Spring Wildlife Rituals

Jackrabbit

Northern California is now about a month or two into spring. The hillsides are emerald, wildflowers abound. Almost every summer migrant bird species has arrived; and all the animals have begun their spring rituals.

Wild Douglas iris, California

Violet-green swallows, black-headed grosbeaks, and Pacific-slope flycatchers have arrived from Mexico and Central America. They will breed here, then leave in autumn, hopefully with a new brood.

 

Violet-green Swallow, male, California

 

Black-headed Grosbeak (male); a highly anticipated spring arrival

 

Pacific-slope flycatcher adult singing of life

Additional bird species have also arrived, in their usual order, some earlier in spring, some later. Flycatchers, tanagers, warblers, gnatcatchers, and more.

 

The violet-green swallows, oak titmice, and western bluebirds always vie for the nest boxes. Our human spring ritual is to clean out the boxes; their avian spring ritual is to squabble over them. It makes no difference how many boxes we offer, the territory battles somehow have to occur.

 

They cling to their real estate amidst a swirl of swooping competitors, and eventually it all gets settled out.

Violet-green swallow on nest box, California

 

Western Bluebird on nest box, California

 

A few of the reptiles are starting to show their faces. They come out of hibernation on warm days: look around, absorb the sun, do their dances, then return to their burrows when the evening starts it’s chill.

 

This week I saw about five western fence lizards

Western Fence Lizard, California

and at least ten skinks.

Skink, California

 

Twice we found snake tracks in powdery dirt, but no snake. It looked like a wooden pencil was dragged through the dirt. The snakes will linger longer when the earth has warmed up more, rattle at us if we unknowingly get too close.

 

This is a rattlesnake in our front yard from a previous summer; they keep our rodent population under control. That’s a big one.

Western Rattlesnake, sub-species Northern Pacific; Calif. Rattle (white) at far right end of tail, 6-8 rattles.

 

Then there are the frogs, Pacific chorus frogs. For the last three months they have been in full symphonic mode at night, singing at the neighbor’s pond, each male singing loudly–the louder the better–to attract a mate.

 

They require water for laying eggs, so the mating rituals begin at the pond’s edge, with the male filling up his throat with air, then croaking and crooning.

 

Starting in late January, through February and March, I sat in the dark living room with the window open, listening appreciatively, for as long as I could stand the frigidity. The sound came in thick waves, swelling, and swelling more.

 

Now there’s warm air coming through the night window, and the cacophony has dwindled, signaling that most mating has occurred.

 

Meanwhile, the female lays 400-750 eggs. They are jelly-like beads, in clumps that stick to the reeds and twigs. The frogs have to lay so many because it is tasty caviar to most other wildlife.

 

Soon the tadpoles will sprout little legs and gradually their entire bodies will transform from water-swimming pollywogs to land-hopping frogs.

Tadpole on a leaf…

Tadpole with frog legs

then frog.

Pacific Chorus Frog, California

The adult frog is very small, about two inches long (5 cm). They keep our spiders and insects in check.

 

Warm days, growing longer. New life abounds in many different forms…reminding us that miracles are everywhere.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos by Athena Alexander.

Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) and Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Angel Island, CA

 

116 thoughts on “Spring Wildlife Rituals

  1. A wonderful spring post, full of sound and colour. The squabbling birds, singing frogs, and slithering snakes are putting on quite the spectacle, not that they know it. Isn’t it great when the night air starts to warm up?
    Thanks, Jet, and have a wonderful weekend!

    • Yes, it is great when the night air starts to warm, I agree, PC. Glad you enjoyed all the images here today, narratively and photographically. My warm thanks for your visit today. And a happy weekend to you, too, my friend.

  2. I love the sound of frogs at night. I’ve been known to listen to them for hours. The sound of rattlesnakes I don’t particularly enjoy. Growing up, it was a rule everywhere that you killed them on site. I started moving them off the roads years ago so others wouldn’t fulfill that goal. They’ve gotten rare in recent years, like everything else.

  3. Another great story on another early Friday morning. I am looking around with more appreciation. Thanks dear Jet!

  4. Hi Jet, Thoroughly enjoyed your springtime post. An homage to nature’s awakening. I can hear the frogs and birds (love Athena’s shot of the singing flycatcher among others) and your storytelling reminds us of the dramatic changes happening all around us. Great way to start the day, thanks.

