March 2020 home page

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Sea to Sierra
Ed Mirsky | Hoska Drive

Sea to Sierra Birds: Long-billed Curlew.
Photo Steve Brad.

Spring is the land awakening, the yearly cycle renewed. It is fresh flowers and sunshine, and the first new bird of the year. It is a Yellow-breasted Chat singing and performing exuberant acrobatics from a high perch atop the willow at the side of the river, while nearby, a Least Bell’s Vireo searches the dense understory for a place to hide its nest. It’s anticipating the arrival of Least Terns; watching them fly over the sandy beach and dunes look for a place to hollow out a nest and raise a family — though none has nested at our Lagoon, yet.

As mountain lakes, rivers, and valleys are released from winter’s grip, and the northern tundra begins to thaw, ducks, shorebirds, sparrows that have enjoyed our mild Mediterranean winter climate depart for their nesting grounds to the north. By the end of April most will have departed.

Sea to Sierra Birds: Yellow-breasted Chat.
Photo Steve Brad.

The first nesting species of the year is likely to be a Cliff Swallow. They return in March. You will find them collecting mud across from the Grand Ave. Bridge. They use the mud to build their mud-drop dwellings side-by-side under the Bridge, and on the underside of I-5 where the river flows under the highway. Or the new bird may be the Bell’s Vireo, which returns in mid-March. If you are familiar with its tweedle-tweedle-tweedle-dee or tweedle-tweedle-tweedle-tweedle-dum song, or just lucky, you may see one. Then again, it may be a Yellow-breasted chat. Often found by its song, which consists of a wide variety of loud mews, whistles, stutters, chats, cackles, chuckles, gurgles, squawks, and a rapid machine-gun like rattle, with longer pauses between phrases.

Enjoy the refreshing warmth of a spring day and look for a nesting Belding’s Savanna Sparrows Males sing atop the pickleweed across from the old Grand Avenue Bridge. Also, you may drive, or walk the Coast to Crest Trail to the Birdwing Open Air Classroom to view Long-billed Curlews on tidal mudflats and open grassland. They’re North America’s largest shorebird. Like some other shorebirds, they are primarily migratory, but some remain at the Lagoon through the nesting season.

Wintering shorebirds will begin to return in July, sparrows in October, and ducks in October and November. The yearly cycle will end to be renewed again.



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