New Backyard Friends

I moved recently, have a new backyard, and I’m happy to share a few of my new backyard friends.

I’ll start with the most thrilling: the Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin).

My new residence is only a 25-minute drive down the mountain from where I previously lived, so you would think the birds would be the same. But there are some differences.

In our new location, we have breeding Allen’s hummingbirds; they were only rare visitors to our mountain domain, presumably because of the altitude. The breeding range of Allen’s hummingbirds is very small in the U.S., it is a thin ribbon on the California-Oregon coast. Range map link.

They are still the same little intense package that all hummingbirds are, but now we have the pleasure of witnessing the Allen’s breeding dance.

A tiny orange and green bird, the male during his breeding dance has a loud sizzling buzz. Additionally, there are shimmery flashes of coppery gold, swooping dives, and an elaborate rhythmic display of pendulous arcs. It’s a grand show.

And that’s only the beginning. The new house is situated between a forest and an oak woodland, we are surrounded by many bird species. Occasional ducks and waders fly overhead, Canada geese roost nearby, raptors, woodpeckers and lots of songbirds join us.

Acorn woodpeckers abound. One of my favorite woodpeckers, Melanerpes formicivorus are very entertaining to watch with their bold colors, bright markings, flashing flight, and vocal presence.

Last week I spotted a large dead oak tree in a neighbor’s yard. The tree, known as a granary, hosts dozens of acorn woodpeckers…it is wonderful. Here they excavate holes to store their acorns. This highly social bird congregates there, but when they want a refreshing sip of water, they gather at our bird bath.

We acquired that bird bath from the previous owner. The stem of it is textured like a tree, and at least one woodpecker thought it WAS a tree, hopping up the stem in a circling pattern.

Wild turkeys roam the neighborhood, too, they roost in the adjacent forest. Their loud gobbling throughout the day always brings a smile to my face. Some nights around sunset they meander through the grass behind our fence.

And on several occasions, we have had the supreme pleasure of watching the toms (males) display for the females.

One night four black-tailed deer came by. They are a subspecies of the mule deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus. This is a young buck, evident by the start of antlers.

I’ve been told by my new neighbors that in June a shepherd and his flock will come to our back woodland. The shepherd leaves the sheep here in a fenced enclosure and the wooly ruminants eat all the tall grass. It will be very interesting to see how all this plays out.

One day I watched a red-shouldered hawk swoop into our yard, snatch up a lizard, and then land in a big oak limb while he ate the lizard.

I love lizards. The excitement of the predator on prey was fun, but I especially enjoy watching the lizards bask on the rocks and skitter across our dirt.

There are also several California ground squirrels. Otospermophilus beecheyi. Apparently they have created an extensive tunnel system beneath our garden. This cheeky but cute one, below, is eating a red rose bud.

Then this past weekend we watched a yellow daisy abruptly shake like we were in an earthquake, and then it suddenly disappeared, vanishing below the soil. That cheeky ground squirrel was down there sucking up the flower as if it was spaghetti.

Other ground-dwelling friends include the white-crowned and gold-crowned sparrows, two towhee species (California and Spotted), and several pairs of California quail (Callipepla californica).

I was surprised and delighted to see one of my favorite butterflies, the pipevine swallowtail. In the last three decades, I have seen this butterfly species about five times. So imagine my delight in seeing them come to the backyard all day long.

Battus philenor have iridescent blue hindwings and their ventral (under) side has bright orange spots.

My friends the Corvids surround us too–crows, ravens, and scrub jays–and I’m especially interested right now in what I am sure is a baby crow on a nest in one of the nearby oak trees. I hear a crow nestling whine strongly, see a parent crow fly overhead, then hear the whining stop.

I spent the past 21 years on a mountaintop, my former home, and most days were highlighted with a sweet wildlife encounter. So it is with true awe and relief that I can say: the enchantment continues.

And not only do I have the adventure of new backyard friends, but I now have the added pleasure of your visit, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

93 thoughts on “New Backyard Friends

  1. Your posts are always enchanting. And now everything is refreshed with new amazing sights to see!
    How very delightful to witness the charming beauty of California, and learn about it as we go.
    Thank you Athena for your wonderful photos! Thank you Jet, for this great presentation!

  2. Wow you have an abundance of new friends welcoming you guys to you new backyard.. I especially love the quail and acorn woodpecker. Great photo of the turkey too.

