Creatures of the Night

When the sun goes down and the night turns black this Halloween, there are plenty of wildlife creatures to send shivers up the spine.

Owls, our most famous nocturnal creature, have serrated feathers for silent flight. They can glide right past you invisibly and soundlessly…all you know is a faint breeze on your face.

The shadows of the rainforest can make the small creatures large…

and the large creatures gigantic.

And where would our scary nights be without bats? In Australia the bats are so big their scientific name is megabats. Here are two species of megabats.

In the Trinidad rainforest we discovered a steady stream of these Long-tongued Bats shooting out of the lodge basement every night at cocktail hour, like clockwork.

A walk through the Australian rainforest brings out animals most of us have never heard of like brushtail possums and sugar-gliders.

Even creatures who are not nocturnal, like this lizard, lurk in the night…they have to sleep somewhere.

One night while Athena was photographing sugar gliders, cicadas came in, attracted to the lodge’s yard light.

I was admiring their bright green color and thinking how much bigger their cicadas were here in Australia, than ours at home. Bigger than my thumb.

I thought they were very cool…until one landed in my hair.

I screamed. Panicked and beat my hands through my hair like a crazy person.

And Africa has a very animated night life when it comes to wildlife. Moths as big as birds; and of course all the nocturnal mammals that are out hunting–lions, leopards, hyenas, to name a few.

The African savanna at night is like no other place on earth. Bumping along in a jeep past the black expanse, at first you see nothing. But then you start to see eerie eyes shining back at you. Pairs of eyes. Everywhere.

The eye shine has to do with a reflective layer behind the retina that helps the animal see better in the dark.

We were cruising along when we heard a lot of sloshing. The guide whispered for us to get our cameras ready.

Here’s what the light revealed.

The most terrifying night sound I have ever heard was in the Amazon rainforest: the howler monkeys. I’ve mentioned it before, but will include a sound clip again.

Howler monkeys are territorial so when one starts howling, announcing its supreme existence, they all start up. It has a stereo effect that permeates the forest in the most haunting way, sounds like a combination of tornado winds and deep-voiced gorillas.

Imagine hearing this in the dark as you’re walking to the bathroom.

Howler Monkey Vocalization

Wild monkeys, hyenas, leopards, owls, bats…a great way to get your Halloween sufficiently spooky. And while these animals may get your heart jumping, erratically even, they’re really not interested in hurting you…well, some aren’t.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

The Phoebes

In the Americas we have three species of phoebes, a songbird in the flycatcher family. Recently a Black Phoebe has been regularly visiting my window, reminding me of the sweet beauty of phoebes.

We have two of the three phoebe species in Northern California year-round: Black and Say’s. The third species, the Eastern Phoebe, lives in the central and eastern part of the continent, never comes to California.

There are Old World flycatchers and Tyrant flycatchers, hundreds of species across the globe. Phoebes are Tyrant flycatchers, genus Sayornis.

Every summer we have migrant flycatchers nest and breed on our property, then around August they fly south. Once the migrant flycatchers have left, the Black Phoebe arrives, spends the winter here. Usually it’s just one individual…and that individual is here now.

Black Phoebes are commonly seen in their range. They especially like to be near water, and are often seen pumping their tails.

Being flycatchers, phoebes eat insects. They have an endearing way of hunting. From their perch, they chase after the insect in a seemingly random flight—swoops and half-circles, zigs and zags.

In the bird world we use the verb “sally” to describe flycatcher flight.

I love to watch flycatchers for this. They look a little loony, because invariably you cannot see the insect and it looks like the bird is losing its balance, or sanity, or both. But of course the bird is not mixed up at all, it’s successfully hunting.

The second North American phoebe, Say’s Phoebe, lives in the western half of the continent. They live in grasslands and are accordingly different shades of tan, brown, and gold, sometimes peach depending on the light.

The third North American phoebe is the Eastern Phoebe, found in the continent’s middle and east. Due to the cold winters, Eastern Phoebes have a large migrating range.

Sayornis phoebe -Owen Conservation Park, Madison, Wisconsin, USA-8.jpg
Eastern Phoebe Photo: John Benson. Courtesy Wikipedia

All three phoebe range maps are displayed below.

