Well, they were.
I, on the other hand, was getting gas at almost $5 a gallon.
They’re back, as I had hoped for!
Last October we started seeing a dozen or so of these cute, funny little birds in our back yards, the black-headed juncos. Then in April, they vanished, being migratory – except for Solo Junco, who stayed through the summer. (I mean, going to Canada for sex is great, but so is eating steady all year round, I guess?)
Looking back, it was October when they showed up last year, so I was on the lookout. Late last week I saw three of them. A couple days ago I saw nine or ten. They hop around and scatter and flit and fly all over the yard, so sometimes they’re hard to get an exact count on, and also it makes it tough to get a group photo. But thanks to the new supercomputer & high-end camera that I carry in my pocket, this afternoon I caught at least five in a single picture, out of the eight or nine that were there at the time.
Click to enlarge – can you spot the five juncos? Don’t be fooled, there are seven birds shown. Two are members of the flock of house finches that we have here year around.
The five juncos are circled in red, the two finches in green. Also not shown (off to the side) are the mourning doves, California towhees, and squirrel. Not to mention the lizards (which, to be honest, are mostly starting to hibernate for the winter.)
“What happened to all of the bird pictures?” I hear you asking. (No, really, I hear it.) Good question. “Life,” would be the answer, but said in character as Marvin the Paranoid Android (aka Marvin the Manically Depressed Robot).
But there are plenty of unseen bird pictures from earlier in the year, including a couple that I’ve never shown, so here you go!
I’ve only ever seen this guy four, maybe five times, and I’ve only gotten decent pictures twice. He’s a Spotted Towhee.
We have LOTS of California Towees. They’re pretty plain looking, dark, dark brown or gray.
The Spotted Towhee is quite stunning in comparison to their California cousins.
Black head, brownish-red belly, white band at the throat, black and white speckled back.
This one was living in our bushes for a month or two, from late April to mid July.
Not sure why this one moved on, especially given all of the free seed that gets scattered about every day.
However, since I only ever saw the one male, perhaps even daily free means wasn’t enough incentive to keep him here when female companionship was needed.
He obviously didn’t mind sharing the dinner table (i.e., the back yard) with the squirrels, mourning doves, California Towhees, juncos, and other residents.
I’ll keep an eye out. Maybe he’ll come back with a female that he’s regaled with tails of a California paradise.
Another quick, impromptu test of what the iPhone 13 will do. I was out in the yard, catching up on some cleanup work and I had been hearing the hawks for a few minutes. Just like the soundtrack of the establishing shot in every Western movie ever made…
I heard them getting closer, so pulled the phone out, put it in video mode and started recording. No tripod, no instructions, just let’s see what happens. Here’s a 10-second shot that I edited out, when the pair was right overhead and maybe 300-400 feet up.
The sound isn’t overwhelming, but turn it up and watch it in full screen mode. Right around the four-second mark, when the second hawk flys in from the top, you can hear them calling.
It doesn’t suck for a five minute break from yard work.
When I went to check the mail this afternoon, I started to notice feathers on the lawn as I approached the mailbox. Lots of feathers.
Feathers on the sidewalk. In the flowers. In the dirt.
Feathers on the sidewalk. Feathers in the street for 50 feet or more downwind in the street.
Somewhere nearby, there was a hawk (or an owl) who was going to eat well tonight. And one less mourning dove. (They’re a long, long way from rare.)
WARNING: From here I start to spout off about California and US politics…
So, let’s think about today’s California gubernatorial recall election, where currently, just before 23:00 PDT, the New York Times page is showing the recall failing 66% to 34% with 64% of the votes counted…
Let’s say that the mourning dove was the GOP, sitting fat and sassy, oblivious to reality, believing themselves immune from consequences…
Let’s say that the hawk (or owl) was the people of California, completely fed up with this 100% high grade toxic bullshit that the GQP is pushing…
Like the mourning doves, there’s plenty more where that one came from.
This is where the analogy starts to break down, because the least of those mourning doves is a veritable Rhodes Scholar compared to the GQP’s finest. Comparing the IQ and common sense of a Republican to a mourning dove is an insult to the mourning dove. I had better not be parking my car under any of the wires they perch on.
Case in point, the GQP started releasing web sites yesterday alleged voter fraud that cost them the election. Yep, they were saying that over 24-hours before the actual election. So take their fraud allegation story with a large grain of salt and recognize it as the insane, fascist, undemocratic lie that it is.
The reality that they can’t accept is that there is no massive secret conspiracy to rig the election in favor of the Democrats. The simple fact is that the Republicans are lower than whale shit and folks are no longer believing their lies.
As I’ve noted, my pinned Tweet says:
No need to change that any time soon that I can see.
And finally, to paraphrase a popular joke about lawyers:
What do you call 1,000,000 Republicans buried up their chins in sand?
Not enough sand!
We haven’t talked about the flying critters here recently. Let’s go back to that again, this time with some pictures of ravens.
Three batches of photos – the first is from a raven that sits on top of the telephone pole at the bottom of the driveway.
One of the traits that makes me believe these are ravens instead of crows is the squawking and croaking they do instead of the traditional “caw” sound that the crows make.
Another is that honkin’ huge beak. Plus, these guys will sit out there and “talk” to me (while the neighbors no doubt are mentally fitting me for a straight jacket) while the crows won’t.
In general, another trait I notice is that the ravens will perch lower down – on top of telephone poles, in the lower branches of the pines out in back, and so on. The crows seem to perch way up in the top of the trees.
