Saturday, August 30, 2003

August 30, 2003
There hasn’t been too much activity for the last few days. I used to have a lot of migrating rufous by this time of year, but this year (and last) I haven’t seen any (except maybe a couple of glimpses). I’m sure it’s because so many trees in the neighborhood have been cut down. Very sad. (And we lost another mature mesquite a few days ago to a monsoon.)

On the other hand, there have been a lot of black chins, broad bills, and Anna’s, and the occasional sound of a broad tail. Most of these guys are fat and obviously just passing through.

A couple of days ago I heard (then saw) a mockingbird that seemed to be in distress. It’s way too late in the season for a baby to be down, and then I realized that this guy *was* a baby, or rather a juvenile (very short tail). His distress call was to his parents, to come feed him, which they have been doing pretty continually.

The biggest news is that we now have a cardinal feeder, but none of the cards has come even close to figuring it out, even though I have the lid off. A white wing figured it out right away, but those are the guys I’m most trying to keep away from the seeds. In the meantime, we continue to put seeds on the bench in the front patio, and the juveniles continue to eat them, growing more daring every day. Now if only they would notice the cornucopia of seeds practically in front of their beaks….

Saturday, August 16, 2003

August 16, 2003
There is a beautiful blondish coyote we sometimes see when walking on the river walk. It looks well fed and its coat is thick and healthy-looking, unlike the scruffy, unkempt appearance of so many urban coyotes. We usually see it around 7 AM, trotting purposefully north from the brush to the south, then across the river walk and down the bank, across the river, and into the brush and scrub on the north side of the river bottom. I always assume it’s going home after a hard night of stalking and eating pet cats.

Anyway, we’ve had a lot of rain in the mountains, and yesterday the river was flowing. On our way back from our walk we saw the coyote just ahead, walking purposefully toward the river bank. It reached the bank, had one foot out to start down, then it did a double take and just stared into the torrent. It turned around and started to trot back where it came from, then turned again, and again approached the bank. Again it stared down into the water for a few moments, then finally gave up, returning to the scrubby deserty area to the south.

It was actually quite comical. You could almost see the thought balloons forming in the coyote’s head. “Whoa! What’s this?” Then, “No way, I must have imagined that.” Then, upon approaching the river again, “Yikes! That’s really water! What’s it doing there? …. Guess I’ll have to try again later.”

Monday, August 11, 2003

August 11, 2003
More dominance stuff: A beautiful mockingbird (to me, these two words go together), feeding off a grapefruit slice on top of the redwood planter, was approached by a towhee, who ran along the ground, looking up to see what was so interesting/delicious. The mocker merely gave the towhee a Look that apparently said, “I could peck you to death if I wanted to.” Without further ado, the towhee quickly retreated.

Lizards: I love lizards. They are so interesting to watch, and there are so many different kinds around here. For example, I love to watch the little geckos (almost certainly Mediterranean geckos, an introduced species) cling to the screens at night, waiting to catch bugs. When you turn on the porch light, you can see right through their skin and study their innards. The other day I saw a “horny toad” in the neighborhood, the first I have seen around here. I remember them well from my childhood. We used to believe that they could spit tobacco juice from their eyes. (Actually, they can expel blood from their eyes to frighten off predators.) Also I love to watch those guys that zip along the sand on their hind legs, tails in the air.

I actually just found out that the guys who run on their hind legs are collared lizards (the ones with blue bellies are spiny lizards). Walking along the wash the other day, I saw a collared lizard run up the side of the wash, across the path, and up another incline, faster than I could think. I started imagining that this is how birds might have gotten started--with some little dinosaurs that ran like the collared lizards. Maybe one day one of them ran like that to escape a predator. And maybe he just happened to have a mutation that gave him webbed fingers or very flat forelimbs. Anyway, maybe he just happened to soar a little ways--away from the startled and disappointed predator. Then he passed this useful trait on to his children, and so on….

I often wish I could have been around in the days of dinosaurs, to hear them. I’ll bet that a lot of them sounded like birds, with chirps and songs. There would also be raucous cries and roars. It must have been a wonderful cacophony.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

August 9, 2003
Lots of bird activity this morning! (It’s a nice, warm, soon to be hot and humid typical monsoon day.) For example, there’s a lovely little goldfinch (Lesser, I’m pretty sure, but I’m not going to tell him that) eating the poisonous seeds on the lantana. Last night a ferocious windstorm knocked down the last grapefruit, and this morning I sliced it for the birds. A few minutes ago a mockingbird was helping himself and rebuffing a young cardinal, who hung around, waiting not-too-patiently, then finally hopped up when the mockingbird left. I’ve observed that mostly all a dominant bird has to do is take a threatening step or hop toward the bird it wants to scare off (unlike the white-wing that pecked the juvey cardinal the other day).

