NatureLog - My Nature & Nature Travel Blog
Animals Through My Traveling Lens
As I shared in my Arrivals and Departures blog, there are many arrivals that I look forward to as I wish the northbound birds Godspeed until I see them again in the fall. You don't have to go far for nature travel - it could be right in your backyard. Just this week I was happy to see 2 different species of dragonfly in our backyard – one the unmistaken bright orange of the Flame Skimmer. And just a week or so prior, the first of the season’s Valley Carpenter bees arrived. The male, aka the “teddy bear bee”, with his gorgeous golden “fur” and the female, with her gorgeous iridescent wings, always delight us. As the UC Davis article describes, these beauties are pollinators, not pests so we hope that all can enjoy them.
Aside from these new arrivals and some different varieties of smaller butterflies, I am especially happy to welcome back the tiny but fierce Black-chinned Hummingbirds. I watched in shock as one tiny male, as if to announce his group’s arrival, harassed a relatively large California Towhee across our back fence. At first, he zipped back and forth at his back. When that wasn’t enough to get the Towhee’s attention, he flew to his face and zigzagged back and forth as the Towhee progressed along. Luckily for the Hummingbird, the Towhee chose to simply ignore this tiny little annoyance. Of course these moments only arrive – fleetingly – when I am without camera in hand. ;-)
And so it begins… the next level of backyard entertainment for the summer. Nature travel at its best - when you don't have to go anywhere. We’ve watched over the ensuing days as they continuously harass their own species, as well as the Anna’s Hummingbirds and anyone else who dares to be in their “newly re-established” territory! They tend to enjoy the purple salvia and the cuphea the most. I remind my significant other of this fact whenever he laments how “overgrown” our backyard flower garden has become. He, too, enjoys the entertainment of our tiny winged friends and has acquiesced, going with the flow of the growth in the cover and food our backyard provides to everyone. The beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder and for me, the more birds, the more important the flourishing - albeit overgrown - flower wonderland becomes!
If you don’t know much about Black-chinned Hummers, like most Hummingbird species, their “backstory”, IMO, is fascinating. The way I know they’ve arrived is hearing their distinctive “squeaking”. Both males and females get quite vocal, always tipping me to their location even while camouflaged in our tree cover. (Shhh…don’t tell them I’m onto them). Another thing I’ve learned from different sources is their bold habit of nesting close to large predators. Yes – you can find this little hummer nesting right next to a hawk’s nest! From what researchers have indicated, this is a good way for the hummer to gain some nest protection from its own predators. This tiny little Hummingbird species, thanks to banding efforts, has also been discovered to live as old as 11 years! For their size and energy exertion, scientists wouldn’t expect such long lifespans. And from their “summer vacations” as far north as Canada, east to Oklahoma and of course here along the West Coast, every fall they migrate south to Mexico. I usually see the last ones in our yard in mid-to-late September, and notice their return around 21 April. I keep both an eye and ear out for their arrival.
To enjoy an intimate depiction of their lives, follow the lovely story of a female raising her brood in the gorgeous and entertaining award-winning movie, First Flight: A Mother Hummingbird’s Story, currently viewable on Amazon Prime. Filmed in the Las Vegas area backyard of documentary filmmakers, the mother and chicks' story is captured in the movie and a book as well.
If you love Hummingbirds as much as I do, you can visit the Eyes4Nature Hummingbird collection here. But I do hope you get to enjoy the fun of their antics live! And my heartfelt thanks to the wildlife rehabilitators out there who rescue even these tiniest of creatures! Happy Spring! Remember that this is the season of nesting, so be sure to do all of your tree trimming at a later time. You never know what birds may be using your trees and shrubs for their nesting needs. And as always, contact your local wildlife rehabilitator if you find a bird or newborn chick in need. Enjoy the season!!
Continuing on the theme of exploring winter’s migrating avian visitors, this Christmas week we drove up to the Cosumnes River Preserve and environs near Sacramento to see the Sandhill Cranes. If you’re a birdwatching traveler in or heading to the Sacramento area, this is a helpful guide to great places to see them. We had most luck right across from the visitor center at dawn. But believe it or not, you can observe hundreds of thousands of them in the central parts of the U.S. The Audubon Society calls their spring gathering along Nebraska’s Platte River, “among the greatest wildlife spectacles on the continent”. At one time, you can see “over a quarter of a million birds”.