    • I’m happy I got your day off to a good start, Jane. There’s nothing like springtime to lift our spirits and remind us of the beauties that surround us. Athena was happy she was able to capture that flycatcher singing–usually their calls are short, and their perching time even shorter. Thanks so much, Jane, your comment is appreciated.

  5. A wonderfully descriptive account of the sights and sounds of nature around you, Jet. I haven’t seen tadpoles since I was a child in England. Thanks for reminding me of the wonder I felt at seeing the frog spawn develop first into pollywogs and then into tiny hopping frogs. 😃 Beautiful photos and narrative as always.

  6. I wish there were no rattlers so my dogs could be safe. (I worry about that when we go to Montana each year). Something else, like owls, could eat the rodents.But that’s quite the photo of that snake. It’s a big one. You have such colourful birds in your area. I’m envious. We get pretty excited when something exotic stumbles up our way, but they are only very accidental visitors. You live in a wonderful place. Thanks for sharing. California is so full of life.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the springtime visit to northern California today, Anneli. It was a pleasure to bring it to you. Thanks so much for your visit and comment.

    • I have always enjoyed your nature posts, too, Hien. You and I are lucky to have the opportunity to share the wonders with others. A joy to “see” you today, thank you.

    • It is my joy and honor to share the springtime marvels with you, Jill, and I really appreciate you taking the time to enjoy them here every week. Thanks so very much.

    • You know from your outdoor adventures, Eliza, that the nature keeps coming. I had to limit my writings today, or it would’ve been too long. And isn’t that a wonderful thing? Thanks so much, and my wishes to you for a happy weekend, too.

  7. What beautiful, beautiful creatures Jet – and so many so colourful! Do I sound jealous? I am a bit I guess but although we do not have quite such a wide range of exotic colourful creatures here in the UK, I have still enjoyed very much what we do have so far this year.
    I love that violet green swallow, and the hare, and the lizard, and the flowers and the frogs and all the other birds … your posts are always such a treat. Thank you 🙂

  8. Thank you for this fantastic tour in Northern California. I am amazed at the
    vivid colours of your birds. They are stunning.
    Although ours have beautiful colours they are muted compared.

    The whole nature seems to have just burst out around you with colours so
    sparkling as to be almost unreal.

    Miriam

    • It’s true, there is so much bursting out it does sometimes feel unreal, Miriam. In some meadow-like spots, when the sun is on it, there’s a kind of crackling sound, as if the meadow is electric. It’s actually grasshoppers, I think. Another surreal aspect. Thanks so much for your interest here, your visit is appreciated.

  9. Jet, thank you for sharing the beauty and wonder of Spring! nature’s little miracles make the heart expand with joy and gratitude. beautiful photos and narrative as always! 🙂

  10. I do love the sound of frogs in the spring. We have a creek down the hill from us which is generally just a trickle but this year, it’s really hopping! (pun intended) Happy Spring!

  11. Oh, so exciting to hear how spring is waking up in your neck of the woods! Love the vision of you shivering in the cold, enjoying the sweet spring song of the frogs.

    • It is pure joy to share the awakening of the season with you, Nan. April is my favorite month at home, for all that is going on, and this year did not disappoint. Thanks so much for always stopping by and leaving such wonderful comments.

  12. This is a very enjoyable post! The pics are wonderful and the writing is captivating. I love the part about the birds fighting over the nest boxes. Nature can look very cute, at times. Thank you, Jet!

    • I enjoyed your feedback, Resa, thank you. It is such a spectacle to watch when the birds are fighting over the nest boxes. Every year we would add another box thinking this would end the battles and they could all be friends. Then after we had five or six up, and they were still battling, we realized it didn’t have anything to do with quantity. ha. I agree with you, nature can look very cute sometimes. Warmest thanks, Resa.

    • And it’s an equal joy to share it, Val; especially since I know you’ve been here and what it’s like in northern California. My warm thanks for your lovely comment and flower.