I don’t get to see Eastern Phoebes too often, so here are two links from bird-loving blogger friends who live east of the Rockies:

Eastern Phoebe at Photos by Donna

Eastern Phoebe at H.J. Ruiz-Avian 101

We see phoebes perched most of the time. Even when they sally out for an insect, they then return to the same perch.

Strip away all the facts, and the real enchantment comes every day when the Black Phoebe comes to visit. I hear the chipping sound and come to the window and wait. Lately Phoebe has been perching on the railing of our deck. If I stay inside, the bird will start catching insects close to the house, so I use the house as a blind and watch from inside.

These have not been the easiest days lately for anyone. So a cheerful Black Phoebe at my window brightens the whole day.

I say, “Hi Phoebe, so nice to see you again.”

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander except Eastern Phoebe.

Phoebe range maps below. Courtesy allaboutbirds.org.

Range Map for Black Phoebe
Black Phoebe Range Map. Courtesy allaboutbirds.org

Range Map for Say's Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe Rang Map. Courtesy allaboutbirds.org

Range Map for Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe Range Map. Courtesy allaboutbirds.org

White-crowned Sparrow

A commonly found bird in North America, the white-crowned sparrow is anything but common…it is extraordinary. I recently watched one in my friends’ garden sipping water under an apple tree, and was reminded of the uniqueness of this songbird.

Except for Florida and parts of the southern east coast, they can be found across America, Canada, and Mexico. Although we have them year-round on the California coast, the white-crowned sparrow migrates in many parts of the continent. Range map at end.

They are a dapper bird, as you can see, but it is their song that sets them apart.

As a brief primer, I remind you that every songbird species has their own song–a series of sounds like call notes, warnings, scoldings, for example; and in addition, a song. The song is generally used for mating and territorial purposes, and is instantly recognizable to bird enthusiasts. In fact, that is how we often identify birds when we cannot see them.

I can stand in a forest or a parking lot, and know exactly what species of avian friends are in my presence, without opening my eyes. It took me roughly five years to accomplish bird identification by sound. If I am outside my home state or country, it takes more study.

But for white-crowned sparrows, the game is different.

The songs of white-crowned sparrows are one of the most studied in all of ornithology, due to the unusual variations in dialect.

This one species, which has five sub-species, has different song variations, or dialects, depending on where they are. Just like humans have different dialects depending on location, so do the white-crown sparrows.

I find it especially thrilling to travel to different parts of the continent and hear different white-crowned sparrow songs.

Males do most of the singing in this species, though there are singing females that have been noted. They learn their original song, in their first two or three months of life, from their natal neighborhood. Then they may migrate, and have offspring, and the new song distribution begins. There are many elaborate theories, studies, and graduate papers about the different dialects.

White-crowned Sparrow info

Here are four different recordings of a white-crowned sparrow song that I found in xeno-canto.org. You can hear how different the songs are (click on link, then on red and gray arrow).

Recorded in Manitoba, Canada

Recorded in Alaska, Denali NP, USA

Recorded in San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA

Recorded in Mississippi, USA

The song we hear in the Bay Area is recorded above, and that’s what I hear outside my window. I have been hearing it as I composed this post. We have a juvenile on the grounds, who only sings half of the song…he’s still learning.

The appearance of a white-crowned sparrow differs slightly depending again on where you are, most notably the bill color. All photos here were taken in California, the nuttalli sub-species.

It is difficult to differentiate the sub-species by sight alone, because the variations are slight. These minute details are what nerdy birders (like me) like to stand around discussing.

Immatures look different than adults, with brown and gray head stripes, as you can see below.

With their handsome black-and-white-striped plumage and clear, resonating song, I find their place on this earth especially sweet.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander

Zonotrichia leucophrys map.svg
Range map White-crowned Sparrow. Orange=breeding, Yellow=migration, Blue=non-breeding, Purple=Year-round. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Berkeley Marina

Berkeley Marina

Evacuated again, and another repeat of three years ago, fleeing our home in the dark amid raging winds, with pink and red fire plumes billowing around us.

The car was filled with computers and photo albums and hastily packed suitcases.

