Sunday, May 17, 2015

Backyard Birds Unseen, Infinite, Hidden Well in Their Private Little Universe

Adult Pacific-Slope Flycatcher
Of imminent springtime, Whitman penned, "unseen buds, infinite, hidden well." As with the birds, he might have added, for every move the little ones make is easy to miss. And that's when you're paying attention. When tuned out, the infinitesimal activity of birds might as well take place on a different plane.

Rufous Hummingbird
Yet the cute, ubiquitous creatures operate in plain sight, all about us, all day long. How is it possible to miss them? Yet we do. To appreciate their flitty comings and flighty goings, timing is everything. Noticing and paying attention is another. Then, and only then, will you be able to know and recognize birds as singular, wild creatures, special individuals of the earth who know no boundaries and owe no human a thing.

Now, of course, you also must really want to appreciate them in this vein - with an up close and personal, oft-single (or absent)-minded effort. Not study them so much as admire them. Not split feathers over lineage and genes, but to avoid the trap of "finding and booking it, lest life should have nothing more to show you" (Emerson to Thoreau).

Flycatcher inspecting her nest under stairwell
A simple matter of attuning to them by paying attention, looking for their presence, listening for songs, detecting movement, noticing birds doing bird things and behaving in uniquely bird ways. Then, and only then, will you become privy to the subtle rhythm of . . . unseen, infinite, hidden . . . bird life!

Thank goodness (say hundreds of thousands of birds) for the forested, creek-fed parks of Berkeley and attractive gardens and backyard stands of tall trees offering bounty and shelter for our avian amigos who go about their daily business largely unnoticed and ignored by most. And thank goodness (say a hundred thousand residents) for Berkeley's advocacy of the “City Beautiful Movement” in 1914 to create "nature parks," urban sanctuaries protecting what's left of what was once wide-spread wilderness in coastal bay hills. Steelhead running streams. Redwood forests. Canyon waterfalls. Bay shoreline. Microcosms of grandiose nature, right here in Berkeley.

Tongue aflicker, a beautiful hummingbird
It's anyone's guess how many species and individual birds call Berkeley home. Could be over one million. In my overgrown backyard, bedrock-cutting Codornices Creek runs through lucky neighbors' property. In a secluded nook harboring a mini-forest, I can hear the soft soul-soothing mellifluous whoosh of the creek. I crane my neck peering into high thick oak boughs, pausing to listen, ever attuned to some skittering or fluttering or flocking, some foraging or nesting or playful interaction. Brown Creepers, Cooper's Hawks, Nuttall's Woodpeckers, Hummingbirds, Finches, Juncos, Jays, Kinglets and Warblers, you never know who next will show up in my overgrown Berkeley backyard.

Inspiration for BerkeleyBackYardBirdBlog
The bucolic setting affords great birding opportunities. Over the past several weeks, I observe: a Rufous Hummingbird sucking nectar from Chinese Lanterns; an Anna's (?) with striking coloration paused on a charcoal grill; a Warbling Vireo for one second but enough to say, Wow! That was a Warbling Vireo!; a very brief sighting of a Wilson's Warbler, the first ever in the big oak tree of the pretty seasonal stop-over; a pair of nesting Bewick's Wrens; and a Pacific-slope Flycatcher family with a fledgling making its way into the cruel, harsh, scary world.

Fledgling Flycatcher in bush
The Rufous Hummingbird encounter surprises the holy crap out of me when the near weightless bird suddenly lands out of nowhere a few feet away and poses motionlessly for several priceless seconds, revealing an iridescent gorget emblazoned in orange, turquoise, lime and tangerine. I'm stunned by such uncommon beauty, mesmerized by the bold display of colors, but cursing myself for not having camera in hand for that million dollar shot. Still, it's a highly satisfying moment for this hummingbird lover - no different, say, from spotting a beautiful, brightly patterned diminutive cousin from the exotic tropics, it's that special.

Rufous finally zips off - but I have a feeling not for long, so I rush up to fetch my camera and rush back down, certain he's not finished with his posturing and nectar-gathering. I'm lucky and right, catching him darting in and out of the Chinese Lanterns, and finally landing on a wire strip of fence for some great looks, but with a different angle of light, his gorget is not quite as incandescently brilliant. Still. Amazing.

Rufous sucking nectar
The next day, I spot another hummingbird flitting around and landing for a few seconds, hair-strand thin tongue lashing out for a drop of water, perched in still-life with light refraction coaxing out the most exquisite pastel radiance ever to befeather a bird. I know, I have not seen ninety-nine point nine percent of the world's most beautiful exotic birds, but this one, and Rufous, ah, they are right up there with the prettiest of them. And exotic, in the sense that their color schemes are just out of this world. Right here in my Berkeley backyard.

Earlier in the week, I notice a Pacific-slope Flycatcher bumping up against the side of the house, then landing in a nearby bush, only to flip straight up, with a worm firmly gripped in beak, to a nest constructed beneath a stairwell! It looks like a sloppy stringy piece of work, but must be serving its purpose efficiently, as Mama seems quite comfortably ensconced raising her brood or protecting the prospects. I can't tell if it's just eggs at this point or if there are hungry little ones. She keeps flying in and out, back 'n forth, on endless forays returning with bits of food, so maybe there are nestlings, after all.

Anna's with tongue flickering
NEWS FLASH: the following day, I happen to see a baby bird frozen with fear in a bush. Who? Which? What? Turns out to be a fledgling Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Mama is egging him on to fly, fly away, my little birdie. He must have been pushed from the nest under the stairwell and landed in the bush. Now, he's faced with the challenge - daunting task - of flying up to a high tree branch to join Mama. Can he do it? I watch for several minutes. Sensing Mama's impatience, the little bugger finally successfully accomplishes the aerial feat, overcoming a deadly hurdle of survival so as not to be caught, mangled and eaten by that damn neighborhood fat cat stalking the premises.

My next door neighbor noticed a nest constructed in the jasmine of her trellis. I peek through the foliage, on my tip-toes, and see an upright wren-looking tail. Must belong to Ms. Bewick, for a few minutes earlier I watched a pair feeding on the ground nearby. For sure, it's not the House Finches, who are making their residence in deep crevices of roof top pipes.
Fledgling made it to branch
Very resourceful, our backyard birds, able to adapt traditional nest-building preferences, such as tree cavities for the Flycatcher, to suit a particular niche to ensure the propagation and survival of their young in our urban-cum-rural backyards. Now, if only I might be privy to the hummingbirds' nesting locations. Must be many, many of them, tiny and hard to spot, unseen, infinite and hidden well, no doubt.

Read about the small forest hawks who visited the backyard for half a day @

http://berkeleybackyardbirdblog.blogspot.com/2014/07/two-small-forest-hawks-crash-scene-make.html