  13. Ah, spring! We’re finally getting into it here as well. Thanks for sharing all the lovely photos and taking me along on the adventure of the resurgence of life. “My” park has wildflowers coming up and out, although the majority are still to come. There’s a nasty rumor that we might have several (or more) inches of snow tomorrow, but I’ll be out again on Monday to check the status of the flowers. As for your singing bird, are you sure it’s singing and not berating? 🙂

    janet

    • Oddly enough, I know the bird language, and the flycatcher was definitely singing. lol. Glad to hear spring is bringing flowers in your park, Janet, and I hope the snow stays away. Thanks so much for your visit.

  14. Must be so interesting to live in rural areas where you can see more wild life. Where I live is more urban, I see more birds and three squirrels and some insects, but that’s all. You are lucky! Thank you my friend for the post. 🙂

    • Yes, it is very interesting and enjoyable to live in a rural setting. When friends come to visit from the city they are struck by the quietness, but to me, so much is going on! I’m happy you enjoyed today’s post, HJ, thank you for your visit.

  15. Thanks for sharing a glimpse at the signs of spring in another part of the country, Jet and Athena. The creatures and vegetation are somewhat different from those on the East coast, but I think that the feelings that they bring forth of new life and growth and an overall sense of hopeful expectation are the same. Spring is a wonderful time of the year!

    • A true joy to bring our No. Calif. spring to you, Mike. And I agree, the uplift of feelings from this season are shared from coast to coast. Wishing beauty and brightness fill your spring days. Thank you.

  16. What a post, Jet!! Spring is certainly springing!! Your images are fantastic! I photographed a swallow with a blue/purple head and feathers. I attempted to capture them while flying over the water catching insects to no avail. (LOL) That rattlesnake I would not be comfortable with knowing it was in my yard. Sorry, I and snakes ….. if there that big, no way! Just beautiful post all the way around. That bluebird had my mouth gaping! It is SO good to see Spring again!! Thank you so much for giving me such a delightful journey! 🦋🦋🦋

    • I enjoyed your comment and visit so much, Amy, thank you. I’m happy to bring you the joys of spring. We were lucky with the swallows, because they come knowing they have real estate to count on, so they perch more around here than you usually see them perch. Athena had to snap about a thousand photos of the swallow, for many years, to capture those colors in the perfect light. Glad you enjoyed it.

      • Swallows are NOT easy to photograph. Lord help me, I know! I shot perhaps 50 frames and maybe one, or two, I could show. They are so fast! I LOVE watching them and lucky you for having a perch for them! We have barn swallows here which I as well LOVE to watch!

  17. seeing & hearing of the menagerie of life
    that feels safe in your world
    waters my happy seeds, Jet!
    Impressive how each one
    is called by its true name.
    i’m reminded of this
    Dylan song, thanks 🙂

    • I am going to have the theory of watering my happy seeds with me now, thanks to your lovely post, and I love that, David, thank you. I’m glad this springtime post watered your happy seeds, and thanks for the Dylan song, I enjoyed it. Always a true pleasure, my friend, thank you.

    • Oh yes, isn’t that western bluebird gorgeous, Dina? We are lucky to have them nesting here every spring, and feeding their little ones throughout the summer. Well, luck isn’t really part of it, actually. We work really hard to make our property habitable and inviting, and it has paid off. And how wonderful I could share these beauties with you. Many thanks.

  18. Just love spring and when we get to see the birds that winter in the South. You have a great selection. We have seen our Eastern Bluebirds. I’m not looking for any snakes – too scary!

  19. We’ve been having quite a few bird arrivals, not to mention all the other living things we keep discovering. One worrying note is that we don’t seem to have any frogs this year. Seems like fewer salamanders, but I’ve spotted a couple of snakes. My reaction to the snakes has been toned down a bit with practice, but that fast, sudden movement still startles me every time! Then I just look around, a bit embarrassed.

    What a pleasure to enjoy your living neighbors and to compare them to those we enjoy to the north of you.

    • I, too, enjoy hearing about your spring arrivals, Gunta. They come in waves, depending upon the weather. So maybe the frogs just have not come out yet…I hope so. Thanks so much.

  20. I guess that’s an advantage of being centrally located – more variety. And being away from the city yields more critters – although I think I’d prefer a cat as a mouser over a rattlesnake.

