Category Archives: Birds

The Owl Returns

I mentioned a few days ago that I realized that I hadn’t heard the owls in a while.

Last night, at least one of them was back, loud and proud, right across the street.

I’ve taken out the 18 to 20 seconds of traffic noises, sirens, and low flying aircraft in between each hoot, turning about 120 seconds real time into 26 seconds of hooting.

I’m glad they’re back – I hope more follow. I love it when three or four of them get hooting across the canyons.

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Fine Feathered Friends – August 07th

Last Monday I heard the resident front yard mockingbirds making quite a racket. They make very good guards. A racket generally means something’s up, predator wise.

I recognized this guy immediately. I’ve seen him from a distance and knew he was in the neighborhood.

Usually it’s down in the canyon below the house, sitting on top of a power pole. I’m pretty sure its nest is in the top of a pine tree right next to the pole.

Its call is very distinctive (the first one here), and the Cornell Lap Merlin Bird ID app confirmed the pictures – it’s a Cooper’s Hawk.

The two mockingbirds were on the wire above it, sounding the alarm constantly, and occasionally swooping down to take a pass at the hawk, trying to frighten it off. I was amazed that it stuck around for over five minutes, giving me a chance to walk around and take some pictures.

When it finally did take off, the second it was in the air there was a flood of mockingbirds that scrambled out of nowhere to mob it. While there were two on the wire, when the hawk got in the air there were suddenly 20+, dive bombing it, taking shots at hitting it in the air. With very little effect that I could see.

What a beautiful bird! I hope I see it back up here at the top of the hill again soon, whether the mockingbirds like it or not!

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Scolded By My New Mockingbird Overlord

The birds come, the birds go.

Some of them are seasonal-ish. Take the juncos. Back in the spring I noted that all of them seemed to have vanished, except for one. “Solo Junco.” Then they were back last fall, a dozen or more. Now they’re gone again – except for Solo Junco. I like to think he’s the smart one who’s figured out that there’s food here 24/7/365 and he doesn’t need to fly to some other continent to spend the summer.

There were bluebirds in the spring, more this year than last, until the neighbors’ trees got pruned within an inch of their lives. I was out in the front yard this evening, being scolded by my new mockingbird overlord, when I realized that I hadn’t seen a single bluebird in June or July after that tree trimming.

This evening while out in the back after dark, listening to the mockingbirds (again), I realized that I hadn’t heard the owls in at least two or three months. There are times when I’ll hear them three or four nights a week, at least a pair, sometimes more, hooting through the canyons. I hope they’re back sometime soon. I love listening to them. And occasionally seeing them.

It’s all cyclic, I guess, although I’m not doing a good job of tracking the data to record the cycles. I do remember in the spring, about the time that the juncos left, also noting that I was seeing relatively few mockingbirds. We often had dozens of them, especially noticable when there was an owl or a hawk around. They do tend to sound the alarm and make a racket. But I had only seen one or two in months.

About a month ago they came back in force, and again we have dozens in the neighborhood. One pair in particular seems to be hanging about our house, with the male being noticeably aggressive in the last few days. They might be building a nest in the rain gutters over the front door, or he might be getting worms and bugs out of the leaf debris in those gutters. Either way, when he gets interrupted by me going in or out of the front door, his displeasure is vocal and energetic.

This is what led me to today’s scolding. He was on the gutter’s edge right over my head, then flew down by the garage, then to the top of the garage where he could assert his dominance. Well, in theory. I wasn’t backing down, instead choosing to open a dialogue with proposals about how we could share the space like two reasonable critters.

I’m not sure that we made much progress. There are some translation and communication issues, to be sure. Perhaps I’ll see if he’s interested in taking food offerings of some sort.

If that gutter is being claimed by him, we’re going to need to figure out something in the next three and a half months. Christmas light season is right around the corner. Sort of. Given my recent encounters with gravity, climbing ladders to put up lights will be extra “special.” The last thing I’ll need is getting dive bombed by a pissed off mockingbird, treating me like he treats a hawk or owl.

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I Found The Secret Base

Some comings and goings over Friday and Saturday evenings had me wondering. The good news is that I’m seeing an influx of hummingbirds.

In the past we’ve once seen a hummingbird nest out where I could see it. Normally they’re off in the hedges and since they’re very small, they’re very hard to find. But while looking at the bougainvellea over by that side of the house, I noticed a lot of hummingbird activity where there isn’t a feeder.

So this morning I went out to take a look, and there’s something in there in the vines behind this drain pipe. Could it be another hummingbird nest?

It’s really hard to see through the vine leaves, so I took another half step closer to get this picture…

…and in seconds I had at least two hummingbirds buzzing my head like a couple of F-18’s driving off a Russian destroyer that gets too close to their aircraft carrier.

Hmmm. I’m thinking that’s a confirmation that there’s a hummingbird next in their. Since I’m not willing to have an angry, energetic, viscious humminbird impaled in my ear like an errant lawn dart, we’re not going to do anything further to confirm that and just take it as a given.