We’re safe though.

This one is called the Glass Fire, named after some mountain road near the fire’s origin. It has burned all week, destroyed homes and wineries and parks, and continues to burn. It is only 5% contained, despite unending acts of heroism. The cause is under investigation.

The fire came within ten miles of our home, but has fortunately steered in the opposite direction. Many people were not so lucky.

As many of you know, water is the soothing attraction when Athena and I encounter the threat of fires. This time we found ourselves down at the Berkeley Marina. Our dear friends in Berkeley opened their adjacent cottage to us, fed us meals and cheered us up, always masked and from a safe distance.

Down at the San Francisco Bay, the fog was coming in, cool and refreshing. You can see it on the horizon (center).

Berkeley Marina

Bay Area cities like Berkeley often get the ashes and smoke of our fires from the north. This time, however, the winds were in a different direction and we were blessed with cool fog and fresh air. I’ve heard the toxic miasma has since arrived.

The boats are moored in a quiet inlet, but just around the corner is the big bay. It was windy, the water had white caps. The driving wind is what is wreaking havoc on the fires.

You can see San Francisco across the bay, and the fog.

San Francisco from the Berkeley Marina

Berkeley pier, fog in the background. Hidden beneath the fog is the Golden Gate Bridge.

We were evacuated for three nights, but are back home now. We have a home to return to, a wonderful thing. The air is choked with smoke and toxins because the fires are still raging. We may need to evacuate again, are prepared to flee.

We soldier on, and this will end, but meanwhile we are grateful for the love and friendships of you, our friends, and the smiles of strangers. I can see the smiles, even under the face masks.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, taken at a different time.

The Birds and Bodega Bay

Hitchcock on Tides Pier, 1962, Bodega Bay, California. Photo courtesy Footsteps in the Fog.

 

The Birds movie poster

 

Hitchcock on the set with fake birds, Bodega Bay, California. Photo courtesy Footsteps in the Fog.

 

Alfred Hitchcock and his crews descended on this sleepy hamlet in Northern California to film “The Birds” in 1962. Here is a fun look at Bodega Bay during filming, and today.

 

Almost all landmarks from the 1962 filming days are gone now. The real charm of the town, however, still exists: a quiet fishing community. This is what Hitchcock liked about it back in the early 1960s, and it’s why I go there several times a year.

 

Fishing Boat on Bodega Bay at Low Tide

 

Bodega Bay Clamming at Low Tide.

 

The original story for the Birds was a short story written by Daphne du Maurier. Set on the Cornish coast, it’s about a farmer and his family and unusual bird behavior. It’s a rather dull story. Then Hitchcock came along and injected his craft as a suspenseful filmmaker; created a memorable and terrifying horror-thriller that can still send shivers up our movie-watching spines.

 

The downtown featured in the film was mainly a set built by crews. They built facades to look like whole buildings.  There is no downtown in Bodega Bay, nor has there ever been.

 

In addition, Hitchcock cinematically combined the real Bodega Bay with two other nearby towns, to make it look more bustling than it really was. Over 50 years later and Bodega Bay is, thankfully, still not bustling.

 

One aspect that remains today: The Tides.

 

In 1962, The Tides was on Bodega Bay’s waterfront with a small motel and restaurant on the road; and down at the water was a wharf and fish shops.

The Tides Motel and Restaurant, 1963, Bodega Bay, California. Photo courtesy Footsteps in the Fog.

At the time of filming, Hitchcock and The Tides owner, Mitch Zankich, made a deal. Hitchcock could use The Tides for shooting the film at no cost, if Mitch could have three things: a small speaking part in the film, the actual name of “The Tides” in the film, and the male lead character named after him.

 

This is Mitch Zankich on a pier at The Tides in 1962. A true entrepreneur.

Mitch Zankich at The Tides, 1962. Photo courtesy Footsteps in the Fog.

 

Today The Tides is in the same location, but the old buildings are gone, and the complex is a contemporary building with two restaurants, a fish market, and a gift shop. You can enjoy lunch on the pier and watch fishing boats and crews, pelicans, sea lions and gulls. Anyone passing through Bodega Bay stops here–hot food, snacks, bathrooms.

