Dave Rice 12:30 p.m., Dec. 11
The White-breasted Nuthatch has his head and jet black beak pointed up the Jacarunda tree as he scurries from trunk to limb, to the hanging bird feeder. I’ve seen him in our yard almost every day this summer, along with numerous graceful Western Bluebirds, a flock of mini “cheeping” birds called Bushtits and many more San Diego County natives. The bluebirds are at home in the vegetable garden, flying off only to observe me picking tomatoes and strawberries at dusk. The Hermit Thrush and California Thrasher have disappeared all together. Gargamel was my name for the thrasher with his strange, curved bill and long legged walk. Something about that bird really reminded me of the Smurfs cartoon character. These wild locals come to our yard looking for special offerings in various feeders and shallow-water bird baths spread front and back.
After moving to Lakeside I picked up a new hobby. I buy wild bird seed and put out daily offerings, hoping to catch a glimpse of the many beautiful birds we have flocking to our neighborhood. Much like the VFW hall is to the human variety of snow birds, our yard is a meeting place, crowded with eating and socializing. White- Crowned Sparrows dot the fence in a line, like a little army with matching black and white, striped helmets. They arrive with the cool nights and vanish at the first sign of spring. Winter also brings countless Dark-eyed Juncos, popping their little, round heads out of manicured shrubs. They look like ornaments on a simply decorated Christmas tree. I can here their rhythmic chirps through the open kitchen windows. I imagine the juncos colored bright pink and lined up in a box, like marshmallow Peeps on Easter.
The full timers consist of loud, marauding jays, bright yellow American Goldfinches, chattering Rufous-sided Towhees, frolicking California Towhees and several generations of Black-headed Grosbeaks. I can depend on the Black Phoebe for backyard insect removal, silently skimming and gliding over the lawn. After nabbing her meal she lands firmly on my clothes line causing it to jump and dip under her lightweight frame.
Many birds comb through the yard looking for nesting supplies. An industrious Hooded Oriole spent an entire spring day stripping supplies off of Mexican Fan Palms. With a thud she lands in the center of the frond, then much like a typewriter she loudly works the threads from the outside to the center. After gathering the threads she carries them one at a time high up in an eucalyptus tree, weaving an intricate basket-like nest. The noisier, more clickish birds prefer hanging together in groups. The sing songy European Starlings perch above on electrical lines. The quiet but distinct warbling of Western Kingbirds can be heard in the morning from empty fields. Like a men’s choir, dressed in yellow sweater vests they sing in harmony. Mourning Doves never travel alone, if one is spotted just look around for it’s loyal companion making a clumsy landing nearby. And, never invite a Mallard duck over, he’ll bring his ten best buddies and they all like poopin’ in the pool. We learned that the hard way. We have a tall, dark eyed, long necked thief in our neighborhood. This persistent Snowy Egret can eat as many goldfish as we will supply. First he lands on the roof, like a stork minus the baby, then he waits for an opportunity. He is like a criminal after the glittering gold, submerged in the pond. Wearing out our most energetic dog during his crime spree. After the pillaging he flies away slowly, lifting his long legs into position, like an airplane bringing up the landing gear. A new bird is a common sight around the feeders. Like that nuthatch with his tiny black eye surrounded by pure white feathers. Western Bluebirds gathering in the vegetable garden at sunset, they’re a welcome new bunch. We fall asleep to the sounds of a Barn Owl. He sits atop the wood fence looking regal, the moonlight shining white off of his cloak of multi-colored plumage. Quiet “whooos” murmur, calmly through the night air. Then a loud screech as he dives for his prey, plucking a rat from the backyard bird feeder.
Each morning we wake to a Scrub Jay mutiny in the backyard. They demand a breakfast of peanuts at sunrise, bickering and complaining several feet from our bedroom window. There’s a Northern Mockingbird making loud, clacking sounds in the front yard. He scratches around on the ground under the hanging feeder. His long, straight, rectangular tail flicks around in the air, like the spoon handle stirring my morning coffee. The bird population is growing in our yard. With each new arrival I’m reminded of rare sighting in the past. The Lazuli Bunting is one of the most rare. These small birds have neon blue feathers, so bright that they seem to glow in the daylight. For several days they took over the feeders, about twenty birds scattered around the yard. Then they left as promptly as they showed up, haven’t seen them since. We watched a Titmouse as he built his nest in a birdhouse above the feeders. His crested head and circular eyes popped in and out curiously as he watched the babies grow. Finally they grew too big for the little wooden box, causing the whole family to relocate. They have come back to visit, but never again to that bird house.
The bright oranges and yellows of Western Tanagers are rarely seen in our trees. Even more rare a Hermit Warbler, with yellow head and speckled body hopping around at the base of the waterfall. Just like that Hermit Thrush with speckled body and long legs, he lived at the top of that waterfall. At one time it was a pair of thrush enjoying the shallow water and shade of the rocks. But not anymore. They’re gone, just like Gargamel, that predictable thrasher. Recently on a long morning walk with that energetic dog of mine, I spotted the most rare of all Lakeside avian. I heard the “squacking” and talking of many birds, perched high up in a tall eucalyptus. I could see the short, stocky birds outlined by the morning sun. Recognizing these unique silhouettes and familiar sounds, I was brought back to a childhood in Ocean Beach.
“Lakeside parrots?” I asked, with my face pointed upward in awe. I could see at least ten small, noisy parrots, stretching and preening themselves. As we walked home I hastily planned my next trip to buy bird seed and I wondered . . . “what do parrots like to eat?”