March 31, 2013

Black-chinned Hummingbirds are in their spectacular mating aerial dances at El Potrero. As they swing up and down on the wing they purr and putt, the quavering sounds grow louder and dimmer with the swing of the bird on its pendulum course, closer and then away and back again. Did the animation folks who created the Jetsons in the 1960s use this for the sound effect of the futuristic personal flying cars? No sightings or sounds of these hummers at Mason’s, either.

There is appearing a pattern here, of something that may have been happening with every spring, perhaps in reverse every autumn: the returning birds come north in their waves, and eddy and flow around (or over) places that take a little waiting for them to become more comfortable for them. El Potrero is warmer, more temperate than the Mason Pastures–certainly the thermometer readings show this and so singing and courting and avian housekeeping appear to start earlier those miles north at El Potrero. Do more birds come along from their wintering grounds at the right moment to occupy Mason’s areas directly, or are they already present somewhere east, west, north and they swirl on around back to Mason’s when conditions please? The number of species that are showing evidence of this keeps growing–something at least interesting is going on, but … what?

Winter seems about gone though of course we could (and probably will) have a couple snows yet on the higher country above us, and mornings that’ll make us grumble, “Oh this never happens!”, but yes, it always does happen. A lot of wintering birds appeared at Mason’s sparingly or not at all and now their season is winding down–they didn’t come far enough south because of global warming? Winter of 2011-2012 brought great and beautiful flocks of Lark Buntings to us; this year they appeared on only a couple of occasions and in much smaller numbers. Winter before last, often Western Bluebirds would alight all along the wheel line pipes and spokes around me, truly a glittering show and I’d hear their musical “phew! phheww!” overhead, and there were the many Mountain Bluebirds visiting and landing mostly on the open ground, but not a single of the latter species came along this winter. Both bluebird species can be pretty irregular, but the more to be expected flocks of American Pipit didn’t come this year to the irrigated grass, either, though I saw and heard a very few individuals–and no longspurs at all. Long before this time last year Tree Swallow and Violet-green Swallow were passing over our planted grass, but neither of these species has come through yet in 2013. With climate shifting northwards, what might the summer hold for birds on the place? What “Mexican” species might appear?