Thursday, April 03, 2008


This charming little bird was taking a dustbath next to the bus-stop when I left work this evening. Then he returned to sit on this rock, and then joined his mate to hop around briefly on the ground. This is the first day that there have been any birds besides blackbirds and ravens in the parking lot. Yesterday one of the ravens was making that molasses-gurgling-out-of-a-jug noise - an unexpected sound coming from such a source.

Yesterday morning (Apr 2nd) I heard the first song of the mountain chickadee for this spring. It's a distinctive three-note call that I'm told is supposed to sound like "cheeseburger". For about 20 years I whistled ineptly back at the unknown bird who was making the call, hoping to get him to come closer. I could hear them coming closer towards me sometimes, but I never saw who made that call. (I even ran after someone whistling it, when I worked in the nursery. "What 's that bird?!" He didn't know. He had been taught it by a friend. They used it to keep in touch when out in the woods.)

Since I only heard it in spring & summer, I assumed the bird was a migrant. Then one of my book-club friends (young wilderness professionals, mostly) identified the bird as a mountain chickadee. She explained that they live in old-growth forests, where they can shelter in the deep cracks in the bark of the mature trees. They are not supposed to live at this low an elevation. (2500ft)

I had seen chickadees here, without knowing they were my mystery birds. My early attempts to begin to identify birds were discouraged when they seemed to look like pictures of the mountain chickadee, which could not be here...

They don't migrate, but overwinter. And of course they make their distinctive call only in spring & summer because it is a breeding-season territorial call. I should not have been disturbing the birds by whistlingly back at them all these years...

And what is it doing here? Well, there is a line of trees that was left as a property-line division when the whole county was logged off to feed the mines. Oaks and ponderosa pines. They were mature when my grandfather bought both parcels and built in 1917. They were the only mature trees when my mother was a child. Now there are others as large. And the chickadees might be a relict population since then, maybe?

Maybe someday I'll find out what this little bird is, or the one with the bright yellow breast, who was up in the tree.

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