Maybe I’ll put up another feeder over there as a peace offering.

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Video From The Back Forty

There were critters about, despite the heat!

This guy wasn’t so much scared as he was annoyed. He had been in a nice, sunny spot out on the back wall at the lip of the hill and when I had the gall to walk by in my own yard, he felt compelled to hop down, jump up onto the sidewalk, and glare at me. And I do mean “hop” and “jump” since he did both. I’m not sure I’ve seen other lizards do that, usually they just run and skitter and slink and scramble. But this guy I’ve seen jump several times, including twice today. He’s not much on height, so I’m not worried about him going for my throat, but he’s pretty good on distance.

These were the surprise of the day. They’re about 40% to 50% the size of the normal mourning doves, so I’m guessing their fledgelings. They didn’t fly away or even try to fly, but they also didn’t seem too upset about me being just a couple of feet away. I guess they missed that “OH GOD RUN FROM THE GIANT HUMANS!” lesson. I think that the nest is low to the ground in the hedges behind them that separate the yards, so I’m not surprised to see them here. I just hope one of the neighborhood feral cats or a hawk doesn’t see them as well.

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The Feeders, Refilled

It sounds like I’m speaking Tamarian, doesn’t it?

The hummingbird food is disappearing MUCH faster than usual. Part of this is more hummingbirds now that Little Bastard is (sometimes?) allowing other hummingbirds to feed here. There were, for example, three of them at this feeder just before I took these pictures. The other factor, of course, is the presence of the orioles.

This afternoon I brought all of the feeders back in, cleaned them out, and then got ready to re-fill them. I got the first one refilled and hung up and went back into the kitchen to get the second. I came back out with the second feeder, not three minutes after I rehung the first, and started the two orioles who were about to make their move. They were lurking in the vines that spiral up the support posts on the patio right next to where the feeders hang.

They had an almost commical reaction, like, “Oh, HI! Don’t mind us, we’re just…just…we’re just here protecting, yes, that’s it! We’re here protecting this feeder from, um, um… From the squirrel! Yeah, the squirrel, you know that they’re sneaky little rat bastards. But now that you’re here we’ll just be flying off to the big tree. We’re going to go right over there, it’s not far, we can come right back if we’re needed. Yes sirreee, bob, yep, that’s us, protecting! Staying right here nearby. Protecting! Not stealing at all! Wouldn’t think of it! That thought never crossed our mind and to be honest, we’re hurt that you would think that!”

 

 

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Fine Feathered Friends – July 09th

So, when last we left our plucky hero, we had been dealing with a small, fluffy, quick little bird with a long tail that NEVER sat still long enough to get a decent picture. The fuzzy pictures and the birdsong positively ID’d it as a Bewick’s Wren (pronounced “Buick”). I finally got one to sit still and get some pictures. Although it did seem more brown than grey…

THEN there were a couple of very large birds hanging onto the hummingbird feeder, which ID’d as hooded orioles. VERY cool!

But while the orioles were decimating the hummingbird nectar (I didn’t think that was possible – surprise!) there was another larger bird hopping around on the vines on the back porch. It was just a foot or two away from the orioles, but obviously not an oriole. Not anything like the same color.

I didn’t recognize it at all, primarily due to its size. I’m thinking it’s some kind of mockingbird, maybe a juvenile?

It’s slightly smaller than a full-grown mockingbird, about the same size as a towhee.

What should have given it away is the tail. Long, thin, with those horizontal stripes.

Also the way he was hopping all over the place, pecking at ants on the vines. He never sat still for more than a couple seconds, but he was close to where I was standing in the house and he never flew off either.

Lots of great photos to feed into Cornell ‘s Merlin Bird ID app. And no matter which one I look at, the answer’s always the same. This is another Bewick’s wren.

What I do *NOT* understand is how this one is so much bigger and different looking that the tiny little fuzzballs that I’ve been seeing for over two years. They’re barely bigger than hummingbirds, while this one is three or four times that size.

Are the little ones juveniles and this guy (and probably the one from yesterday’s pictures) are adults?

Questions that are above my pay grade on the ornothology front. But now I know that there might well be two different groups of Bewick’s wrens, even if I don’t know why they’re different.

I’ll keep trying to catch pictures of the quick, little ones. I need more data!

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Fine Feathered Friends – July 07th

There’s another bird that I’ve seen around for about three years, but it’s been VERY hard to photograph. I’ve gotten a couple of odd, fuzzy, small photos, and I’ve ID’ed it from its birdsong using the Cornell Ornithology Lap app. But they’re tiny, quick, they never sit around for long, and so far while I’ve seen them plenty and heard them plenty more, I had only gotten one halfway decent photo.

It’s a Bewick’s Wren (pronounced “Buick,” like the car) and they’re tiny-ish little fuzzballs with long tails. Bigger than hummingbirds (but not by much) with that long, thin tail, but much smaller than mockingbirds or towhees.

Even when I would see one sitting still instead of constantly moving and hopping about, they were always well up into the trees, tough to spot embedded in the foliage.

