The Glory of Spring

Shooting Stars

One of my favorite places to be in spring is home, especially in April as the earth is waking up. Here is a sampling of what we have seen in the past two weekends of this springtime celebration.



Northern California had enormous precipitation this past winter; devastating for some communities, but plentiful for all. As a result, we have had abundant new growth.


While there have been many gorgeous flowering fruit trees and landscaped plants in town, I especially love the spring show in the forest mountains.  Wildflowers have begun their emergence, trees express their accelerated growth, and the wildlife have new goals.


Indian Warrior


Violet-green Swallow, male; newly arrived for the spring

The bird populations change, too.


Year-round birds start to sing differently, busy with the activity of attracting a mate and starting a family.


California Quail, a year-round bird

Migratory birds that wintered here are leaving for the season, headed north to nest in their homeland. Hermit Thrushes are gone now, and every day I hear a few less Kinglets.

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

Other migratory birds that left us in fall, are gradually returning for the warm months. The Bluebirds and Violet-green Swallows have come back, vying for the nest boxes as usual; the Olive-Sided Flycatchers have not yet returned, and I haven’t heard the California Thrasher either…but they will come along when it gets a little warmer.


They all remind me that cold, dreary days really are going to recede.


And all I need to hear is the first “spic,” to know that the Black-headed Grosbeak has returned.


Pacific Chorus Frog

Then there’s the nightly symphonics of the Pacific Chorus Frog at the neighbor’s pond. This little frog, about the size of my thumb, in concert with thousands of others, creates such a cacophony in the dark!


Lately I’ve been hearing Great Horned Owls dueting at night. Click here for this owl’s call.


Wild Violet

During the drought, some wildflowers didn’t bloom, some oaks didn’t produce acorns. It is their way of conserving energy.


This year the wildflowers are abundant. But true to wildflowers, they come and go with each day, depending on the severity of the wind and rain.


We can have a big patch of Indian Warriors one day, and a few days later they have already started melting back into the earth.


Miner’s Lettuce

Some of the flowers are bright and bold, others are subtle, like Miner’s Lettuce.


And the poison oak–although it is beautiful in shiny new, red leaves, is already chest-high in some places, and as daunting as ever. This plant is virulent every year regardless of drought.

Poison Oak

Western Bluebird (male)








Western Fence Lizard

Every season I am reminded of the  heavenly glories of life on earth. But the hope and brightness of spring, well, it a supreme pleasure.


Have a happy weekend, my friends~~


All photos by Athena Alexander.

Easter Bunny





Happy Easter

Prairie Dickcissel, Attwater Preserve, Texas

Prairie Dickcissel, Attwater Preserve, Texas

Warm wishes to you as we celebrate hope, renewal, rebirth~~


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

California poppies

California poppies

Violet-green swallow eggs in nest box

Violet-green swallow eggs in nest box
















A Favorite Sign of Spring

Anna's hummingbird (male), California

Anna’s hummingbird (male), California

It’s this time of year along the U.S. Pacific coast when Anna’s hummingbirds are building their nests.  Every year they are our first bird to embark on the new nesting season.


Calypte anna usually lay a brood of two white eggs.  A tiny collection of plant fibers, lichen, and spider webs, the 2-3 inch nest is built by the female.  It can be found 4-25 feet above the ground, and is deeply camouflaged in a tree limb.


Anna's hummingbird (male), California

Anna’s hummingbird (male), California

The female will incubate the eggs for 14-19 days, and feed the chicks until they fledge, about two weeks later.  The male helps out by protecting the territory.


Though this four inch long bird is tiny, it is fierce.


Every spring we dedicate an entire day to searching for a hummingbird nest, but only one year, probably about a decade ago, did we actually find one.


Anna's hummingbird (male) -- notice his tongue

Anna’s hummingbird (male) — notice his tongue

The female will leave the nest for brief periods, zoom to the feeders for a few good drinks of nectar, and then return to her chicks.  That lucky day we attentively watched where she went, which led us to the nest.


Recently we saw a female gathering nesting materials, flower fluff from a coyote shrub.  For five minutes we watched, as she came in three times.  It was windy, gusty, and she dropped the fluff the first time.  The other two times she flew up a hundred feet into fir trees, disappeared out of sight.


They flash across the sky and vanish into the foliage, and somewhere in the forest we know they are nesting.  Right now the males are especially ferocious at the feeders–another indication that nesting is occurring, for they are all vying for territory.  In a few weeks the antics of the fledglings will begin.


So many things in life are not certain,  but this start to spring is still a constant in my world.


An utter delight.   Happy spring!


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Flycatcher Lessons

Pacific-slope flycatcher eggs

Pacific-slope flycatcher eggs

Here in northern California right now many birds are being born.  Thinking back on all the years I have watched more and more baby birds coming into this world, I realized I have learned some important life lessons from them.  Take this pacific-slope flycatcher.  For 8 years in a row the female has built her mossy nest on our front door beam.  Almost every year chicks have hatched and fledged; but it’s different every year, and some years are harder than others (Life Lesson #1). 

Here’s what else I’ve learned: 

Pacific-slope flycatcher mother

Pacific-slope flycatcher mother


#2.  Home is where the heart is.  This little bird is only about 5 inches long but she manages to fly 1,900 miles from Mexico to our front porch year after year.  I’m sure this couple is just as happy when they reach our porch beam, as we are, the human couple, when we hear that first seet of the spring.  But then one day in late summer they will be gone, off to their winter home.

#3.  We get by with a little help from our friends.  In 2005 the nest was an absolute mess, it was too small for the brood and poorly constructed.  When temperatures hit one hundred one day, while we were at work a chick either fell or got pushed out of the nest.  When I came home I found a drooping, half-dead, panting chick on the door step.  I brought the chick a bottle cap of water.

#4.  Diet is everything.  I watched that little guy revive from a few sips of water and was so encouraged that I decided to find him some food.  Hmmm, I thought, a flycatcher must eat flies.  Armed with a flyswatter, I found a big fly, swatted it dead, and hand delivered it to the panting chick.  Don’t you know, within an hour the fly was consumed, and the flycatcher’s little head had lifted.  We slipped him back into the nest and life was restored.

Pacific-slope flycatcher nestlings

Pacific-slope flycatcher nestlings

#5.  Tenacity is critical.  One year I heard a thump outside the front door and found the nest on the deck, four little chicks were frantically scattering.  They looked like those wind-up chicks in novelty stores at Easter time.  It would have been comical if there weren’t four lives at stake.  One chick dropped between the deck slats, fell down below where snakes reside.  With a long arm, quick action and the concerted effort of my partner and me, we managed to gather the chicks.  But with the drop, the nest had become bottomless.  Fortunately, the year before we had installed a bird platform beside the beam, so we returned this rumpled mass to the platform.  All the birds survived.

All of us living, breathing beings keep going.  Another lesson:  life goes on.  What have you learned from the creatures around you?

Pacific-slope flycatcher adult singing of life

Pacific-slope flycatcher adult singing of life