  3. A wonderful variety of backyard critters in your new abode. It;s amazing how the ecosystem and wildlife will change over a relatively short distance. I never see ruby throated hummingbirds in the valley at 5000 feet, but they are in the city at 6000 feet and higher. I love the turkey photos. I haven’t seen our feral turkeys for several years. One neighbor said she heard that animal control rounded up all the turkeys and put them down after a woman said a turkey attacked her kid. I think the turkey attack was bogus. The woman was probably afraid of the turkeys. I get really tired of people moving out here from big cities and not being able to deal with the wildlife, and then forcing animal control to do something about the critters, which is never a good outcome for the critters.

    • I agree with you on both points, Timothy. The changes that occur in wildlife in relatively short distances is very interesting; and I, too, wish people who moved to the country could grasp the reality of wilderness and wildlife and embrace it. I have heard great horned owls here, too, one of your beautiful denizens and ours too. Many thanks.

  4. Egad… what a back yard, and little friends!!! Make room for Murph and me haha
    I’m so happy you have that, thank you for sharing it. We have birdie buddies that really like us, and bunnies that relax close by, and we see deer occasionally, but always too far. I wish they would simply stop over for lovins when they pass through : )

    • I enjoyed your comment, Dawn Renee, made me smile. You and Murph are a delight. I enjoyed hearing about your backyard buddies, and hope a few of those bunnies hop out on Sunday for Easter. Thanks so much.

  5. I’ve been wondering where you were. I’d normally say to enjoy your new digs, but I think you already are. There was one little corner of northern Nevada where we would watch moles pull down stems of grass like you described. Their tunnels are different, because you can see them on the surface, so we knew they weren’t ground squirrels. I always got a kick out of that.

    • Wonderful to have an exchange today, Craig. Yeah, I’ve been busy with the rigors of real estate and domiciles, but fortunately I had a little time to get out and enjoy the new critters. I, too, get a kick out of watching those underground critters take down the foliage. If they eat every single plant I might have to do something, but until then it’s pretty fun watching their antics. Cheers, my friend, great to share the marvels of the earth with you.

    • It is great to be back, thanks, Wayne. And it’s great to be on a new playground with wildlife. Looking forward to sharing it with you. Cheers to you, my friend.

  6. I wondered where you were. Welcome back!! How exciting a new house and new adventures and critters to see and enjoy!

    I’ve only seen the Pipevine Swallowtail once up near Guerneville, CA. it was a treat to see. How wonderful that it comes to your new yard!! I look forward to future posts about your new home and sightings.

    • Thanks so much, Deborah, for your warm and welcoming message. With looking for a new house, then remodeling it, moving, and selling the old house, we’ve had our hands full, and I just had to take a hiatus. But it is delightful to be back, and I look forward to sharing more of the new digs and critters with you. Thanks so much.

  7. “The enchantment continues” you wrote – yes, yes indeed. Moving can be fraught yet you have gained fertile new wildlife grounds. Congrats and thanks for sharing your new beauties with us.

  8. What a joy to hear your reflections of the delightful critters with whom you share your new home! Think of the treasures you will find as you progress through the seasons this year. Including shepherds and sheep!!!! Enjoy!

    • Yes, there are many adventures and seasons to enjoy and I look forward to sharing them with you, dear Nan. Thanks so much for your wonderful message and visit today.

  9. Your new backyard friends are delightful. Enjoy settling in and exploring around your new home and getting acquainted with the wildlife that seems to abound there. I thought there was something rather poignant about that photo of the young black-tailed deer. Lovely to have them visiting.

    • Oh so wonderful to have you stop by, Carol. I’ve been reading about the terrible flooding down your way, and was concerned for you. So I’m happy you are corresponding, and happy I could share some of my new backyard friends with you. Take care, my friend.

      • Thanks Jet. Yes the flooding in our region has had such tragic consequences. We are inland and our city has had localised flooding (our neighbourhood is okay) but the coastal areas are hard hit as you would have read. Worryingly the rain is continuing this weekend, not as heavy as before, but it is dangerous, especially for those in the flood plains or in steep areas vulnerable to landslides, as the ground is so saturated. Thank you for your concern.

      • Thank you, Carol, for a live, local view of the flooding in your area. I hope the continuing rain ends soon so that everyone has some time to recover. My warm thanks and best wishes to you and your community.

    • Hi Eliza, so great to see you! Yes, I am enjoying my new home and what a joy to introduce you to some of my new neighbors. Thanks so much for your visit and kind words.

  10. What a delight to find so much wonderful nature, Jet! I smiled at the opening photo of the lesser goldfinch as I have one coming up tomorrow. It’s really interesting that animal and bird life is so different when so close. I’m looking forward to seeing more as you discover it/them.

