Dear Jane and Other Nature Lovers,
My blog voice has been silent for about a month now – first my computer crashed, then a vertebrae in my spine compressed, and finally the worldwide pandemic came to our town – all three within the same month. Grappling with the enormity of the pandemic on top of everything else momentarily overwhelmed me.
But here I am today, at my repaired computer, finally sitting up, and praying that the osteoporotic curve in my back and the pandemic curve of COVID-19 will both flatten and that all of us and our loved ones will come through this. Let’s hope this tragic time leads to inner and outer transformation throughout the world.
I loved reading about your hummingbird nest discovery, Jane. It once again reminds me that the river is not only an eating and resting place for birds, but a place where birds give birth. The corollary is that it is a place we must protect as a wildlife refuge and not as a recreational area. That is the goal we set when we conceived this blog more than five years ago, and the one we still hold to. PROTECT WILDLIFE.
Speaking of hummingbirds, I was thrilled to see two migrant RUFOUS HUMMMINGBIRDS darting madly in and out of the huge Mexican honeysuckle bush in my neighbor Bob’s yard. I always feel a little ambivalent when the Allen’s and Rufous hummingbirds arrive each spring from their winter home south of the border. It is exciting to see these beautiful birds, especially the male Rufous with his orange-tinted coppery feathers and iridescent red throat. But I always feel a little ambivalent as well, knowing that our less belligerent and year-round ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS will probably have their well-established territories, and maybe even their nests, usurped by the two pushy selasphorus species.
My neighbors on the other side, Michael Levy and Batya Kagan, both birders, have been discussing with me at some length if the bird we are seeing is a Rufous or an Allen’s. The Allen’s mostly have a green back and rufous colored belly and flanks, while the entire back, belly and breast of the Rufous is pretty much an orange-tinted coppery color. The throat (gorget) of the Rufous in good light is a stunning iridescent red color, while the Allen’s is more orangish. There are exceptions but we finally agreed that what we were seeing was the Rufous. It had to be a migrant passing through, since this species breeds mostly in Oregon, Washington, Canada and Alaska. The Allen’s, on the other hand, have a much more limited breeding area, confined basically to a thin strip along the coast of California. So, it was a privilege to catch a glimpse of the Rufous on its 3900 mile-long journey from Mexico to southern Alaska.
I read a little more about the Rufous and discovered this species has the longest flight of any hummingbird in the world, and the northernmost breeding range of any hummingbird in the world. Such accomplishments may explaiin why it is also extremely aggressive, having been reported to chase chipmunks from their nests. They trace a counter-clockwise movement during their migration, flying up the Pacific coast in the spring and returning in the fall via the Rocky Mountains. So now is the time to get a look at them. If you miss them now, you will have to wait until next spring. If you see a coppery hummingbird later in the summer you can be pretty sure it is a nesting Allen’s you are seeing.
The SCRUB JAYS have been very actively courting in my backyard, pecking each others’ beaks quite energetically as they prepare to mate. I think the highpoint of my backyard birding during the last month has been the sight of a male scrub jay just two days ago flying towards his lady love with a big red Mexican honeysuckle flower in his beak (see photo of honeysuckle bush above). He landed right next to her in my apple tree, brought the flower to her beak, she promptly accepted the gift and swallowed it. How I wish I had a photo of that for all of you. You’ll just have to imagine it!
Before I was laid low by a collapsed vertebrae, I caught this intriguing photo of a RED-TAILED HAWK on the levee. I knew that owls had incredibly flexible necks, but I did a double take before I could figure out that this was a red-tailed hawk whose head had turned 180 degrees in the opposite direction. He certainly has it on me in terms of bone flexibility.
Also, before my double confinement, my neighbor Batya showed me a huge flock of about 150 CEDAR WAXWINGS congregating on a tall sycamore tree, chattering excitedly in their high-pitched, thin voices that I almost can’t hear. They had been feasting for days on the purple berries of a Privet tree nearby and had created a purple polka-dotted roadway to memorialize their visit. Errhh, thanks guys.
Batya pointed out to me that these birds are among the few that exist primarily on fruits. I began to wonder how they could find enough fruits, and also began to wonder why we either saw huge flocks of them, or otherwise none. We did a little research and discovered that their fruit-eating ways are connected to their nomadic ways. They have to cover huge stretches of territory, gorge on the fruits in season, and then move on to a new area where fruits are just coming in.
Jane, I loved your spelling of COVID-19 as CORVID-19. Maybe a Freudian slip, suggesting your displeasure at certain crow behaviors? Or was it the helpful/unhelpful work of Microsoft Word?
Here’s a bonus photo of a bushtit nest that was discovered on the ground near the Chinatown Bridge way back in 2015 on a Bird Club walk with our beloved and deceased bird guru Steve Gerow who identified the empty nest for us.
Be well, everyone. Stay connected to Nature, our great teacher. We are going through something BIG together.