One of the best things about observing nature is the element of surprise. You never really know what you might see, even in your own neighborhood.
During the past few weeks I have enjoyed some special "bird blessings." I saw western bluebirds for the first time ever at Donnelly Park in Turlock. They must be nesting in our area. Very cool! (Note: These are bluebirds not jays.) It is much more common to see them here in the winter.
Also, recently I discovered something new and exciting on one of my frequent walks at California State University, Stanislaus — nesting Cooper's hawks. At first I thought they were red-shouldered hawks, which I have seen nesting at various places around town, including Donnelly Park and the CSU Stanislaus campus. Upon further inspection, using my binoculars and bird books, I identified them as Cooper's. Hearing them helped, too. I knew that the short "kek" sounds did not sound like the longer repetitive calls of the red-shouldereds.
Cooper's hawks are members of the genus Accipiter. These medium to small hawks have broad, rounded wings and long narrow tails. They are adept at flying under and around trees and bushes and prey on smaller birds. Their long tails have broad stripes.
Although we have a Cooper's visit our yard once in a while, and occasionally see one on an outing, this is the first time in 40-plus years of bird watching that I have seen them nesting. It is always a treat to find an active nest. Just ask my friend John Clark. He discovered his first bushtit nest earlier this year. Think hanging, woven sock. Pretty amazing, really. And many bird species are quite adept at keeping their nests hidden.
Something else happened in the vicinity of the Cooper's hawk nest — a really nice hummingbird sighting. I was walking with another friend, Henri, when she spotted a hummer sitting on a branch of a small tree.
"It's green," she said. We looked and there were actually two birds. Then we were privileged to watch a mama hummer feed her fledgling. So special!
To borrow from Forrest Gump's mama: "Nature watching is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." But it's almost always sweet!