- Along the creek, downstream from Stevenson Bridge between Winters and Davis, and in my adjacent garden and native grass area, breeding activity is slowing down but by no means over. The twin chicks in the two Red-tailed Hawk nests near my house have fledged, and I encounter one or two of them occasionally in the vicinity of their nests. The Red-shouldered Hawks on the other side of the creek seem to have fledged, too, judging from the insistent calling. All Wood Duck nest boxes are empty now, one clutch of 13 eggs was abandoned, the other 7 boxes produced 10-15 ducklings each. One duckling was decapitated on its way to the water, presumably by my special friends the Scrub jays. Given the late start of Wood Duck breeding activity around here this year I do not expect any second broods. Three pairs of Western Bluebirds fledged their first sets of 5 chicks each and two pairs undertook a second brood, one of them ready to fledge today, the other probably needing still another week. Five pairs of Tree Swallows fledged from their respective boxes in my garden, others from natural cavities, mostly in cottonwoods, down by the creek. An Ash-throated Flycatcher still occupies one of my nest boxes with 4 chicks close to fledging. At least three other pairs are nesting along the creek along the trail I walk most days. Several families of Bushtits are circulating through the neighborhood. One pair built their nest in a clump of mistletoe in my garden. The Black Phoebe has been using its "permanent" mud nest on the gable of my garden shed for the third year now and its second brood set of four chicks is ready to leave the nest. The number of Barn Swallow nests is down this year, from 13 last year to 8 so far this year (much to our relief!). As far as I can tell, 6 of them have produced sets of four chicks and the young of a pair nesting on our back porch are sitting on the edge of their nest ready to go. The pair nesting in our garage is already busy with their second brood. House Finch nests are too numerous to count, built in any nook and cranny, palm trees, sycamores, silk trees, and fruit trees. They are having a banner year, as are the Mourning Doves who have nests everywhere and are constantly building new ones. I am sure there are more than 20 nests in my garden and vicinity, many of them used more than once. Their melancholy, beautiful cooing intermixed with the more forceful cooing of the several pairs of Eurasian Collared Doves nesting in my garden produces a rich and peaceful concert early in the morning while I doze along, still half asleep. Northern Mockingbirds, too, seem to be more numerous and productive than ever. So far I have found 7 nests in my garden, and at least 3 close to my garden on my brother-in-law's property next door. Of these 10 nests, 4 are second brood nests which are started within days of the chicks leaving their first brood nests. I am quite sure there are additional nests. California Towhees have nested in my garden every year for many years and again this year, but this is the first year that I have found a Spotted Towhee nest. I observed the female building it rather frantically about 4 feet up in a large rose bush in front of our house. She would hop rather quickly about, picking up large pieces, strips of bark and haul them into the rose bush, returning only seconds later for more, all the while being shadowed by the attentive male who was picking up little bits and pieces in a show of solidarity only to drop them again. The nest was finished in 2 days and now holds three eggs. I suspect it is a second brood nest since this pair of towhees sounded the alarm earlier whenever I came close to a certain area. American Robins have built many nests, as usual, and are still adding new ones after having fledged their first broods. Western Kingbirds are nesting not only on the lower bracket of the transformer next door, but also in two of my palm trees, high in a eucalyptus and in a sycamore. One pair started nests in three different locations before settling down for good on a stub of of a dead leaf base on one of my washingtonia palms. Black-headed Grosbeaks built at least 6 nests in my garden of which 4 were successful, one was abandoned before it was occupied and then taken over by a Mourning Dove, another fell victim to predation. I suspect there are at least two second brood attempts under way judging from the renewed singing of two males. Today, a female hauled a bill full of grape jelly to either a fledgling or to a nest undiscovered by me. Bullock's Orioles are now on their second broods both in my garden and along the creek where I encounter fledglings regularly. As noted earlier, Hooded Orioles are still increasing in numbers and are approaching colony status. I suspect that my garden holds the highest concentration of Hood Orioles of this region. There are at least 10 males present, some of them first year individuals in various stages of coloration. The first burst of nest building produced at least 8 active nests and there may have been others I could not easily see. Interestingly, once these first nests were built (during the second half of April/ first days of May) additional nest building stopped almost entirely, in contrast to earlier years when new nest building was almost constant throughout the breeding season. I theorize that this pattern is a function of cowbird abundance or scarcity. I have long suspected that Hooded Orioles abandon nests that are parasitized by cowbirds, although not always, since I have seen Hooded Orioles feed fledgling cowbirds on several occasions.This year, Brown-headed Cowbirds have been extremely scarce around my place and on many days I do not see any, not even at my seed feeder where they were frequent visitors in the past. Perhaps for this reason, female Hooded Orioles stuck with their initial nests this year and only after their first brood chicks had fledged, nest building started over again in earnest. I am sure there are by now over 20 nests, although I have given up looking for them. But when I do check a few palm trees, I invariably find new ones. It is puzzling why this growing population of Hooded Orioles has not spread out more into gardens of my neighbors, especially the garden of one streamside neighbor only a quarter of a mile away who has a large grove of over 30 mature and many younger washingtonia palms but has never had any Hooded Orioles nesting.
Among many Anna's and Black-chinned Hummingbirds in my garden and along the creek, no Allen's yet who should show up around this time. But I did finally find the nest of a Black-chinned hummer on a thin branch of a valley oak sapling about 3feet above a blackberry thicket at the edge of the creek. The female built it last week and is now sitting on it.
And talking about nests, I was surprised last week when I came to the upstream end of my trail where is climbs out of the creek channel up to my neighbor's gravel driveway to find a Red-eared Slider turtle who had dug a nest in bone dry soil next to the driveway and was in the process of depositing eggs, just like in a National Geographic documentary about nesting sea turtles on the beach. I could see only 4 or five eggs but there were probably more. The most amazing part of this rare (for me!) scene was that the turtle must have somehow transported a relatively large amount of water up to this spot, which is about 120 ft from the nearest water, because the soil was thoroughly wetted and even muddy, thus making it possible for the turtle to dig a hole about 6 inches deep in soil so dry it would be impossible to drive a spade into it. Does anybody know how this works? When I returned with my camera, the turtle had finished her business and was covering the eggs. It then unhesitatingly headed back to the creek below.
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- From Top Of The Hill, Prunedale
This morning I had a Vesper Sparrow on the Solano side of the river in the Pedrick rd. river access area.
Kent Van Vuren