Plus, the ravens seem to be larger, and they’re always loners while the crows tend to fly around in groups (“murders,” I know) of up to a couple dozen.
Ravens and crows are both very intelligent. I’m told they can learn to recognize individual humans, and they’ll hold a grudge if you try to hurt them.
I’m always trying to make friends, feeding them a little when I can. I would like to put out a suitable feeder, but the squirrels make that difficult.
When they squawk, they can make quite the ruckus. I’m not sure what they’re saying, but they’re certain of their sincerity.
I’m not so fond of the Baltimore football team named after them, but these guys are welcome any time. They’re great conversationalists, even if neither one of us understands the other.
On Sunday I told the story of a pair of red-tail hawks that I saw just after I got home with groceries. The first was the literal embodiment of “death from above,” while the second perched on the telephone pole across the street and gave me time to take some pictures.
Thank you for staying there while I grabbed the camera from inside the house!
What are you looking at? Okay, I know that I outweigh this dude (dudette? I don’t know) by about a factor of 100 or so, but I would still give him at least even odds if he really, REALLY decided to take his chances with me.
Now looking for lunch, having apparently decided that I’m not it. Probably too tough and stringy to eat.
Anything downhill? That’s where his mate went with her mourning dove entrée.
What’s that, a lizard? Or maybe one of the bunnies in the bushes?
After taking pictures for over five minutes and praying that he wouldn’t take off, I was now wanting to catch some photos of him flying off (and I needed to rescue those groceries from the car…). Finally he starts to stretch.
And he’s off! Look at those claws! Okay, so forget my 50/50 comment, the betting’s now 60/40 on the hawk.
You can see why their called “red-tailed” hawks! Out over the canyon and gone…
Time to go grab the groceries out of the car.
Two experiences today where I was either without a camera (and it happened really fast) or I had a camera and something happened too fast to move, focus, and shoot.
Experience The First – Death From Above
I had done my usual Sunday morning COVID-based grocery run and pick up of breakfast. As I pulled into the driveway and got out, I saw a pair of red-tail hawks circling a quarter-mile or so down to the south, maybe 500′ above us. I locked the car and walked around to the trunk, popped it open, and for whatever reason I looked south for the hawks and couldn’t see them. As I looked, I heard the cry of a hawk directly overhead (exactly like the sound effect used in every Western since the first talkie hit the flicks), looked up, and saw one of them with wings tucked, in a full dive. “Death From Above” indeed!
Across the street, perched on a telephone wire, was a mourning dove. The hawk at the last second in an eyeblink extended his wings, hit the brakes, extended his claws, and that mourning dove EXPLODED into a cloud of feathers. Out of this fluttering mass of feathers emerged the hawk with its lunch, struggling a bit with the weight of its prey, but as the hill drops of pretty swiftly it made it off with no problem into the trees a couple of houses down.
As I was picking up my jaw from seeing that, the other red-tail hawk swooped in low from behind our house, crossed to where the kill had been, and perched on the power line transformer on top of the pole. I have to wonder if it went there since it was very close to where the kill had just happened, the hawk logic being that where there was one fat, slow bird, there might be others. This time I did grab my camera (as I took the cold food and hot breakfast into the house) and spent several minutes taking pictures as the second hawk scanned the neighborhood for its lunch. It finally flew off to look elsewhere, just as the memory card on my camera filled up. (RAW files will do that…)
Pictures will follow this week (probably) as I get time to process them.
Experience The Second – Buzzed By Fighters
After replacing the memory card with a new one, I was out taking pictures of the hummingbirds. There’s a whole drama thing going on with them (again, pictures to follow one of these days) but at one point the very territorial male Anna’s Hummingbird was chasing a Rufous Hummingbird away from one of the feeders.
I had been taking pictures of the Anna’s and through the lens saw the Rufous zoom through the field of view toward the feeder. The Anna’s took off like a Spitfire scrambling to take on fleet of German bombers during the Battle of Britain. The Rufous did a hard right and headed right toward my face with the Anna’s, neon red neck feathers on full display, right behind them. They went past my left ear just slightly under Mach One, just like a biological Top Gun dogfight.
It was awesome!
I don’t know if a newer, faster, better camera would have caught it (it might have – they’re pretty good these days, especially at the high end, while my two are like fifteen years old) but my didn’t even try, so no pictures for you, sorry!
“Pics Or It Didn’t Happen!”
Don’t even start with me…
As we put a stake in the heart of May and bid it adieu, another new bird showed up out of nowhere today.
Yellow birds stand out – we don’t get many of them. Which is why I was so surprised to see this one just a couple of days after the yellow-headed blackbird showed up here.
My first thought was that it might be one of the yellow-rumped warblers that we have all over, which don’t have what *I* would consider to be exceedingly yellow rumps, but maybe this was a different sex or subspecies than I normally see. But the Cornell Lab app says differently.
The Merlin app at Cornell Labs identifies this bird as a “Pacific-slope flycatcher.” It also notes that they’re almost identical and difficult to distinguish from the Cordilleran flycatcher – but the Pacific-slope flycatcher’s range includes Southern California and the coast, while the Cordilleran flycatcher stays in the mountains of Arizona and down into Mexico.
Which makes me wonder. I haven’t been obsessed with seeing and IDing different birds – but on the other hand I have been watching and keeping my eyes open and living within a mile or two of here for thirty years. So is there some improvement in my observations that has multiple new species being seen here in just the last few months? Or are we actually getting more variety and newer-ish species of birds coming into this area?