The major difference bird watching in winter and how varied the species are is in the location. If you are from the midwest like I am; you wish for opportunities to go out west and south when your own thermometer shows less than 30 degrees. Such was the case between March 8th and 15th of 2017 when Barbara and I planned a trip to see the girls in Escondido, CA. While enjoying some much-needed grandma and Pappa-Joe time with the two little ones; there was still a wee bit of time to also enjoy watching some birds.
The Miller's backyard high on the hill in "Old Escondido" provided a beautiful Bottle-brush shrubbery that attracted all sorts of activity each early morning. The sun at 6:30 AM was perfectly illuminating the bright red brushy blooms and gave me the best opportunities to take photos. Here I added a new bird to my life list; the Rufous Hummingbird. These gems would visit the backyard shrub each morning as I drank my coffee in my shorts. The temperatures were in the high 50s at that time of the morning, but seemed very refreshing to me and not too cold.
I also took one morning to walk the surrounding neighborhood looking for birds. I was not disappointed. The sunshine brought out all manner of early morning singers. There is a population of talented Northern Mockingbird that lives just north of the Miller house that sang an unbelievable variety of other species songs. Mockingbirds can imitate up to 200 other songs and can live up to 20 years in captivity, eight in the wild. In the 1800-1900s, mockingbirds were often kept as cage birds. The mockingbird is the state bird of Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida and Arkansas. Their diet consists of mostly insects, however in the fall and winter will eat more berries and fruit than insects.
I was also surprised to see a jaunty Acorn woodpecker high on one of the tallest palm trees I've ever seen in any neighborhood. Previously, the only Acorns I had observed were at Kit Carson Park. The other bird that was predominant was the Audubon's Yellow-rumped warbler. Males and females were busily eating whatever insects they could find, and were easily spotted in the leafless deciduous trees overhead. The "Audubon's" variety of Yellow-rumped has a characteristic "yellow" throat while the "Myrtle" version has the white. One interesting bird activity was taking place across the street from the Miller's house, high in a neighbor's tree. A couple of American crows were building a nest. They would fly to the apartment complex in the alley and land in the rain gutter in the early morning. Condensation would have drained off the roof into the leaf litter lying in the gutter overnight. This dampened the leaf litter and the crows would pinch up a great mouthful of this muddy material and fly over to their nest to use it for construction purposes. Back and forth they would fly until it must have dried out beyond their usefulness; only to do the same thing the next early morning.
White-throated swifts would zip around twice a day; morning and afternoon while House sparrows were building a nest inside of a hole in the apartment's eves across the alley. The sweet smell of the orange blossoms was intoxicating. Lesser goldfinch and House finch would sing in the treetops and the parade of hummingbirds would zip from orange trees to the Bottle-brush and back again. The hummingbirds were also doing something curious. They would fly into a clear area of the sky and perform a series of tricky mid-air maneuvers. Some "experts" claim that this is the male's version of showing off to any likely competitors; I just found it curious, interesting and completely random.
The next place I went was back to Kit Carson Park. Once there I walked to the natural lagoon near the picnic area, just past the tennis courts. The water was high in the lagoon and the wetlands surrounding it were draining noisily into the large underground drainage culvert. Again I saw members of the escaped cage-bird population; Nutmeg Mannikin (or Spice) finches. These birds were recently added to the California Bird Records Committee State list as they have adapted well to being on the loose. The listing is controversial as the species in endemic to Asia. It's just plain odd to see them in the wild next to the Song and White-crowned sparrows in the reeds along the water foraging for nest-building materials.
I walked to Eagle Scout Pond, situated in the center of the Park expanse and looked at the waterfowl. I took several pictures and spoke to a 74 year-old woman who was looking through binoculars at the ducks. She was very excited to show me her Sibley's bird book, so I stood and looked while she went through the birds she had seen and was seeing. I bid her adieu and walked to the other end of the park towards the Acorn woodpecker area. I was not disappointed. While the activity was subdued as far as the gathering of acorns and the pounding them into holes in trees; there were plenty sitting on limbs and squawking. The highlight of my day was when I was almost ready to leave. I walked over towards a dirt parking area behind a maintenance garage because I saw some movement in the shrubs. I was zeroed in on a Tufted titmouse when I thought I heard an American robin. I pulled out my cell phone to record the noises when I went around the bush and saw one! This was amazing! I did not even think that American robins were this far west, however some research showed me that they are in fact fairly prevalent near the coastal areas.
So, with that I packed up my camera and headed back to the Miller house with many, many images to cherish and warm weather birding memories packed away to dwell on during the remaining cold winter days in Milwaukee.