The Tides in Modern Day, Bodega Bay, California

 

They have framed 1962 promotional posters; and fake crows humorously staged in the rafters. This kitschy booth also attracts attention.

Staged crow scene at The Tide, Bodega Bay, California.

 

Bodega Bay is a place filled with birds…not like in the movie, of course, with crows murdering farmers and terrorizing young children.

 

But a handsome migration of shorebirds and ducks occurs here every winter, attracting Bay Area birders like me.

Birds over Bodega Bay, California

 

Western Gull, Bodega Bay, California. Sea lion in water, center photo.

Birds used in the film were an innovative combination of real, papier mache, and mechanical. Special effects and production techniques added a lot, too.

 

To film large flocks of gulls, Hitchcock’s film crew went to the San Francisco City Dump. They raked spoiled food into large piles and spent three days shooting more than 20,000 feet of film–gulls diving into the garbage piles.

 

Papier mache birds were wired into place. Below are two photos of the same school: the film set of the school and playground, with fake birds wired into place.

Bodega Bay school film set with fake birds, 1962. Photo courtesy Footsteps in the Fog.

And here’s the same school today. Redwood trees (on the left) have grown up where the playground was. It’s one of the only still-existing buildings from the film.

“The Birds” schoolhouse, aka Potter School, Bodega, California. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

One of the reasons Hitchcock chose Bodega Bay for this bird film was it’s open sky and water. He accentuated the nature vs. man theme with a sky filled with screeching, menacing birds.

 

But this is the most adverse avian activity I ever saw in Bodega Bay: three gulls fighting over fish scraps that a fisherman had just thrown in.

Gulls tugging on fish scraps, Bodega Bay, California

 

I appreciate the ingenuity of The Master of Suspense, and I am a big Hitchcock fan.

 

But oh how sanguine that this small fishing town with its open sky and sparkling bay is, in real life, a gentle place where migrating birds spend a mild and quiet winter.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Black and white photos from “Footsteps in the Fog,” 2002, by Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal.

Great Egret fishing at Bodega Bay

 

Boat Rides

San Francisco ferry docks, Embarcadero

This week we’re experiencing wildfires in my county and adjacent counties in Northern California. This time, the fire skipped over us.

 

Those in my community who have not been evacuated have watery eyes and sore throats from the intense smoke, and breathing is a struggle. The sun is coppery from the toxic pall, and ashes have been falling for days. Our brave firefighters keep going.

 

I’m locked in, mending broken bones and staying distanced in a pandemic; so let’s do that virtual thing and focus on boat rides and the freshness of clean, moving air and abundant water.

 

The San Francisco Bay offers many opportunities to climb aboard. One day two years ago we took a birding charter on a winter day.

 

It was during the bird migration, so we saw loads of birds and sea lions, too.

Gulls and Sailboat, San Francisco Bay, California

 

A raft of sea lions, San Francisco Bay

 

Sailboats and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

 

You can take a boat to Alcatraz.

Alcatraz Island

 

Or hop on a commuter ferry across the Bay. These days, masks and social distancing are required.

Ferry boat, The San Francisco. Athena on the top deck in 2018.

 

In 2018 and 2019 we enjoyed Fourth of July fireworks cruises on the San Francisco Bay. Hopefully next year that will be happening again.

San Francisco Bay, 07.04.18

 

While birding, we often take boats to small islands. This was a boat we took in the West Indies with the goal of seeing tropicbirds…which we found.

Boat guide and captain, headed for Little Tobago Island in the West Indies

 

Red-billed Tropicbird, Little Tobago Island, West Indies

 

River boating is also fun for birding. Some years ago, our guide Armando and his captain friend took us on this wooden outboard motorboat in Mexico.

Armando and the boatman, Mexico. Photo: Athena Alexandra.

 

I always put my hand in the water when I’m in a low-lying boat, I like to feel the temperature of the water. But not on our pontoon boat ride through the Okefenokee Swamp.

Alligator and Spanish Moss, Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia.

 

Last summer we signed up for a half-day trip on this paddle-wheeler riverboat. We were curious to know what being on the Columbia River was like. It was super windy and a blast in every way.

Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler, Oregon

 

Here’s a live-aboard I was on for a week, years ago, visiting the Galapagos Islands. The Diamante. We slept on the boat at night and hiked different islands during the day.

Galapagos Islands, our living quarters for a week. Photo: Athena Alexander

 

Fishing and small boats are a livelihood for many.

Zambia, Africa. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

Fishing boats, Lake Baringo, Kenya, Africa. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

The Sydney Harbor has a lively array of boats coming and going all day and night. We caught a ferry to the Taronga Zoo, and had an exhilarating time observing the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and local sail boats.

Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

Motorized canoes on an Amazon tributary–they move just fast enough to keep the mosquitoes from biting.

Athena and I are on this boat. Photo: Bill Page.

 

We’re lucky to have water and boats all over this planet, and someday soon our Bay Area fires will stop, the air will clear, and I’ll be back onboard another great vessel. Thanks for joining me, matey.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Most photos by Athena Alexander.

Jet. It’s always fun to go under the GG Bridge. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

The Water Tray

Wild bobcat at the water tray, photographed by the outdoor camera

At this time of year, when it is extremely dry where I live in Northern California, the water tray is a popular outdoor wildlife attraction.

 

By the time we get to August, when there hasn’t been rainfall since April, streams are dried up, rivers are trickling, and lakes have significantly diminished in volume.

 

By providing a refreshing drink during the most parched season, we are inviting an ongoing parade of wild creatures.

 

It is a great thrill to be on the daily route of our wild friends.  On a hot summer afternoon, this coyote is headed toward the water tray. He has that determined look like we hikers get when we can hardly wait for a break-time sip.

 

Coyote, No. California, headed for the water tray

 

Frequent wildlife guests are excellent incentive to keep the trays clean and filled. We have two trays, move them around occasionally to make sure they are fully utilized. We place them where we can use the garden hose to fill them, so that it’ a quick task.

 

The water also makes an attractive bathing station for the birds, including this golden-crowned sparrow one spring day last April.

 

Golden-crowned Sparrow, No. Calif., bathing in the water tray

 

The mammals can get a drink pretty easily. The short-legged ones, like this chipmunk, are acrobatic and creative in accessing their refreshment.

Chipmunk on rock, No. Calif.

In general, the smaller the animal, the more often they drink, because they have a higher ratio of surface area to volume, lose water faster.

 

The chipmunks race over a rock to the tray, taking a drink almost every hour. Squirrels do a similar thing, though they don’t race, they prance.

 

For the birds, we put a stick and/or big rock inside the tray, to aid them and prevent accidental drowning. Some birds perch on the edge of the tray, some stand on the rock.

 

The usual array of backyard birds visit the water all day long: finches, juncos, towhees, jays, doves, chickadees, titmice, and more. Even nuthatches drink from the water tray.

Red-breasted Nuthatch, No. California

 

When a bird drinks, they dip their bill into the water, collect the fluid in their mouth and then look skyward, using gravity to swallow. But a few avian exceptions, notably doves and pigeons, have a sucking ability that most birds do not have. They drink and swallow, like mammals, like us, without having to tilt their heads up.

 

Some bird species, like raptors, usually acquire their necessary moisture from the body of the prey they have killed.

 

One August day last year, however, I saw this Cooper’s hawk, below, drinking at our water tray. In all my decades on earth, I had never seen a raptor drink water from a natural or manmade source.

 

This individual was born on our property three years ago, and has lived here ever since. I think he is so homegrown that he knows the water tray is always readily available.

Cooper’s Hawk at the water tray (photographed through a window), No, California

 

Night visitors, usually mammals, come regularly to the water tray. In summer we set the critter cam up to photograph our property’s hotspot.

 

Bobcat visit about once or twice every week (see first photo). Jackrabbits live on the property and are here every day and every night.

Jackrabbit, Northern California, at the water tray

 

This jackrabbit is having a morning stretch.

Jackrabbit stretching at the water tray

 

Every year is different, which is what I like most about living with wildlife.

 

Wildlife populations have good years and bad; here their reproductive success is primarily dependent on weather (food) and wildfires.