About a month ago I finally got one to sit still, out where I could see it, and then stay there long enough for me to take a series of pictures.

Notice the shape of the bill and that long, thin tail.

The tail is also zebra striped.

Their call is very distinctive. Actually they have several distinctive calls, which was also confusing when trying to ID them.

There’s a white stripe above the eyes.

If it looks like he’s pecking at the branch, almost like a woodpecker might, you’re right. They eat lots of small bugs and ants.

Finally, some decent pictures of the Bewick’s Wrens!

But wait – there’s more to the story…

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Fine Feathered Friends – July 06th

Last week I saw a large, bright yellow bird trying to do a “carrier landing” on the hummingbird feeder. My assumption was that it might be a yellow-headed blackbird, since that’s the only large, bright yellow bird I’ve ever seen around here.

Wrong.

Yes, it’s bright yellow with some black highlights on the wings.

At first there were two of them, fighting over the feeder. I was amazed and figured they would both fly away as soon as I went near the window.

Nope, they were too busy fighting. Two males? A male and female? I don’t know, they were too backlit at first to see details, but the body shape was definitely new, not something I had seen before around here.

Amazingly, after the one flew off, the other completely ignored me, which gave me time to grab the good camera and move right up to the window with it. And yep, he was cleaning out the hummingbird feeder.

Well, that explains why Little Bastard has been in such a bitchy mood. Aside from the feeders being empty, while he’s a bully when it comes time to scare off other hummingbirds, this dude’s about ten times his size and just ignores him.

This dude hung out for several minutes, up close and personal, so there are lots of pictures to plug into the Merlin Bird ID app from Cornell University. (Highly recommended!)

It’s a Hooded Oriole. Yes, YOU! Busted.

What a gorgeous bird! What a great sighting on a day that had it’s share of shit coming in from left field! Thanks, bird dude!

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To Catch A Thief

We have a couple of hummingbird feeders out on the back porch, and aside from the hummingbirds, other critters love that sugary water as well.

A couple years ago, the squirrels climbed the porch supports and tried climbing across the vines to get to them. This succeeded in ripping the vines to shreds (it will take years for them to grow back) and smashed the crap out of a couple of feeders (which were never designed to hold the weight of a hyperactive squirrel) but there was so much damage to the vines that there’s no way for that particular problem to repeat.

Ants are always a problem, but since I got new feeders with the built in moats at the top, the ants are held at bay as long as I remember to refill the moats every couple of days. It’s been really hot and really dry and my memory is often distracted, so sometimes the ants get a feast, but that’s on me.

This week we have a new problem.

I had serviced the feeders on Sunday (I only fill them about 20% full and do it every week or two, otherwise the syrup tends to get icky) but noticed one of them was almost empty yesterday, with a great deal spilled out onto the ground. (Yet another feast for the ants until I descended upon them like the Avenging Angel of Death With the Watering Hose, despite our drought.) The feeders don’t normally leak like that unless they’re being seriously disturbed. But what was disturbing them?

Some of the really strong winds can do that and make them start to spill as the feeders get swung about. But the winds have been calm.

The squirrels could do that. But they really don’t have any way to get up there and they’re pretty well fed on the bird seed already.

The house finches? I’ve seen one or two over the years try to make a “carrier landing” and grab onto the perches at the bottom of the feeder, but none of them could drain a whole feeder in one or two days doing that. Plus, they can’t actually eat any of the hummingbird food, their beaks are too large, so even if they think it’s a great idea, it doesn’t work and they give up quickly.

Then I was walking through the kitchen and saw a FLASH of incredibly bright yellow with black accents. A really BIG freakin’ bird. Not condor-sized freakin’ big, but definately crow or raven sized. It went right by the window on the porch, hit the feeder and latched on, swinging like a chandalier in an earthquake, trying to get at the food. That was never going to happen, and a second later when I stepped over to the window to get a better view, it was gone just as fast as it had come.

Oh…

Remember this guy?

I’ve seen these Yellow-headed Blackbirds a handful of times here and they’re now my number one suspect for the hummingbird feeder thieves.

It was blind luck that I happened to see it on Monday. I don’t have the time to sit around and wait and hope to get lucky again. I’m going to have to be more clever.

I moved one of our Nest security cameras out to the back porch, hoping that any motion would trigger an alert. That’s not going to work. They’ve got a very wide angle view and even eight feet from the feeders with three or four hummingbirds flitting about and feeding, they never register the motion or activity. Rabbits in the yard? Ignored. Three squirrels stealing bird seed? Zippo, nada. Me going out to take the trash or get a soda from the spare fridge? I see that my shaved head looks even more stupid from above, but that’s not helpful.

I’ve got some really nice, old-fashioned HD “palm” cams and tripods that can record for a couple hours at a time. Maybe I’ll clean up the mess, refill the feeder, and set up a couple of those right next to the feeders. At worst, maybe I’ll get some nice video of the hummingbirds?

Or catch a bright yellow thief?

After all, I don’t have anything better to do with my time… 🤯😵

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