Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Early birds at the Zoo

May 8 dawned bright and clear, and by the time I arrived at the local zoo at 6:45 a.m., the grass gleamed lemon-yellow in the slanting rays of sunlight and the air was soft and warm. At this hour on a Saturday, few cars roll along the roads, and the only people out and about are joggers and dogwalkers. And, here at the zoo, birders.

We'd come to stroll the zoo grounds in the company of a bird curator and enjoy the rare opportunity to amble about the 90+ leafy acres without encountering large family groups of moms pushing prams and screaming toddlers sticky with Itzakadoozie candy--not that there's anything wrong with those things. They just have a tendency to make it hard to identify the sibilant whisperings of a shy, small bird high in a treetop.

Though we didn't spy any rare migratory species, we did enjoy a nice selection of birds that are either year-round residents or seasonal nesters: white-crowned sparrows, bushtits, black-capped chickadees, house finches, violet-green swallows, barn swallows, robins, Bewick's wrens, and a pair of bald eagles nesting in a tree. The curator also identified a glaucous-winged/Western gull hybrid relaxing on the savannah, incongruously situated among zebras and gazelles. And I got to add a new bird to my life list upon glimpsing a yellow-rumped warbler gleaning insects high in an oak.

The zoo's own birds also exhibited a restfulness and poise rare to see during the hours that it's open to the public. Chilean flamingoes stood one-legged in their pond with their necks corkscrewed over their backs in repose, watching us carefully with their squinty yellow eyes but otherwise unflappable. One peacock glowered down at us from a treetop perch while another fanned out his emerald tail coverts, parading around us just in case there were a peahen hidden in our midst.

Of all the birds we saw that morning, I most enjoyed watching this busy white-crowned sparrow hunting insects in the savannah grass. I'd never seen this bird when I lived back east, and now every spring I look forward to hearing its wistful song, sometimes rendered as wee SWEE chilly-chilly-SWEEE cheer-cher-er. One bold sparrow even staked out a territory in the courtyard of my daughter's elementary school--a brilliant location, noisy with children, perhaps, but unlikely to attract a hungry Cooper's hawk.


  1. A little bit of everything. Piccalilli as you may know, you cooking adventuress, you, is a relish made of a mixture of veggies and mustard. I have some high hopes affiliated with this concoction. (woo-woo music here) all will be revealed :)