Signs of spring are emerging
Special to The Union
Searching for signs of spring in my normally optimistic manner yields a few symbols. Before the influx of migrant birds from the south, our resident species are responding to their own clocks and cues.
A couple weeks ago, the first of the Ruby-crowned Kinglets started singing their lovely song. This tiniest of songbirds is just over four inches long and olive green with a broken white eye-ring. They are easily identified by the constant flickering of their wings. Throughout the year these birds, many of whom overwinter in the foothills, make only a dull dry “jidit” sound. However, when it’s time to find a mate they erupt in a melodic song and raise their previously hidden tiny red crown.
Also singing in the forests are Hutton’s Vireos – if their simple two syllable sound can be called a song. These birds, similar in size and color to the Ruby-crowned Kinglets, will flock with kinglets. The vireos have a broader blunter beak with two distinct wing bars.
A Pileated Woodpecker was calling a month ago when they are expected to begin searching for a mate and a nesting hole. The rainy weather hasn’t left an opportunity to look for their nest.
Mazanita blossoms are another harbinger of warmer times and a few have bloomed on some south-facing slopes. One of the recent warm days an Anna’s Hummingbird was probing and feeding on these tiny flowers. Anna’s Hummingbirds are able to withstand our winters and some remain resident all year round.
Then, the male Anna’s that has been frequenting our feeder all winter started displaying. They make their mating display by rising one hundred or so feet in the air and then flying straight towards the ground, pulling up and extending their tail feathers just at the last moment. The air rushing over the tail feathers produces a sharp squeak which is as characteristic as any warbler’s song and just as effective.
Male Western Bluebirds have molted into their brilliant blue breeding colors, a sure sign that they are seeking mates and nesting spots. The less colorful female bluebirds remain nearby and there is already one report of successful nesting.
Another subtle springtime change of behavior has occurred as Bushtits are beginning to appear as pairs. Most of the year, Bushtits will forage in large groups. In spring mating season they pair up. Each pair will construct their pendulous nest and fledge their young. Shortly after that, they will again form large groups until next spring.
On a discouraging note, the Bald Eagle nest at Bridgeport appears to be unused at this point. Deren Ross, a birder in Placer County, reports that there is a Bald Eagle nest near Auburn and The Peregrine Falcon pair at the quarry along the American River also appears to be mating. He wrote, “The recent breeding status of both Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons is a truly remarkable occurrence in the county. To my knowledge, there are no historical breeding records in the county for these two birds.”
Walt Carnahan, past president of the Sierra Foothills Audubon Society, searches spring, summer. fall and winter for beautiful birds to photograph.
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