Sunday, December 6, 2015

Hot, Thirsty Birds Not Hot, Thirsty Anymore (Part 3)

Winter's creep and a weak (so far) El NiƱo have proffered up a few quenching sprinkles so far, barely enough to alleviate the scary dry conditions of the past few months. Still, the refreshing moisture is a reprieve for once hot, thirsty birds suffering from the aridity and heat that roasted the Bay Area and beyond last summer through the fall.

Fresh run-off from the small spring in Berkeley's John Hinkel Park spills melodiously over a volcanic rock shelf, a very modest discharge cutting a narrow channel through dew-tinged vegetation. This miniature tableau of "grand nature" is always a pretty and soothing sight. In a zen-simple way, being here connects me and grounds me to the raw earth in the concretized urban environment. I patiently wait for a bird to visit, rapt in the calming sounds of soft gurgling water, attuned to sweet tweets of birds high in the tree tops. When, snap, a pretty little Anna's Hummingbird appears and begins flitting in place where a miniature curtain of water whooshes over the mossy rock lip.
I'm fascinated by how this bejeweled little dervish dances and hovers in blurry motionlessness, then deftly alights and manages to grip the mossy surface and proceed to sip and dip, dip and sip, shake things off, repeat several times - very much enjoying her private little spa moment!

What unprecedented agility and ability, what a highly evolved talent, to just be able to hang in space like that! How does such a tiny creature generate and sustain the enormous expenditure of energy needed to accomplish such an everyday common "feat"? (And much more during mating outlays of energy and insanely arduous migration treks.) Imagine the tiny heart motor of this five gram bird beating a thousand times over to power her wings at 70 beats a minute during the half-second I'm able to capture her in action. It's who she is, it's what she does.

This special bird is one of just three hummingbird species out of 300 worldwide and 12 in North America native to our area. And hard to believe that for such a tiny being she possesses the largest brain capacity of any contender in the bird kingdom. (I've read many references to this body weight / brain weight ratio fact, but can it be true? This tiny being?) No matter, they're smart little suckers.

I can't take my eyes (or video cam) off her, watching her doing her unwatched thing, observing her operating unobserved in her magnificent hummingbird world .  . . except there's me, a voyeur with a video cam. Is Ms. Anna aware? Probably she is, and she also intuitively knows I bear no harm or ill intent; more likely, the draw of the water, the prospect of a bath and a drink, is too powerful a magnet to keep her away. When, like her appearance before, snap, she's suddenly gone like a quantum particle.

On the trail back, I thrill to the sight of a Hermit Thrush flying into a red-berried bush to perch and munch. Pretty little thing. Oh, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet flashing his red crown for a nano-second. And a Winter, not Bewick's, Wren, I'm pretty sure, which would mark only a handful of sightings of the elusive wren. The three sightings are, in my experience, somewhat rare, or let's say not seen frequently. One other time I saw a Hermit Thrush eating red Toyon berries, and maybe I've seen the Kinglet's shock 'o ruby a dozen times, and the lovely (but very busy) putative Winter Wren, I can't remember when I last saw a local wren that was not a Bewick's.

A visit to John Hinkel Park always yields an interesting bird encounter or three. The park itself is small and quiet, usually absent of people, the air is clean and free from barbecue or chimney smoke, and its moist forest provides a sanctuary for birds, snakes, newts, skinks, and skunks, and no doubt who else. A night cam would reveal deer and possum, possibly coyotes and mountain lions passing through, right here in Wild Berkeley. Recently the carcass of a Great Horned Owl turned up with a mangled neck, probably self-inflicted by a collision with a fence while hunting for small songbirds. Yes, thank goodness for our city parks, with their sheltering forests and riparian ways, to slake this city dweller's thirst for a tiny taste of nature; to sate this bird lover's fix to be among such heaven sent creatures; to remind me of the deep connection with the spirit-that-moves-in-all-things, even here in our humble little city parks.