Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Of Insignificant But Titillating Espionage of Busy Birds Doing Unseen Things Along “Hidden” Wildcat Creek in the Berkeley Hills

Seems lately all the birds around my neck of the woods have up and fluttered away from their Spring hang-out in the high camouflaged branches of the big 100 year old Interior Live Oak. Apart from mama crow feeding her juvenile minion something red, seedy and pulpy, and sporadic appearances of industrious and at times flirtatious Oak Titmice, the more exotic songbirds that once frequented my urban aviary have flown the coop during these dog days of summer.

Just the other day, though, I happened to catch the juvenile crow napping in the tree with two other crows, presumably the parents, who were also snoozing! They soon woke up, keeping a low-key vigil while the juvenile continued sleeping, holding on fast with clenched talons, adopting a most interesting posture, erect but for his head twisted inward, furrowed deeply in the feathered tuft of his breastplate, giving the appearance of a headless harbinger. At an opportune moment during my on again / off again observation, I happened to catch him waking up and yawning. Wow, seriously, I don’t ever recall seeing a bird yawn before!
If I’m to see birds, I’ve got to go where the birds are. One of my favorite places is nearby Tilden Park (it may be nearby but it’s worlds away), in a protected preserve of streamside habitat, an urban oasis of sheltering riparian woodland. What’s not to like about it, especially if you’re a bird stakin’ claim to this pretty little back stretch of Wildcat Creek - the Berkeley Hills’ perennial stream now flowing like a desert trickle in late summer. Sourcing from deep subterranean natural cisterns, this creek will not dry up. It is a life-sustaining gift. And so throughout the hot hazy summer days, a certain secretive off-trail spot will attract quite a few birds feeding on rich insect life teeming in the air, in the thick tree cover and ample streamside vegetation, and on the water’s surface.
I love this place I call “my secret spot” but all of Wildcat Creek is near and dear to me for its simple beauty of place, humble spirit of being, power of expressive natural rhythms and forces at work (think ten million year old lava flow and cut bedrock stream). I come here to let the gentle flow of water soothe my aching senses; to watch blue and green dragonflies swoon over red damselflies, and lizards doin’ their lounge act, and especially I derive great joy and pleasure from simply watching birds do their thing. Few tread here, amazingly enough. Especially around Lake Anza, Tilden Park is heavily people impacted, but here we have a little back stretch behind the lake where you can spend the whole day and not interact with another human being. Surely I can’t be the only bird watcher to know of this spot – I imagine you’d have to be a bird watcher to hang here, because otherwise, there’s “nothing” to do, “nothing” of any particular interest. Well, my secret spot is just big enough and just comfortable enough to hang out for a while, soak my feet in the chill water of a small basin, and listen to the meditative tinkling of Wildcat’s late summer devotional song of simplicity.
I notice as a pair of – got me! - come to the water’s edge, thinking they’re hidden beneath overhanging foliage. A perfect voyeur moment - two vireos, I believe they are, warily sating their thirst with dainty sips and occasional dips followed by a very cute display of shaking off water. Ever cautious, nearly to the point of paranoia, these two mates conduct efficient business and do not linger very long. Mark it down as today’s dopest sighting!

Whiling away the next enjoyable hour, I spot a pair of Yellow Warblers perched side by side for a fleeting moment; then, a diligent Wilson’s Warbler pops into view suddenly, immodestly baring her crown’s black “tam” if but for a few parsimonious seconds. Willie’s a favorite bird I haven’t seen since I don’t know when. Soon, I’m entertained for minutes by several enterprising Chestnut-backed Chickadees flying acrobatically from tree to tree gathering bits of stringy moss and spider webbing for constructing their nests. And then, not to be outdone, a surprise appearance (to me) of a Red-breasted Nuthatch, an interesting looking, attractive insectivorous bird I’ve seen maybe once or twice before in Live Oak Park down in the flats. And a lovely little Brown Creeper and a Black Phoebe make cameos, which is totally cool and adds to today’s Life’s List Checkoff of the Famous and Not So Famous Flitterati I have known.
We’re not even finished! The usual suspects also chime in with their excitable ruckus - Jays and  Juncos; Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds, the latter much rarer (to me) to sight; a couple of crows; and a handsome Spotted Towhee, which at first I can’t name thinking it must be something infinitely more exotic than “just” a Spotted Towhee – but, my, what a pretty bird! No excuses, though, for my ineptness at bird identification, despite John Muir Laws’ reassurances, “Do not worry if you cannot identify a bird. . . .in spite of your best efforts, you may not be able to. . .remember, birds are not always where they should be and do not always look how they should look.” (Trust and verify, I think he’s saying.)
Few places are more inviting for bird watching than Wildcat Creek. Along any number of “secret” stretches of the 11 mile long artery, you will more often than not find your special spot, a secluded nook or off-trail vantage point, where you can catch busy birds in action, engaged in a variety of behaviors and doing their unique thing. It is not far from paradise, if you’re a human. And no doubt for the birds, it’s an edenic haven of survival, a natural refuge for the earth’s freest creatures – free to come and go as they please, to wherever and always to return to roost, feed, mate and frolic.

The 2 bird photos are from the Wiki Commons.

1 comment:

  1. Idylic, for sure! You can identify and remember all the names and species when I'm not sure what to call my husband sometimes! At Tilden golf course, a young deer casualy walked across the fairway about twenty feet from us. Saw a fox trotting into the woods, and a critter I couldn't identify - about the size of a cat but longer and closer to the ground. The place is full of wildlife - so awesome! Great post Gambolin Man! Carol

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