Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Baby Time

Baby Swallows patiently wait for food

Momma arrives! Yum!

Those of you who know me well may know of my abiding interest in the natural history of birds. Though Ella has altered my ability to regularly spend time "sitting" in the forest quietly watching birds, I still try to take notice of significant events in the bird world, specifically noting when they show up in the spring, listening for their songs, waiting for babies, watching their elaborate and elegant mid-air courtship. I am a student of the five voices of bird language (a topic for another post sometime): song, male-to-male aggression, begging calls, companion calling, and alarm.

Well, several weeks ago, a pair of barn swallows began building a nest on our shed. Now, this is significant because until this year, we haven't really had much of a place for barn swallows to build! Though people often get annoyed at their mud nests and their impacts on the building, barn swallows eat a tremendous amount of insects each and every day. One of our rancher neighbors once told me that she'd rather have the swallows around to eat flies than using pesticides. Enough said.

Before we left for Mendocino for a visit with family last weekend, we knew there was a momma swallow sitting on eggs, because she would be up there, and then leave when we came around. When we got out of the car on Sunday, after 4 hours of winding roads through the hills of northern California, we heard it, faintly, regularly: "chee chee chee chee...BEGGING CALLS! They hatched while we were away! They are very quiet and still, until mom or dad arrives with a mouth full of bugs for the little guys to eat, and then they cry, "feed us! feed us! feed us!", until mom leaves, and they are silent again.

Today, Ella and I sat and waited for the momma to arrive so we could capture the feeding on film for all of you, my supposed readers. They are big enough that while they wait, their little gray heads peek above the edge of the nest, and their little white beak edges are plainly visible. Meanwhile, the parents, plus other swallows, careen around the sky, foraging meals for themselves and their offspring. They don't stop all day long.

Other notable recent bird events: today I saw a whole clutch of quail babies as I was riding my bike back from the store; yesterday, while driving somewhere, I saw a sharp-shinned hawk near our gate cross in front of me (I've been hearing their juveniles as they're learning to fly); we have a pair of goldfinches (?) that frequent the garden and rest on my tomato trellis; most of the birds have stopped their song singing, a sad moment in July each year (they only sing from spring until about now, during mating season); the red tail hawks are training their juveniles, and occasionally come around; and Ella and I found a bird nest today along the driveway, I'm guessing our strong winds last night knocked it out of a tree.

So much to notice! I imagine there is a lot I've missed, but this is what came to me during this last week. I hope to find more nests and listen for more begging this week, as I think the time is ripe...

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