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Traveler Wildlife Club

Join the Traveler Wildlife Club:

As we head in to the summer of 2020 with cities and counties locked down and restrictions on mobility for the greater good of our community health, we wanted to find a way to turn our attention back to nature in small simple ways.

For those who live in California as well as other areas of the nation and globe, the seasonal change of spring into summer brings a wonderful opportunity to observe a new phase of life.  Wildlife, flora and fauna of all colors and varieties emerge in abundance and we're finding it exciting and rewarding to take the time to learn a bit more about the creatures and plants that are popping up outside of our windows, in our backyards and in the open-space areas that we can safely visit.

The Traveler Wildlife Club will take a closer look at some of the small wonders that surround in nature.  We aim to be open and inclusive so that beginners and experts alike can share pictures, questions and answers about the wildlife that you are seeing in your neighborhood.

How to participate:  Sign up for the Wild life club at: and send in your photos and questions on what you are seeing in your neighborhood. Each week, our guide Erica Harris will choose a selection to post a thoughtful writeup like the ones below. Every 2 weeks Erica will host an online naturalist class via Zoom where you'll be able to join in and participate.  Erica will give a bit of background on seasonal wildlife sightings, animal behavior and resources on where to learn more about wildlife in your area.  The classes will also allow for open format Q&A, so that you can interact with others interested in learning more about creatures of the land, sea and sky.

Your guide is Erica Harris:

Erica's varied background includes a lifelong exploration of California ecosystems, fighting wildfires throughout the western US, community organizing, and agro-ecology.  Erica finds engaging with the natural world a meditative process; if done in cadence with all of the senses, curiosity, imagination, and deductive reasoning.  Erica earned a bachelor's degree in environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz.  She spent field courses studying native plants, conservation biology, and organic farming.  

Erica currently resides in San Francisco and works at a cooperative enterprise.   Although skateboarding initially prompted her move to the city, she’s excited to discover that it’s great for birding.  Erica’s interest in birds and conservation led her to become a hawkwatcher for the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory’s raptor migration counts and to educate the public about nesting waterbirds on Alcatraz Island. She enjoys animal tracking and holds a level 3 track & sign certification through CyberTracker North America. http://trackercertification.com 

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California Gold!

A native bumble bee pollinating our state flower, enabling it to set seed and bring us color again next spring.  The bees are busy rolling around in the flowers collecting pollen for a “pollen loaf” to feed their young.  Unfortunately native bees are in peril due to habitat loss, pesticides and disease.  Most of our agricultural crops depend on native pollinators as well as entire ecosystems.  We can support our native bees by protecting existing habitat, reducing pesticide use, and planting native plants.  The bees will continue to support us in return and keep this California poppy blooming.

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 Finchfest!

This is a Lesser Goldfinch.  They love to feed on the seeds, especially of plants in the sunflower family, which this colorful adult male demonstrates beautifully as he goes to town on the dandelion.  You may catch glimpses of these singing too up on the phone wires or in bushes, the song is a jumble of notes slurs and and whistles and that incorporates snippets of other bird songs. 

 

Here are some more finches! though these look and sound like house finches, the fact they have red feathers and they are nesting at a house closes the case!  

These are one of our California native birds that has acclimated beautifully to human populations offering its song and chatter.  Almost a century ago housefinches were trapped and sold as “hollywood finches” for their looks and song.  A large number if these captives were released in NY and since then they’ve extended their range across the East Coast and Hawaii.

 

Like many songbirds the males are a showy (red) always looking to impress and attract a mate, while the female are more a camouflage (brown and streaked).  There is also a purple finch that looks very similar, and while they may be around, mostly in winter, they choose to nest in conifer trees.  

The purple finch speaks french, while these house finches have a little more choppy german dialect.  What a treat to watch these birds not in a cage, and nest building! I’m curious if there are more than just a pair involved, and who is doing most of the material gathering vs. building, and who has the final say on what gets used or how it is placed. 

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 Bushtit Bonanza 

Bushtits!  These tiny brown social birds are fairly common but inconspicuous.  Somewhat quietly chattering, flocks forging in the trees and brush are often heard before seen.  As the flock moves from one tree to the next, they generally fly one at a time (as opposed to the whole flock at once).  

Note the extra long tail.  Long tails act as a rudder helping a bird change direction quickly and well adapted for moving through brush and tree foliage.  You’ll notice long tails on many of our local chaparral specialties as well as hawks that primarily hunt birds (ie coopers hawks and red shoulders--but that’s for another day).  

Watch out for bushtit nests in April and May, construction can take a month as spiderwebs, plant material, fur and feathers are woven into a hanging sock, which sleeps the whole family at night, including their “helpers”.  Many pairs have helpers to help raise the chicks and the helpers are generally adult males.  If you get a closer look you can tell the female by her yellow eye while the males and juveniles have dark eyes.  

Bushtits are interesting in and of themselves, but watching their flocks will also lead you to other small songbirds that like to forage with them (such as chickadees and warblers). End of April is the average peak migration day for migrating birds.  Keep your eyes peeled for more!

 

copyright Erica Harris 2020

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