Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mystery bird

by Carola Dunn

We had an amazing afternoon's birdwatching in my son's California garden. It's not huge about 1/3 acre, but it's a bit of a jungle. He's had a bees' nest under a shed for years. The bees are very busy pollinators, helping to produce wonderful harvests of avocados every year. Right now the avocado trees are smothered in blossom and his loquat tree is weighed down with fruit.

There's a dead palm tree that hasn't been cut down because a)something more urgent always turns up and b)a woodpecker has been busy trying to make a big enough hole for a nest. We went outside armed with binoculars and a bird book to try to work out what kind of woodpecker it is. It didn't take long to decide it's a Nuttall's. Now we're hoping it will succeed in nesting and bring up a family.

While we were watching the woodpecker we saw a pair of house finches, a common bird at my feeders in Oregon. A hummingbird zipped past. A phoebe, a small black and white flycatcher, perched on an overhead cable and darted out to catch flying insects, returning to its perch each time with its cry that sounds to some people like "Phoebe, phoebe," (more like Fifi, if you ask me).

Way high in the blue sky sailed two hawks, one pale, one dark, neither of which we managed to identify, though one came quite close before being driven off by crows. A mockingbird sang its beautiful, ever-varying song, until chased away by a rival.

Then we noticed a bird none of us had ever seen before. Several more of the same came to perch in a couple of palm trees. They were about the same size as the mockingbirds and had pale yellow undersides, darker backs. As we pored over the bird book, focused and refocused the binoculars, we realized that they were behaving like the phoebe, only instead of catching almost invisible bugs the intrepid creatures were picking off bees. The bees started to get angry and clouds of them buzzed up, not too close to us luckily. The birds were in a feeding frenzy. We still couldn't figure out what they were. It was a good half hour later that I flipped through the book one last time and happened to spot a photo that matched: the Western Kingbird.

What with one bird and another, they kept us amused half the afternoon.

Birds appear quite often in my books. In my Cornish mystery series, herring gulls are frequent visitors, as they're ubiquitous in Cornwall.  They're as much a part of the scenery as cliffs, moors, the ocean, and the wildflowers, adding to the sense of place. And then there are the buzzards, always on the lookout for dead bodies...

Cornish mysteries on Amazon

Cornish mysteries at Barnes & