May 16, 7 am.
This morning began as all the other mornings have for a couple of weeks now, with an early morning concert beginning around 5:15 am. I fondly call it the cacophony of spring. It is impossible for me to sleep through it, especially since I sleep with at least two windows open so as not to miss it. There are about 20 different species of birds singing but there are many of each one of these species participating. This could mean I am hearing 100 or so birds singing. I have recorded this over the years just so I can play it back during the quiet of winter and remind myself that this miracle happens each spring without fail (at least so far!).
So this morning I am going to visit the Berry creek trail and see if I can catch some of the early morning chorus in a different location.
As I begin the walk along this gorgeous riparian corridor, it sounds like an aviary. The first bird I can distinguish, making its trilling song, is one of the large sparrow species I have talked about in the past, the Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculates. It is a striking bird, with rufous sides, a white belly, a black head, and my favorite thing about this bird, it has bright red eyes. Its back has many white spots which is where it gets its name. This bird, in true sparrow form, spends much of its time on the ground scratching the litter noisily to uncover seeds and insects. Today it is in a bramble of blackberries singing heartily. This alerts me to the fact that it has a mate nearby on a nest. The Spotted Towhee is a resident of many habitats and is commonly found in residential yards in the Willits area.
There are an abundance of birds joining in this morning chorus, but one of my favorite songs is the ephemeral song of the Swainson’s Thrush, Catharus ustulatus. I do not have a photo of this secretive, spotted buff spectacled, rufous-colored thrush but if you have heard an uplifting series of flute-like notes, you very likely have heard it singing. I never tire of this ascending series of flute-like notes.
A very small bird whose song rises sweetly above the sound of the others but is also difficult to find, is the neotropical Yellow Warbler, Dendroica petechia. Its song is said to sound like the words, sweet, sweet, sweet, it’s so sweet. Neotropical birds are our migrants from the tropics who are here to breed and produce young and then return to their homes in Central And South America, in the Fall. It is hard to believe that this small bird flies such a long journey twice in a very short amount of time. Warblers have sharp, straight bills which they use to catch small insects by probing crevices in the bark and twigs of trees. The bright yellow warbler has orange-red streaks on its sides and belly. I am fortunate to catch a photo of this bird perched high on the top of an Ash tree.
Then amongst the other myriad of songs I am hearing, a Lazuli Bunting, Passerina amoena, pops out just long enough to let me take a photo. This is one of our spectacular migrants, with its sky blue head, rufous breast, white belly, and bold white wing bars. It is a feast for the eyes! We have many of these birds in our area and I have even seen them in the Willits City Park. They have conical beaks and eat seeds so will come to feeders.
As I look around to the east there are puffy white cumulus clouds rising over the green hills.
The beauty everywhere astounds me and I feel so very fortunate to live in this marvelous valley.