February 20th 9am
The fact that we have not had much rain so far and it is late into February has me thinking of the weather patterns and their influence on wildlife, particularly on the birds. The days are perfectly gorgeous, with blue skies with sometimes billowy white clouds. It is cold in the mornings, but the afternoons warm up sometimes into the high 60’s or even low 70’s. Even though every year we have a break of about two weeks where some spring-like weather settles in, the lack of substantial rain this winter is what has me worried. Of course, we still have a chance for more showers in March, April and May before there is real reason to worry.
As I walk out into the valley along Davis creek, the creek is flowing merrily by and the sound of water rippling is pleasant to my ears. Tree swallows are chattering above my head as they fly by, early returnees from migration down to Central America and Cuba. These swallows do not migrate as far south as some of the other species of swallows. One trait that allows them to be one of the first migrant swallows to return to their northern breeding grounds is that besides insects, they will eat many kinds of berries, allowing them to survive wintry spells when other insect eaters may starve. I notice they are already checking out holes for nesting in the ash and oak trees. Tree swallows are cavity nesters and must compete with the resident Western bluebirds, woodpeckers, and European starlings. Tree swallows will also utilize man-made bluebird boxes if they are around. It has been found that their population is doing well because there are boxes for nesting in many areas where tree cavities are scarce. Tree swallows are often found lined up along the wires and I wonder if they are telling tales of their journeys or just catching up with old friends. The Tree swallow, Tachycineta bicolor, seems to be the most abundant species currently, with just a few Violet-green and Barn swallows showing up too.
A Barn swallow, Hirundo fulva, lands on a fence post long enough for me to get a photo of it. The beautiful orange breast, bluish back, and long-forked tail distinguishes this swallow from the other ones that come here to breed. The Barn swallow has a longer migration, sometimes going all the way to Argentina for the winter. I am surprised to see this lone Barn swallow here so early! There will be Rough-winged, Bank, and Cliff swallows arriving before too long. All are long distance migrators.
The flooded areas out beyond Davis creek are full of honking and quacking. Canada geese and many species of waterfowl are busily swimming and tipping their heads down into the shallow water looking for food. The sound and sight of all of them reminds me that we are an integral part of the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south flyway for migratory birds in America. These birds are overwintering here and when day length and weather permits, most of them will leave for their breeding grounds in the north. This is the opposite pattern from the swallows who leave in fall for their wintering grounds in warmer places and then return to breed here in the late winter/early springtime. How will the lack of rain and warmer winter days affect these birds? Will the ducks leave sooner? Will the swallows nest earlier? Spring is in the air today but will winter conditions return? So many questions that can only be answered with time and observation. Returning from my walk I am grateful for the resiliency of the wildlife around me.