 

For many years we heard and saw foxes almost nightly. These are gray foxes, the native residents, they prefer chaparral habitat like ours. Then for several years we never saw or heard evidence of any.

 

Fortunately this year we have fox coming several times a week.

Gray fox at the water tray, No. Calif.

 

Lately this skunk has been here every night. They’re not a problem, and they eat carrion.

 

Striped Skunk at the water tray, No. Calif.

 

We keep the trays filled in winter too, because wildlife always need water. But in winter, if we are lucky to have rain, the trays stay filled on their own from the precious water that falls from the sky.

 

No matter what the season, there is often some lively activity to watch at the water tray.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander and the Critter Cam.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit, No. California

 

Tidepooling Point Lobos

Point Lobos, Monterey Bay, California

 

Point Lobos is a state park on Monterey Bay, and one of my favorite spots on California’s Central Coast. I’ve been there many times, most recently this past fall.

 

It is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest marine sanctuary in the United States.

 

Monterey Bay’s underwater canyons provide cold, nutrient-rich waters that attract an abundant diversity of marine plants, invertebrates, and mammals. Everything from snails to whales cruise by.

 

Point Lobos, California

Kelp forests, one of the most productive and dynamic ecosystems on earth, are abundant here. They offer food and protection to marine wildlife.

 

With tectonic plates nearby, the granite and sedimentary cliffs and rocks at Point Lobos have evolved for over 80 million years, creating a shoreline mosaic of crevasses and holes perfect for collecting intertidal waters and associated wildlife.

 

Sea Lions, Point Lobos

 

Point Lobos, California

 

Hiking, birding, photography, kayaking and scuba diving rank high on the list of activities. But it’s also fun to explore the rocks and tidepools, discovering the sea creatures that make their home here. Once you get started, it’s hard to stop.

 

Tidepooling is like a seaside safari — so much to see and learn, and never a dull moment.

 

With changing tides and constant wave action, water continually whooshing in and out, there is something different happening every minute of the day.

 

My binoculars are with me wherever I go, and they come in handy at the tidepools. Here are a few close-ups.

Tide pool with sea urchins (purple), snails, limpets, algae

 

Sea urchins and anemones, crabs and starfish, sea palms, algae and other seaweed hang on tenaciously, riding out the pounding surf.

 

Tide pool with sea anemones above and below water

 

Crabs scuttle, sea birds forage, and marine mammals languish.

 

Black-crowned Night-Heron, Point Lobos

 

Harbor Seals on a bed of barnacles and algae, Point Lobos, California

 

Every tide pool is a different community, a different story. This whole rocky plateau is a world of tidepools.

 

Tide pools and tidepoolers (center), Point Lobos, California

 

Point Lobos has a long history of attracting humans in their various endeavors: Ohlone natives, abalone hunters, Spanish explorers, whalers and commercial fishermen to name a few. For a time it was a designated WWII defense site; then it was slated to be a  residential housing development (which was nixed). Edward Weston photographed here, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” and over 45 other movies were filmed here. It’s not far from Big Sur.

 

The wild beauty and magnificence of Point Lobos still calls. And fortunately these waters are protected now–harbor seals and sea otters can live in peace. Humans can explore and picnic and revel in the briny world.

 

Twice a day every day, the water recedes and returns, in its infinite earthly rhythms.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Harbor Seal, Point Lobos. Photo by Athena Alexander

 

Kelp forest, Point Lobos

 

Listening to Doves

Squatter Pigeon, Australia

Emerald Spotted Wood Dove, Zambia, Africa

Pied Imperial Pigeon, Australia

If you have ever listened to a dove, you know the sweet, gentle voice of peace. Seems like right now is a good time to relax into the peace of doves.

 

The bird that is classically associated with peace for centuries, doves and pigeons form  the family Columbidae. There are over 300 worldwide species. They live  everywhere except in extreme temperatures.

 

The terms “dove” and “pigeon” are often used interchangeably. Usually doves are smaller, and pigeons larger, but there are many scientific distinctions.

 

More information Columbidae

 

In North America, one of our most common doves is the mourning dove. It has several soft cooing vocalizations that add a mellow, repetitive coo-woo-woo to the air.

