Friends of Blue Sky

Summertime Is "For The Birds," and For Their Babies!

By Claude G. Edwards, BSER Docent Instructor and SD Birding Expert

Living in and around Poway has many positive aspects, but noting the passing of the seasons is not one of them! Although it may be difficult to determine what season we are in without using a calendar, observing bird activity and behavior is a good way to keep track of things.

We can get a hint that it is summertime by paying attention to the birds that are present within Blue Sky Canyon. They can be identified on sight by their plumage, or by the sounds various species make, and also by what they do. We become accustomed to finding and greeting our year-round friends such as Nuttall’s woodpecker, western scrub-jay, and spotted towhee that show themselves on our personal hikes and during guided walks for the public.

The onset of migration is indicated by the departure of wintering birds such as ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow-rumped warbler, and white-crowned sparrow. They have been with us for the past few months, during the cool season, contenting themselves with or without our company.

Almost before we realize it springtime birds filter through the oaks and chaparral, adding to our lists and refreshing our memories. You may notice them looking at you along a path or singing a different but familiar song. These include warbling vireo, western tanager, and hooded oriole. However, they are only passing through on their way to their respective breeding areas.

Your interest and anticipation may be piqued by now, trying to find the answer to such questions as “what bird is that?”, or “can I attract it to my yard?”, and “how come it looks different than in the bird book?” No matter, you are simply pleased to enjoy their presence for a while!

Finally, with every subsequent visit you begin seeing birds carrying grass and willow fluff, not to eat but as necessary components of their soon-to-be-built nests. That is the first sign of the breeding season, telling you it is probably mid-to-late spring. The air is alive with bird songs and flashes of color. Increased incidents or avian pursuits are outward expressions of their intent, to establish and maintain a territory, and attract and provide for a mate. It is an exciting period.

By now California thrashers are performing at the tops of dense shrubs, their long and curved beaks parting with each subtly repeated phrase. These consist of combining short bits of other birds’ sounds with their own. Wrentits give their accelerating metallic trill, or their soft low rattle, often out of sight, but oh-so-close. Once in place, male black-headed grosbeaks burst into song -- loud, bouncy, almost ‘spoken’, and always somewhat in a hurry. You may see one take off and fly in a circle overhead singing as it goes, and done almost before you can point it out. Skulking and secretive common yellowthroats are now easy to tell, their emphatic and ringing songs emanating from the depths of the streamside vegetation.

Soon enough, the promise of nest-building activities is fulfilled with the appearance of new fledglings, bird babies, begging and following their parents for more food. They may be similar in looks to adults, but they may also have markings that allow them to blend into their surroundings, clothed in drab and dull, be it olive or slate or streaked or spotted, to give them an edge to survive their first season. It must be summertime, indeed, baby birds are out and about. And this it shall be till they begin to fend for themselves, confident, on their own, as the seasons march onward.