I've written about them before: I get up in the morning, announce what birds I want to see in the yard--and before the day is over, there they are! When I said this morning that today we'd have buntings and Hooded Orioles, my husband just rolled his eyes. But before the day was over, that's exactly what we had.This was another "no sooner said than done" day.
First thing this morning, I walked up the drive to start the drippers on the bird baths. We've been out of town for the last week, so I knew I needed to complete that task early. Moving water is our number one bird magnet.
In the backyard, the river's brackish water attracts egrets, herons, kingfishers, gulls, terns, pelicans, whistling ducks and myriad other water-loving birds.
In the front yard, water drips continually from a quarter-inch black hose into one of the baths, the deepest one where we've seen hawks, Chachalacas, and even a Wild Turkey bathing. (Last week I put an adjustable valve on the hose, which hangs above the bath from a shepherd's hook, so that I wouldn't have to crawl through thorny brush every time I needed to turn it off and on.) In another bath across the drive, water drips from a plastic bottle (actually from a big plastic container that once held kitty litter!). This shallow bath is favored by smaller birds like the Lesser Goldfinches and Painted Buntings that are especially drawn to dripping water on hot summer afternoons. There are two other baths that we fill daily from a garden hose, but that's okay because it gives me a chance to walk the drive and see what birds hide in the brush, not visible from the deck unless they dart out to the driveway.
On the walk up the drive this morning, I saw a Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler and a Blue-headed Vireo, both in a Live Oak tree. Green Jays, Altamira Orioles, and Kiskadees flew noisily through the yard, calling out as they checked out feeders and baths. A Ladder-backed Woodpecker squeaked like a dog toy as it climbed up and down the oak trees. A Couch's Kingbird flew its up-and-then-down-again dance from the tiptop of an Ash tree and sang out loudly in the still morning, a song that distinguishes it from the otherwise identical Tropical Kingbird.
When my neighbor called "Come here! Hurry!" I rushed over to her drive in time to watch a 4- to 5-foot Indigo Snake slither away into the grass and then under a fence to another yard. It was a deep blue-black in the morning sun, a really beautiful snake. Though classified as threatened, they seem to do well in our area which has lots of native plants and patches of thick brush. We have had them living in our yard every year and see them often around dripping water faucets and the neighbor's sprinkler. ( I didn't have my camera outside with me, but I'm determined to get a good picture soon. When I do, I'll write a little more about these beautiful snakes.)
And that's not the only Indigo I saw today: the asked-for Indigo Bunting made its first-of-season appearance in the late afternoon. I saw it on the bird bath that's made from a down-turned terra cotta planter and an up-turned saucer, but it was there only for a moment. Just after I spotted the deep blue bird through binoculars, and juggled them awkwardly as I tried to quickly raise my camera, the bunting flew away, spooked by another bird making a command performance at the same bath---the brightly-colored male Hooded Oriole! (You can see from the understandably fuzzy picture above that the Hooded Oriole is similar to the Altamira. One distinction is the lack of the gold/orange epaulet or shoulder patch at the top of the Hooded's wing. I'll get a clearer picture on another day and post a side-by-side comparison for those who are not familiar with both birds. )
My favorite hummingbird of the day was a resident Buff-bellied Hummingbird that perched in a fiddlewood shrub and sang. I could see its throat moving as it sang a short but rather complex song of descending notes. I'd never been lucky enough to hear that song before. Its usual calls are buzzing clicks and ticks, some possibly made with its tail, but this was a definite and surprising little song.
We had put several orange-halves out to attract orioles and weren't disappointed. The Baltimore Oriole hasn't shown for a couple of weeks now, but the Altamira pair were here all day and finally, at about five this evening, the male aforementioned Hooded Oriole flew in--just what I'd asked for! We have had as many as three pairs of these orioles nesting in various Palm trees at the same time (not the same tree, of course). They weave lovely little purse-like nests on the undersides of the palm fronds. Once a pair nested in a neighbor's potted ficus tree on a second story porch.
Perhaps this fellow will stay and nest. I know the same Hooded Orioles return year after year because we used to have one that had a very distinctive broken beak allowing us to identify him as he returned to our yard in the spring. The lower mandible, bent and pointed straight down, was ugly and looked disfunctional. I worried the first year I saw him that he would not be able to survive, but he did for at least two more seasons, and I watched him eat, build nests, and feed young even with that handicap. I was always thrilled to see him return in the spring. (There's no way for me to know what caused the disfigured bill. One oriole had slammed into a window that spring, hitting very hard and being stunned for some time. Maybe it was that oriole. Or maybe it was just a birth defect.)
this post and this one.)
So all-in-all, it was a good day for watching birds in our yard on the Arroyo Colorado. New yard birds for 2010 were the Hooded Warbler, Indigo Bunting, and Cedar Waxwings that zigzagged past in the late afternoon. I'll add them to the list I'm keeping in this blog's sidebar. A weak front is expected to cross the valley tomorrow and it may stop some migrants for a visit. The wind may gust to 50 mph the weatherman says. I'll keep you posted!
I'm always thrilled when readers leave comments--hope you'll tell me what you are seeing in your yards. Or what you want to see. (Just make the announcement first thing in the morning. It works for me!)