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.