Posted by: atowhee | February 24, 2008

Winter woods


Thirsty Raven, Golden Gate Park, SF.  Photo courtesy May Woon.

It was time to see what’s happening up in the woods.  I drove to the end of Ashland Loop, where the gate closes the road for winter.  That’s at the White Rabbit Trailhead, 3160 feet.  Somebody in the Forest Service was high on Alice in Wonderland.  Other trails intersecting White Rabbit include Caterpillar and Queen of Hearts.

The forest there has no oaks, madrone are the only leafed trees in a forest of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.  Underbrush is sparse and mostly manzanita and scrawny little shurbs that are now leafless.  It was a largely bridless walk but the forest seemed lively anyway.

It had rained and the rain had frozen overnight.  In some places a thin white layer of snow covered the florest floor.  But mlostly the precipitatin had clung to leaves, needles, twigs.  It froze into dermal ice.  It was sunny already at 9am and the ice was sheathing off the trees.  In all directions tiny pieces of ice fell to the earth, bounced off lower limbs, collided in mid-air.   It was thre sound of ice returning to a liquid form.  Occasionally, a breeze would arise, shaking the upper treetops.  It was if many woodsy curtain were being opened and shut, the undulating sound of air moving through and over round pine needles, flat fir needles, ice slick madrones leaves, limber limbs that would waver and bend with force of the gusts.

One Hermit Thrush, a calling Flicker never seen, a single Raven doing dives and loops in the heaven with an occaisonal croak for punctuation.  Perhaps it was a performance for an admiring potential mate on some pine perch. 

Eagle Mill Road

Yesterday Bridget and I checked out a strip of riparian woodland along Bear Creek Greenway in north Ashland.  Uphill were abandoned pastures where we found a large covey of California Quail, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks being cuddly in a tall cottonwood, and the usual streamside birds.  A Bewick’s Wren was singing loudly from berry vines along a side stream.  An organic produce farm was jumping with birds: Robins, Spotted Towhee, Golden-crowned Sparrows, Starlings, Flickers, Scrub-jays.

Along the Talent Irrigation Canal we found feathers from a Mallard drake, perhaps a recent meal for the Red-tails.  One webbed foot remained as evidence.  Later we saw a trio of Mallards in the canal.  Further upstream a White-tailed Kite was kiting over the weeds.  Canada Geese and Wood Ducks were loafing alongside Bear Creek. 

Crowd Draws a Crowd

The group dynamics of birds are complex.  But I am convinced in many species a crowd draws a crowd.  We’reall familisr with the flocks of little gleaners that seem to coalesce, move about, then disperse in the winter.  Presumably every added pair of eyes ane ears is more group life insurance…against those lurking predators from housecats to Cooper’s Hawks.

But I have noticed several instances lately wherew a small group seems to aggregate passing birds and become larger.  There was ahansdful of female Common Mergansers on the swimming resevoir in upper Lithia Park just two days ago.,  Today I noticed the numnber had grownto fourteen.  Whjiel I was re-counting them in the morning sun, a fifteenth female merganser dropped out of the sky and became part of the group.  Just passing by?  Surely the fishing i nthat pool is no better now than it was a week ago. 

And three weeks ago a small gathering of Bufflehead were on that pool and they found enough fish to stay for over a week.  And again that gathering began with just two females, grew to about ten birds of both genders, then dwindled away.

There was a thrush convergence in lower Lithia park that may provide further evidence that crowd=larger crowd.  There have been one or two Hermit Thrush there through the past few weeks.  Yesterday: several Robins, at least two Hermits and three Varied Thrush, the largest little group I’ve seen this winter here.  Surely the cover or the food there is not appreciably different than it was ten days ago or over Christmas.  Dense bushes that are still not in bloom though they have evergreen leaves.  The ground there has been thawed for many days.  Yet suddenly thrushes abounding.  Late in the day I passed the same spot: no motion.

Dipper Day

It was Dipper Day for Kate and me.  We saw one just upstream from Taylor Bridge which is just upstream from Lithia Park’s bandshell.  The bird was fishing, bobbing up and down on those invisible springs that seem to move Dippers about relentlessly.  We must walk past part of the creek a dozen time seach week but only once every twenty times are we lucky enough to be where the peripatetic Dipper chances to be as we pass.

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