 

Mourning Dove, California

Mourning Dove Vocalization

They also have a soft, whistling wingbeat sound.

Mourning Dove Wingbeat Sound

So many times friends or co-workers have excitedly told me they heard an owl, only to find after we investigated further, that they were hearing a mourning dove. It is a muted sound, steady, with a slow, repeating call, and much like an owl.

 

Where I live in Northern California, we have a forest dove, the band-tailed pigeon. They do not have noticeable vocalizations, but the sanguine sight of their 25+ flocks synchronistically cruising over our valley is equally as calming.

Band-tailed Pigeon pair, California

Perched flock of band-tailed pigeons, California

 

The pigeons we see in cities, the domestic pigeon, are called rock doves. Sit on a bench in a city plaza and you can hear their cooing, like purring; the sun highlights their iridescent features.

Rock Dove visiting the San Francisco Hyatt

 

My favorite fruit dove, the Wompoo Fruit Dove, can be found hundreds of feet up in the Australian rainforest canopy eating figs and other fruit. I fell in love with its soothing wom-pooooo call.

 

Impossible to photograph, so high up, I give you an audio glimpse instead.

Woompoo Fruit Dove Vocalization

 

Another Australian rainforest dove.

Emerald Dove, Australia

 

Across the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii, the tender dove calls seamlessly blend into the fragrant air and tropical breezes.

Spotted Dove, Maui

Spotted Dove Vocalization

Zebra Dove Vocalization

We need more docile dove sounds in this world, and fortunately, they’re everywhere.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

White Rock Dove pair, Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, Oahu

 

Wildlife Visitors

Violet-green swallow, California

These photos reflect a few of the wildlife friends who have come to visit us in the past two weeks, as we continue to adhere to Covid-lockdown orders.

 

Numerous bird species that migrate here to breed join the year-round bird residents — all are breeding and nesting right now. It’s a very exciting time and every day the yard is filled with hundreds of avian friends.

California Quail, male, California’s state bird

We have lived here 19 years, on a rural two-acre property in Northern California, and have spent every day turning it into a wildlife parkland.

 

We were recently thrilled to see a pair of California quail finally return to breed on our property. Their populations perished in the 2017 wildlife fires; this spring they are back for the first time. As ground birds, they have to be very stealthy in their nesting; in a week, maybe two, we will see their chicks…if we are lucky.

 

Black-headed grosbeaks abound at our feeders. We heard the first chick this week. In another month or so, they will fly back to Mexico with their new broods.

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

 

A pair of house finches just successfully fledged three or four offspring this week.

House Finches (Calif.), male on L, female on R

 

It is only minutes after the birds have found their evening roost that we begin to see a bat or two coming in, swooping up insects. They are barely visible in the dusk landscape,  but I know where to look. They are busy all night long.

 

Our resident bats, the canyon bat, are small–smaller than an adult hand. This photo gives you a rare close-up view.

Canyon Bat, California

 

We see western fence lizards every day, which I love, and the snakes are out and about now too. We don’t see reptiles in the winter, too cold, but are always glad to see them in spring and summer.

 

This big gopher snake greeted us on a morning walk last month, on the road adjacent to our property. We watched quietly for a few minutes, until the tongue and raised head sensed us, and then s/he instantly vanished in the weeds.

Gopher Snake, California

 

Mammals recently recorded on our outdoor camera trap revealed a coyote, skunk, raccoon, bobcat, and gray fox.

Bobcat, California

 

The “critter cam” reveals how busy it gets here at night. The animals forage under the feeders for any leftover seeds, and always drink from the water trays now that the winter rains are over. All photos here have been taken on our property, but not by the critter cam.

 

Gray fox, California

 

During the day, mammals most seen are jackrabbits, gray squirrels, and chipmunks. Lately a newcomer has joined the fray, a brush rabbit.

Brush Rabbit, California

I am happy to report the brush rabbit is fitting in well. It must be roosting on the property somewhere, because it’s here daily now, grazing on the last bits of green grass that have not yet dried up.

 

I learned years ago that we have to make our own space. Thanks for joining me in our Peaceable Kingdom.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Anna’s Hummingbird, male, California