By Miles and Teresa Tuffli
We’re always attuned to the bird activity at our house, but since our beloved pup died this past October, it’s been hard to take long walks in the surrounding woods without our boy. But, needing to stay near home and away from others, we’ve mustered up the nerve to face bittersweet reminders and start exploring again.
Just a short walk from our front door is a county fire road that winds through the mixed evergreen forest. We very rarely cross paths with anyone up there, so it fits the bill perfectly for getting a dose of nature while practicing social isolation.
Though everyday human life has drastically changed, we find it incredibly therapeutic to witness the natural world persisting on. The wren still sings, the hummingbird still buzzes, and the jay still hunkers down in its nest. The flowers still bloom, the river still flows, and the new generation of maple leaves still pushes out to the light. If a silver lining exists in the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps it’s that the natural world may receive a break from relentless human activity.
During this shutdown, we invite you along on a virtual exploration of the birds and flora of the redwoods.
Let’s start with a recent discovery from our house.
Actually, calling it a “discovery” is a stretch since the nest sits at eye-level from our living room, just feet from our window – hard to miss! Now that “shelter-in-place” is firmly entrenched in our lexicon, the promise of watching this Steller’s Jay pair from our couch – hopefully raising a successful brood – feels like a timely stroke of luck!
Each time the pair interacted at the nest, they chattered quietly. Steller’s Jays constantly amaze us with their wide repertoire of vocalizations – check out our post.
For a couple days now, one has been sitting in the nest off and on. We’re excited to see how this unfolds!
The hummingbirds have been very active, with multiple species zipping around nearby feeders. This male was considerably orange, but had a bit of green speckled on his back, so we’re uncertain if he’s an Allen’s or Rufous.
Yesterday, a fully orange-backed Rufous male appeared, and began chasing all others in the vicinity – listen to him below. You can also hear Violet-green Swallows throughout the recording.
As we headed out for a long walk in the woods, we immediately came upon a delightful sign of spring – new growth on a bigleaf maple.
Just down the road is this terrific view of the Russian River. Other than a couple fisherfolk, the river was noticeably devoid of people for a sunny Sunday morning.
At this lookout, we recently discovered a Bewick’s Wren pair bopping around the bramble and broom – surprising, since we generally only see Pacific Wrens along our road. Hopefully, this pair nests here.
For at least several years, this topless tree downriver has housed an Osprey nest. Happily, we spied a white-and-black head sticking out of the nest – perhaps some renovations before moving in?
We suddenly heard the snap of a breaking branch behind us and turned in time to watch this majestic Osprey fly overhead with a lichen-covered branch in tow. The Osprey headed upriver and quickly joined its mate – a second pair!
The soft and fragile new growth of spring is always so comforting. We took extra time to appreciate these manifestations of new life.
Past the lookout, a vaguely familiar song type whispered distantly from the conifers. Our hearts skipped a beat – could it be an early arriving Hermit Warbler?!
However, as the birdsong grew closer and louder, we realized a small group of hormone-infused Townsend’s Warbler males was singing – still a lovely treat! Townsend’s overwinter in our area, but typically aren’t in groups – perhaps they’re migrating birds en route to northerly breeding grounds?
Under the canopy, we encountered this redwood sorrel flower beautifully spotlighted by a sunbeam.
The velvety soft leaves of thimbleberry were a welcome tactile joy during this strange time of trying not to touch people and surfaces.
The incredible rainbow hues of this evergreen huckleberry’s new leaves caught our eye.
We perceived a soft pecking and followed our ears to this male Hairy Woodpecker right at eye-level on a dead tanoak.
Each bend in the road gave way to another beautiful bloom.
Near the fire road entrance, we heard a Purple Finch (whose song reminds us of a washing machine’s spin cycle).
A little farther, several Brown Creepers called. We spotted one and watched in amazement as it flew to a giant redwood and suddenly disappeared into the bark. What good fortune to discover a creeper nest!
Its mate promptly appeared and attempted to bring a sizable redwood twig into the cavity.
After trying twice to reposition the twig, the creeper dropped it and entered the nest empty-billed.
Now, for a few more common members of the coastal redwood habitat.
A series of loud calls alerted us to two pairs of Dark-eyed Juncos acting aggressively toward each other. We watched the territory squabble play out amid the quietude of the forest.
Nearby, Hutton’s Vireos also counter-sang and unleashed a barrage of whiny calls, perhaps working out territory boundaries as well.
This Cabbage White butterfly visited redwood sorrel flowers in a patch of sunlight. Found under the cover of towering trees, redwood sorrel is appropriately adapted to low levels of light. In direct sunlight, the leaves close downward within a matter of minutes.
Deep along the fire road, we heard our first Wilson’s Warbler song of the year – oh, happy day! Given how much we love Willy Warbs, it’s no surprise Teresa was left beaming from his arrival.
As we headed back into the canopy toward home, the umpteenth Pacific Wren of the day sang loudly.
We managed to catch a glimpse of this one in its appropriate habitat – a damp tangle of fallen branches and bramble, offering lots of nooks and crannies for cover.
We are truly lucky to live within such abundance. Appreciating the birds and natural world just outside our home will be an important and restorative routine while we wait out these anxious days. Be well, everyone!