when the sun shines again they are up and active.   Part of their “song” is caused by rapid movement of air past their tail feathers!

Sea gulls often travel far from the sea in search of anything tasty
6.     Not a daily winter visitor but common are the White Crown Sparrows- their plaintive cry has a special attraction for me... They often forage in small groups, calling to each other as they move along to keep everyone together.  Note the two white marks on the head.  They are omnivores and enjoy both seeds and insects...Listen to their distinctive call:

Avocet probing the sand in the surf zone
7.     I am startled each January to hear first a few then a mass of Cedar Waxwings.  I love dearly their clown like antics and their bobbing top notch head feathers. But its their cry that first alert me  to their presence. A whole gang of them will fly rapidly past in a great flurry of speed and feathers. The down side of Cedar Waxwings is their poop contains plant seeds in huge numbers that will grow into plants that I have to dig out for the next year.

Cedar Waxwings often travel in a flock!
8.     Robins love soil just soaked with rain – they stand alone or a small distance apart from their colleagues with their heads slightly turned (the better to hear movement of critters in the soil below). They are common for us but we once saw in a large inner zoo in Cracow Poland, a large fenced cage  with one  “North American Robin on the sign  Anything becomes rare, exotic, and wonderful when it is carried when carried away from  its natural setting. You are sure to recognize this call:  .

Grey pelicans have taken over this boat in Monterrey Bay!

9.  My robin sized black headed Junko friends keep us company in the Bay Area in the mid winter - but them we see them again in the High Sierra meadows in the summer.  As with other birds migration is all about going to where the food source is rich and easily available. They are easily recognized with their dark head and their song is distinctive.
Canada Goose has many reptilian qualities...
10.     The bird everyone loves to hate is the Canada Goose – they are beautiful birds. When I look at them, I can easily believe that all birds evolved from dinosaurs.. when I consider how reptilian are the birds skin, bones, and foot print. A few years ago Canada Geese were rare in my area. Our protective laws, available food and habitat, removal of natural predators all contribute to their current success.

Turkey Vulture - they get 'bad press' but they are a vital part of the food chain
11.     OK – one rare bird that I seldom see and this one I have now see three times within the last two weeks - almost in my back yard!  A burrowing owl!  The natural habitat of burrowing owls has been greatly reduced when native land is plowed, digging up their burrows.  Each time, this little girl flew up onto a fence wire and watched me with tilted head as I walked past.(I also talked to her but she didn’t respond.) I hope she moves in to stay.

Link of the week:  Dont miss!!:  "Life and work aboard the international space station..."     ....sent by my cousin Laverne Zlatnik
Be sure to view 'full-screen'.

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Mixed group of White Pelicans, Cormorants, Ducks, and Egrets