If you haven’t seen a Sandhill Crane, they’re definitely a site to behold. Standing at almost 4 feet high, their wingspans can reach ~7 feet! As part of their mating rituals, they’re known to “dance”, lifting into the air - as if jumping - and prance around to attract a prospective mate. Not expecting to see this behavior outside of the mating season, I was delighted to see them do something similar. I’m not sure if this was fighting or exasperated communications of another sort, but I thoroughly enjoyed the show. ;-)
I didn’t realize, until researching the best places to see them, that actually 2 different Sandhill Crane subspecies visit California during winter: Lesser and Greater Sandhill Cranes. If you don’t know much about Cranes, here are a few fun facts from @AudubonCA about Greater Sandhill Cranes who overwinter in our central farmlands:
At the same time, I’ve always loved the Cinnamon Teal. There’s something about their hues of deep crimson that make them another object of my affection. It was this very duck that opened my eyes many years ago to the realization that there are in fact many more duck species than the Mallard. One day walking my dogs in Virginia, I noticed this “odd-looking” duck in my backyard waterway. Why was this Mallard a deep crimson color? And so it began my education about Teals (Cinnamon, Blue-winged, Green-winged), Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Ruddies, Wood, and oh so many more beautiful ducks to discover. Imagine my excitement this week to realize that, while closely studying and enjoying the fascinating Cranes, that all the while the Cinnamons were right in front of me! Sure enough, maneuvering around the Cranes’ feet were none other than …. Cinnamon Teals. I have searched far and wide during previous winters to find the Cinnamons only to be disappointed to see only one or two here and there. Right here, right now, was an entire flock foraging in the shallows of the flooded farm fields!
While, as a traveling birdwatcher, you may not get excited standing out in the cold. Blood draining from your hands, nose so cold you can no longer feel it, it can be off-putting. But this was worth it. I do hope you get the chance to get out and explore nature this winter. Maybe it’s not birds that are the objects of your own fascination but the changing of the trees across seasons, the beauty of frost on a leaf glistening in the sun, or a moonlit walk on a snow-covered field. Whatever brings you joy, get out and do it! I leave you with these words from famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was himself assuredly inspired by nature:
Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
Enjoy – and don’t forget your hat and gloves!! ;-)
eThis time of year is so exciting to me. Many winter migrants have arrived and I’m always eager to set out early mornings to see who has arrived overnight or over the last week. Do you know which birds come through your own area this time of year? If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you will see birds who have flown south to warmer climates. They are either stopping through or staying through the winter. The benefit of stepping out or looking out of your window for these birds is multi-fold. Realizing there is a whole ecosystem of life outside our own helps draw us into the present moment – dissolving our troubling or stressful thoughts.
The birds that you see have risked their lives, skipped many meals, flown many hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, to arrive. Spending your morning with a loved one, exploring – either through the window or at a local park – is a nice way to enjoy your day. My mother regularly peeks out her window and shows her great-grandchildren the many birds that come through. She’s thrilled that her great-granddaughter, Alaina, proudly ensures other people know about the birds she encounters now, too. What a blessing - a gift - to a young child who to be introduced to and to enjoy the wonders of nature.
I love being a traveling birdwatcher but I still avidly watch my own yard every day. There, this winter, I’ve discovered at least 2 new species I’ve not seen here before. We’ve lived in the same house over 10 years, so seeing new bird was amazing! It’s likely due to a slight change in habitat these new species seek. Our garden has more growth from new low shrubs and purple sage this year and a clearing from trees that we had to cut down due to disease. We’ve seen Golden-crowned Sparrows and Orange-crowned Warblers, the latter of which I never even knew existed.
I’ve also been heading out along the San Francisco Bay’s many parks and to Monterey Bay, never disappointed. Right now on San Francisco Bay, we’re seeing Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, Green-winged Teals, Blue-winged Teals, Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Ruddy Ducks, and the latest arrivals, Lesser Scaup. The irony: I’ve seen SO MANY Northern Shovelers over the years at Palo Alto Baylands that I almost ignore them now. But this year, as they took to the skies or rose up on their haunches, I discovered even more colors on their plumage. They are even more captivating when their wings are open! Now my new obsession: being in the right spot, in the right light, at the right time, and the right angle with their back towards me, to catch this same beauty aflight. So far, only blurry pictures.... Luckily, I have the whole winter to keep trying! ;-)
Where will you go this winter to explore? Whether you are a traveling birdwatcher or stick close to home, will you take your grandkids, your sons and daughters, your husband or wife, your mother or father, your best friend and go explore? As John Muir once said....
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
Pamela, Eyes4Nature's proprietor, enjoying life out in the field among the animals and the peacefulness of nature.