  21. Incredible photography Jet! What an amazing variety of wildlife you have in your backyard! Well, we just had a another dump of snow, so the Spring rituals are a bit slow this year!
    Dave

    • Oh those spring snows are trying, after getting so close to spring, and then being thrust into winter. Hope spring reappears in quick time, Dave. My thanks to both you and Sue.

  22. My favorite evenings are those in spring or autumn when it’s possible to have the windows open and listen to the fish jumping and the night-birds complaining when surprised off the dock lines they perch on. Your birds are so beautiful. Of course we get to see some of the vibrantly colored ones as they migrate through, but our “regular” birds aren’t so striking. I did come across some women today who were excited to have found a flock of magnolia warblers — I had no idea such a bird existed.

    You’d enjoy watching our swallows at the marinas. They like to nest under the floating docks. There’s a firm superstructure to support the nest, and because the docks float there’s no danger of flooding. Watching the parents zoom past just at water level, straight into the nest, is amazing. How the babes know they’re coming with food I’m not sure, but they always start cheeping before I see the parents! They’re one of my favorite spring attractions.

    • I so enjoyed your spring delights, Linda, thanks so much. It’s funny that you brought up the magnolia warbler excitement that you witnessed, because I was just away on a trip and had the fortune to come across magnolia warblers, which we do not get where I live. Athena and I were in a flurry of joy coming across that magnificent beauty. Really liked your swallow observations and descriptions too. I never ever tire of watching swallows fly, they are supreme aerialists. And when they are working so hard to feed their chicks, and you have the reward of hearing the little chick voices, oh what a pleasure. Thanks so very much, my friend.

    • Yes, jackrabbits are so very quick. This photo was taken from our deck, while the rabbit had a moment of pause. Many thanks for your visit and comment, Lydi.

  23. Hi, Jet. Just giving you a heads up. Tomorrow I am publishing a post which I have linked to this post. Why? I mentioned your name in my post due to the fact I have one bird I did not ID and hope you will. I would so appreciate your help tomorrow, if you have time. Thank you! I know I could spend “time” looking in my bird book, yet, with an expert like you around, I’d rather employ your knowledge. (smile) 😉

    • Hi Amy, I would have helped if I could, but I was in the middle of the Belizean jungle without wifi reception when you wrote. I’m home now, available, and saw that you posted a magnificent swallow series. Sending smiles, and thanks for your friendship. Please let me know if I can still be of help.

  24. Hi Jet. This is such a lovely, lively spring post. I especially enjoyed seeing the jackrabbit. What a cutie.
    I’ve been surprised to see several finches (I think — I don’t know birds well) in the back of my high desert yard. They seem to enjoy eating something from the weeds that gave me such a bad allergic reaction. So the remaining weeds get a reprieve for the sake of the little birds. 🙂 Hugs on the wing.

    • Wonderful to hear from you, Teagan. Finches are seedeaters, so perhaps that is what you are seeing. Sounds like your spring has been problematic, so I’m glad I could bring it to you here without any allergic reactions. My warm thanks and hugs to you, my friend.

  25. Pingback: Connection – Connecting Beyond

    • I commented on your post, Amy, with bird names, sorry it was a bit delayed…out of the country. Really enjoyed your gallery of colorful life and spring miracles. Smiles to you.

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the spring rituals post, Katrina, and glad you stopped by. The frog chorus is really loud, but it’s still in a cold time of year so all the windows and doors are shut. If I get up in the night, I open the windows to check on the sound, and usually it’s tapered down in the early morning hours. Thanks so much.

  26. Your blog helps me identify birds while on vacations, Jet 🙂 We spent most of the time in the cabin with no coverage, and I enjoyed the wildlife. Black-headed Grosbeak once visited the cabin. As I have read this post shortly before my trip, I identified the bird on spot 🙂 We also watched seven Turkey buzzards feasting on some roadkill, and many other birds and mammals. Thank you for all the information I gather from your posts and Athena’s beautiful photography!

    • It is a complete joy and honor to share the beautiful creatures of the world with you, Inese. And I am smiling real broadly right now, with the thought that I’ve helped you identify a few on your vacation. My warmest thanks.

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