ERNIE COWAN Union Tribune Outdoors
YARD PROVIDES RINGSIDE SEAT FOR NATURE’S WONDERS
Between the raindrops there were hints of spring this week.
I so enjoyed the one mild day with a T-shirt instead of a hoodie. The hillsides have sprung to life with spring green grass, dotted with the bright yellow blossoms of common yellow woodsorrel, also known as lemon clover or by any outdoor kid as sour grass.
Then the rain returned, but I wasn’t done. I needed more outdoor time. Why not enjoy one of my sitand- see adventures right here at home? As light rain pattered on my patio roof, I sat down with a hot cup of coffee and my camera to see what show nature might provide in an hour or so of quiet observation.
We live on a narrow ridge we call Mt. Whoville. It’s one mile long and about 200 feet wide before sloping off into an elfin forest of chaparral. Native plants and animals are our closest neighbors.
The rainfall was slowing, and patches of sunshine and blue sky were struggling to break through.
Soon the dominant activity was a small cloud of hummingbirds swarming to my feeder. There are noticeably more than last year, most likely because there has been less rain and fewer native plants are in bloom. By this time last year there were dense clusters of bright red monkey flowers coloring the drab thickets of chaparral, and dozens of other wildflower species providing natural food for the hummers.
My feeder was at capacity, with every feeding spot occupied by either Anna’s, Allen’s, or Costa’s hummingbirds, while another wave hovered, waiting their chance to enjoy the nectar. The next to arrive was a brightly colored hooded oriole. You know spring is close when they return from their winter home in Mexico. I spotted the first one of the season last week, and they are also feeding aggressively to put on weight after their long journey north.
Soon the orioles will begin building their pouch nests constructed of fiber strands from palms. Theseintricately woven nests will be tied under protective palm fronds with the same fiber strands used to build the nest.
By summer, we will see even more orioles at the feeders as both parents and fledglings feed to prepare for their September return to Mexico. I try to sit very quietly during my sit-and-see adventures. Orioles, in particular, are extremely nervous, and will vanish at the slightest movement.
Sitting quietly, however, does give me a chance to see other critters.During a brief period
of sunlight, a granite spiny lizard, with its iridescent blue throat and belly, climbed out of the shadows to warm itself.
Our resident roadrunner came by and crouched beneath the hummingbird feeder for a bit, hoping to snatch a quick meal. Several years ago I learned they do eat hummers, so I elevated the nectar feeders. When the roadrunner realized he was not likely to catch a meal, he lost interest and began looking for snails and lizards in the patch of blooming snapdragons.
You may have already guessed, but birds like it here on Mt. Whoville. We offer seed feeders that provide what songbirds like, but also quail food, nyjer for the tiny goldfinch, sunflowers for the scrub jays and mealworms for woodpeckers. Fresh water is always available at small fountains in front and backyards. I have recorded 52 species of birds here, so I was not surprised when most of today’s sit and see involved birds.
The big show was soon to begin. Spring is courting season for the red-tailed hawks. About a half-mile north there is a very tall pine tree and for at least the past five years they have nested there.
As I enjoyed a final sip of coffee, I caught movement below me. A beautiful red-tail was gliding by and close behind was a smaller male. They climbed in amorous formation, dropped their talons to slow down and nearly touched, then spread apart moving away from each other in wide arcs, before coming together again.
It was a magnificent dance of spring. An eternal ritual of courtship that will continue with nest building, mating, brooding, and hatching. We know when the youngsters have arrived and get hungry, because even a half-mile away you can hear them demanding to be fed.
Soon, as spring moves toward summer, the adult red-tails will begin to train the fledglings. Mt. Whoville provides us a ringside seat and some old, dead avocado trees that we did not cut down offer resting spots as parents teach the youngsters how to hunt.
A soft rain returned, my coffee was gone, and it was time to move back inside. Even a little time spent quietly observing in your own yard can be fascinating.