But here’s the big news. Last evening toward sunset I heard a tremendous racket--it sounded like a gazillion young begging cardinals. I looked out at the seed feeder, and there were FOUR of them. Two were very young (from their smaller size, short tails, and lack of any red), one was mottled red and orange, with his bill beginning to turn orange, and one hopped away before I could observe him carefully. It was interesting that the one turning colors was willing to let the babies feed with him.

Earlier this morning I had a juvenile hummer feeding from the feeder right outside my office window. It was quite small with a very short bill and tail, and mostly grey with a white, heavily mottled chest. A quick glance at Sheri Williamson’s wonderful hummingbird book makes me think it is probably a young female Anna’s.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

August 7, 2003
Whoops! This morning I did see three nearly-grown chicks with a mom and pop quail family. So the two-juvenile family is another set. Haven’t noticed the one-offspring family for a while, and never saw the large family with very young chicks after the first time. Maybe I totally traumatized them away from the yard. I do have to say that this is a banner quail year for me, because it’s the first in which I have seen any babies at all in my actual yard.

There have been a lot of towhees around--feeding mostly in the back of the yard in the sunflower feeder, but I’ve also seen them scratching under the suet feeder. They sound a bit like baby cardinals, but without the whistling-teakettle overtones. They seem to be dominant to everything but white-wings, who dominate mostly because of their size. (Yesterday evening I saw a white-wing peck a juvenile cardinal that continued to feed on seeds after the white-wing arrived).

And speaking of the juveniles, there actually are quite a few still visiting. There’s a male who has become quite red and whose beak is beginning to lose its black color. I don’t know if he’s a juvey from this year or not. There’s also a very curious and bold juvenile that I assume is a female (because very little red anywhere) who seems to be around a lot.

We’ve started putting a few seeds in the front patio as an experiment, and she (or another bold female) has found them. This morning I startled her away from the bench with the seeds, then stopped still and watched while she regarded me through the glass door, then slowly… slowly… made her way back to the bench. Hopping from flower pot to flower pot, stopping after each move to look at me and then look around, then hopping closer… finally onto the outside edge of the bench… Once last glance up at me, then BAM! She darted in, snatched a seed, and flew off to the presumed safety of the side yard to enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

August 5, 2003
I haven’t seen anything new for a few days. One of the quail families that I’ve seen several times over the last few days has two nearly-grown chicks. I fear that is the quail family that had three chicks until recently. At any rate, I haven’t seen a family with three feeding anytime lately

One interesting thing about the quail families is that they don’t usually all feed together. Usually, the mama and chicks feed first, while the Lord and Master watches over them from on top of the wall. He always looks very regal. I assume this is a wild-bird thing, where he keeps watch to make sure there aren’t any predators around. Then after a while he comes and feeds. The others often fly up to the wall, wander around, or just continue foraging while he eats.

Friday, August 01, 2003

August 1, 2003
Things have been somewhat slow--I guess because most of the birds have finished raising their families. But not quite. The young quail families continue to show up. The three-child and one-child quail families are now pretty much groups of adults. The children are nearly adult-sized, and their Mohawks are turning into recognizable topknots. Still not much body striping, though, and I haven’t been able to figure out who’s a girl and who’s a boy, though I’m keeping close watch.

The cardinals, too, have pretty much dispersed. I still see occasional juveniles seeking sunflower seeds or pecking under the suet feeder, but far fewer and less often. I expect that some of them have perished or flown off elsewhere to set up their own territories. On the other hand, yesterday I heard the unmistakable whistling-teakettle sound of a young cardinal, and saw Mr. Cardinal--one of the regular fathers--with one begging baby. They were back again today. The baby is pretty developed, and I may not have noticed it because I haven’t been watching as intently as I did earlier in the season. Also, the citrus crop is finished for the year, and I’m only putting out sliced fruit occasionally.

Finally--today I saw an important first! Not a new bird, but the very first bunny rabbit I’ve ever seen in my yard. He was an adorable cotton-tail, it was around 2 PM, and he was nosing around the rose bushes. A few minutes later he disappeared out the side hole in the wall.