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The pleasures of front porch birding

POSTED June 14, 2013 9:16 p.m.

Last month I had hip replacement surgery and I'm making remarkable progress in recovery.  Thank the Lord!   Barring any unforeseen setbacks, I will able to walk on sandy beaches again—to resume my search for the Snowy Plover.  This is a small rare shorebird that nests among the dunes of our Central California beaches.

Meanwhile, while recovering at home, I decided to watch birds from a chair on my front porch.  Then I read an article in “Birds & Blooms” magazine entitled “Big Sit Birding.”  You park yourself in one spot and see how many different species come into your field of view.

So my front porch idea was my own version of 'The Big Sit.' Actually, I did a lot of this type of birding before my operation, since I couldn’t walk without a cane.

Looking west off my porch toward the street I have a flower bed filled with blooming plants to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

During my Big Sit I did see a few hummers—Anna’s, our most common one –feeding on the Buddleia (aka Butterfly Bush) and Bougainvillea.

I also saw several   Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies, usually only one at a time, feeding on my butterfly bush.  My daughter’s boyfriend took an amazing video of one going from blossom to blossom with his phone.  One day I also saw a beautiful Monarch butterfly!    (Can you guess that I love butterflies as well as birds?}

Beyond the flower bed is a crape myrtle tree with a hanging bird feeder full of black oil sunflower seeds.  House finches, one of our most common permanent resident birds, love these seeds.    So each time I went out to watch birds I saw lots of them.  Male house finches are sparrow-sized brown birds with red heads and breasts.    They sing a lively high-pitched song.   The females are brown with stripes.

Other common birds I saw were house sparrows, mourning doves, scrub jays and mockingbirds.  One morning I heard a mocker do two different ring-tones in his repertoire! 

We also had crows and magpies visit our yard.  My husband , Oly, spoils them by cracking walnuts for them.  The crows, extremely smart birds, could crack their own, by dropping them from a tall perch.  The Yellow-billed Magpie is a special bird—it is found only in California.  Magpies elsewhere have black bills.  Reportedly, this bird is the only avian species never found outside of our state.

May is also the time when the most colorful birds migrate through our area.  One day Oly saw and photographed a male Black-headed grosbeak eating seeds on the ground with the house sparrows.   This bird is burnt orange and black—with white wing spots.   I didn’t   see it—but at least I got to see the photo.

I have to admit I was disappointed not to see any orioles or tanagers here at the house.  We did see a pair of Bullock’s orioles from a distance at my brother’s place in Ballico.   The breeding males are bright orange and black with white on their wings.  It’s kind of hard to miss one if you get a good look.   My friend John Clark had two male Western Tanagers bathing in his bird bath!  Envy!   These are beautiful birds—bright yellow with black wings and a red head.   They are fruit eaters. I have seen them eating cherries and mulberries.

Spring migration is about over.    Yet, I am almost walking well enough now to plan a trip to Marina Dunes or Moss Landing State Beach to stalk the elusive Snowy Plover.

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