  11. Thanks for sharing all the wonderful denizens of your new backyard menagerie. I’ve never seen an Allen’s hummingbird – looks a bit like our rufous that comes through in July. You seem uncommonly tolerant of the damage that squirrels can do to a yard and garden.
    Wonderful photos, Athena, as always.

    • Hi Eilene, happy to introduce you to the Allen’s hummingbird. Re squirrel damage, I did pour water down one of the tunnels a few times to discourage them from building more, which seemed to help, and hopefully they will move on. If not, we’ll figure something else out. Glad you enjoyed the backyard friends post and photos. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  12. Congratulations on your new home! You have a lovely backyard and quite cute new acquaintances. Those turkeys are larger that the ones we have in Georgia. In case that you run out of squirrels, I can send you some that eating all my bird’s seeds. Now, feeding birds is expensive! Enjoy your new home, my friend. 🙂

    • It is with pleasure that I shared my backyard with you, H.J., for I have had great pleasure in virtually visiting yours. We haven’t set up the feeders yet because we seem to get plenty of birds without them. We have been here only three weeks, though, so we’ll see how things unfold. Happy to see you, my friend, and thank you for your visit.

  13. So happy to hear that the enchantment continues in your new backyard! I enjoyed very much meeting all your new friends. I wonder, what are the purple flowers in the pictures of the wild turkeys and the deer? A beautiful post, Jet, and I wish you much happiness in your new home.

    • I love it when you drop by, Barbara, for you are so observant and thoughtful. That’s what I like about your posts, too. The purple wildflowers are vetch. More specifically, it is Hairy Vetch, Vicia villosa. They are a nitrogen fixer, but not native and considered an invasive. They are beautiful and cover the hillsides this time of year. I’ve attached a Wikipedia link for more info. Always a pleasure to “see” you, Barbara, thank you. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vicia_villosa

      • Thanks for asking about the vetch, Barbara. You inspired me to look it up and learn more about it. I don’t care if they’re considered invasive, I think they’re beautiful. My warmest thanks.

    • Thanks so very much, Janet. We are very happy in our new home and surrounded by live trees instead of dead fire-damaged ones, it is a great relief and joy. And it is extra special to have the hummingbirds here dancing through the air. My warmest thanks for your kind message and also for your support in the past 4.5 years since the wildfires. It is most appreciated. XX

  14. Thank you for sharing your new backyard friends. Looks like you live in a colorful neighborhood. Congratulations on your new house. For some reason this year has been the year of the wild turkey for us. We have seen a few over the 22 years we’ve lived here but not like this year. One day we had three toms (I thought they were called gobblers) and eight hens! meandering through our yard. The males were definitely trying to impress.as they herded the hens to the woods across the street. They are such big birds! We have seen them twice since then in smaller groups.

    • I so enjoyed hearing about the wild turkeys in your backyard, LuAnne. Those toms are quite amazing in their displays, and to have 11 turkeys parading in your yard sounds incredible. I, too, find their big size something of awe. Interesting how you got so many this year. My warmest thanks for your visit and words.

    • Dear pc, thanks so very much for your warm words. I am happy to be back here at WP and to have new wildlife and stories to share. I hope you are doing well in your move. Cheers, my friend.

  15. I smiled at your mention of ducks flying overhead. On Monday, I returned home from a short trip to find my patio completely free of birdseed. I’d not left extra food for the critters, so I assumed they’d done their part to clean up the treats. Not so! On Tuesday, I heard a familiar sound, looked out, and saw four Mallards helping themselves to the seed that had dropped to the ground! We’re near a marina, but now I’m wondering if there might be a nest nearby.

    As for that flower being slurped down like spaghetti, that reminded me of the unfortunate fate of so many baby mallards around here. They be following behind their mother when WHOOPS! One disappears, pulled down into the water: usually by a gar fish.

    I’m so glad you’re pleased with your new place. There are so many discoveries waiting for you!

    • Lovely to have you stop by, Linda, and share your wildlife stories. I have a warm spot in my heart for mallards, such a gorgeous bird with a great laugh. I had never heard of the ducklings being snatched up by fish in the water, but it doesn’t surprise me. Those little ducklings, so adorable, but so vulnerable. I’m glad you live near a marina, for I know boats are one of your loves. Warmest thanks, Linda.

  16. Although I have no idea what your previous yard was like, I can see why you would want to have this one as your own. Spacious and filled with life. ANd you’ve met so many new neighbors in such a short time.
    More to come I bet.
    Good luck there and hoping you have many many years of pleasurable living experiences in your new home.

