Sunday, March 15, 2015

Bluebirds and Warblers Flash Mob Near Wildcat Peak in the Berkeley Hills

Western Bluebird looking south
Is one bird watching spot better than another? Is a riparian / woodland setting preferred over bay and pelagic shoreline viewing? Is meadow and range country more attractive than desert scrub or High Sierra sparsity? Does altitude matter? I suppose it all matters and depends on - many factors! Including seasonal migration patterns, weather conditions, climate influences, and birds' adaptability to varied ecosystems, which we know is infinite and shrewd.

The good news is that no matter where you find yourself, birds will be there, too, in all their physiological diversity, richness of behavior, and pure delightful quirkiness. It's why you love birding - birds! - so much.
Pine tree succumbed to unknown causes (?)
A rise of land in Wildcat Canyon Regional Park beckons up a final stretch of gravelly trail to attain a high plateau and eventually Conlon Knoll, as I call it. One of my favorite places for birds and more. Up here, maybe 1150 ft. elevation, fabulous near 360 views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, Angel Island, Mount Tamalpais, Briones and San Pablo watershed lands, Las Trampas wilderness, and Mount Diablo radiate, stretching as far south as the Santa Cruz Mountains to her 4000 ft. Bay Area visible peaks.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Up here, it's a detour off the main path; few people pass through, despite a connector from Conlon Trail to Wildcat Peak and the Peace Grove Lookout. Up here, I've seen my only instances of Lazuli Buntings, Ash-throated Flycatcher and Winter Wrens. Up here, four Monterey Pines dominate in the shadow of 1250 ft. Wildcat Peak. A gigantic healthy tree stands alone on the bare ridge, an iconic natural feature seen from San Francisco's waterfront. Two other nice sized trees grow nearby, but, rather suddenly, it seems, a third tree has perished, for after many visits over the past few years, I'm only now noticing it is completely, one-hundred percent dead. But like all dead things in nature, it continues to provide life (or life-giving gifts) in countless ways.

Western Bluebird looking north
Why the tree died, while the other trees live on, is a mystery. Maybe it's older and naturally at the end of its life? If not that, I have my suspicions: climate change / drought drove the nail through the coffin of this great tree that was somehow already compromised. We're seeing this pattern of mortality throughout the American West, where aspens are being ravaged by beetle infestation and stately oaks in California are under severe attack by Sudden Oak Death. Climate change is probably to blame for this unprecedented dying off of the planet's most important living things - taking place before our eyes, and we wonder, are we powerless to prevent, is it too late to stop, the disappearance of trees. Well, for now our bird friends don't mind the tree's "non-living" status. They arrive in flocks to roost in the gnarled branches and roust up seeds and insects on the ground.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Just passing time up here, lackadaisically, hoping for a bunting sighting, wouldn't that be something. So far, nothing much exciting: a few Juncos, solitary appearances of Hermit Thrush, Scrub Jay, and Northern Flicker. Above circle Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures, the usual stuff. When suddenly, leaving to go scout out a woodsier area, in fly a bunch of colorful birds, drawn to the dead tree and rich pickings beneath. It's the return of my little lovelies, Western Bluebirds and Yellow-rumped Warblers. They flit out and float in and aeroglide to the ground to find a seed or a nut or a worm, putting on an absolute show, adding dashes of avian spice and elan to the once quiet scene. Up here, that's why I love it, that's why the birds love it.

Living and Dead Triad of Trees on Conlon Knoll
The sociable, smart Bluebirds are delightful and very pretty. Males come in a shade of blueberryblue, with a handsome rust "vest" and white breast belly combo. The Warblers, of the Adult Male "Audubon's" variety, are handsome fellows adorned with yellow throats, yellow side streaks, yellow rump patch, and a pat of sunshine atop the pate. Fine birds, indeed, these precious, sensitive, vulnerable creatures. Make that as well the trees they depend on for their very survival and existence.

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  1. Sad to hear about the dead tree. It still looks so majestic. Wonder what did it.

  2. Blueberry blue birds, love that! such a cool spot to hang, ruminate, bird watch, and bird listen...thanks for another great musing.