    • Thanks very much, Steve, for your warm and welcoming message. We are very glad to have found this place for our next home, and it was great fun putting this post together sharing a few of our new backyard friends. More fun to come, and happy to share it with you.

  17. Amazing how just a change in altitude will bring a change in wildlife. Never seen that hummer before and I’ve been chasing the Acorn WP for a while now – go the White-Headed a couple of years ago and need to to get back to Cali to get the Acorn checked off. Thanks for sharing your (new) backyard critters!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the birds here, Brian. The acorn woodpecker is one of my favorite woodpeckers because they are very vocal and gregarious, entertaining to watch. They have bold markings and plenty of flash in flight too. We never tire of them here in Calif. and have, believe it or not, seen quite a few of them in Belize too. Cheers and thanks for stopping by.

    • I was happy to bring a spot of spring to you in Ontario, Christie. This is that time of year when the northern climes are still getting the last blast of winter so I am glad I could bring you the warmth and sweetness of spring that will come to you very soon. Thanks so much for your visit.

  18. Oh Jet! This sounds simply heavenly.

    Isn’t that Allen’s courting dance utterly amazing? It took me a while to figure out what on earth was making that loud mechanical pop… you wouldn’t think a tiny fragment of a bird could possibly make a sound like it. I wasn’t convinced until I actually got to watch that death defying swoop! I’m so happy for you that you have these darlings in your yard.
    The nuthatch being a distinct favorite of mine for having the grace to be the very first bird to land on my hand. Ever. And… oh! all the rest of the new neighbors. How utterly delightful! (I’d be willing to share a lizard or snake, or two… 😉)
    ​Looks like we share quite a few of the same sort here. I can just imagine your happy dance! (and Athena, too! 🤗)​​ No turkeys immediately present however.​
    ​Is that Lupine that the turkeys are strolling through? You need to add some California poppies to the palette in order to complete ​​what is (to my mind) the iconic CA scene​​!

    I know it took me too long, but I’m glad this happy post didn’t slide off the list!!! Time just seems to ooze away out here somehow.
    Lovely!!! ​🤗🙏

    • Dear Gunta, what a delight to have you stop by, I am so glad I could share our new backyard friends with you. It’s wonderful that you have also been amazed by the Allen’s courting dance…it really is the most beautiful spectacle. I intend to do a post just on that topic, because it is so wonderful, just have to be here long enough to get some good photos. Tricky to photograph, as you no doubt know. There is lupin and Calif. poppies on the back hill, though they cannot be seen from our yard. The purple flower you see in the photos here is vetch. My warmest thanks and biggest grins, Gunta, for your delightful visit.

  19. We tried to catch that courting dance with not the slightest bit of success. I looked it up… that tiny little bit of fluff is going at some mind-boggling speed (I don’t remember the actual number!) But I DO hope Athena has some success… if there’s a way…? I surely look forward to your post dedicated to this most charming of tiny birds.

    I’m not sure why, but seeing wild fields of lupin and poppy shining up the dry hillsides of California… it’s just something that’s stayed with me all these many, many years later! It might be vetch, but it managed to trigger that scene in my mind’s eye! I’m hoping the lupin I planted on our hillside finally flowers this year… the poppies have done well for several years. I’m still working at recreating that image, but way to the north of where I first encountered it. But the wild flowers just coming to life up in the Siskyous are utterly amazing. If I could just settle down long enough to post…. 😉 I’m happy for your joy in your new home! 🤗🙏

  20. Congratulations on your new home, Jet! I’m glad the wildlife abounds down the mountain, too. While reading your post, the underlying feeling I had was how much you appreciate and notice nature’s small moments that are happening every day. Athena’s photos are great documentations of those encounters. I particularly loved the turkeys and the deer among the purple flowers (lupine?)….dreamy. When I walk with my granddaughters, I observe small scenes with them, a passing bird or lizard or a blooming flower, with hopes that they, too, will appreciate nature’s gifts throughout their lives. Thanks for being a great naturalist role model. 🙂🌎

    • Your lovely comment was much appreciated, Jane. I’m happy you enjoyed the photos of our new backyard friends. One morn. on my walk I saw 7 turkeys all displaying, took a photo with my phone, but the background was cars and street and mailboxes. So I know you can imagine, being an experienced photographer, how thrilled we were when Athena saw one turkey displaying with green grass in the background. So I’m thrilled you liked that photo. The background flower is vetch. And of course I’m honored that you called me a naturalist role model and that you are sharing the beauties of nature with your granddaughters. I feel it’s important that we carry the beauty and power and joy of nature with us to future generations because if we don’t, it will disappear and be replaced with buildings and sprawl. Very big thanks, dear Jane.

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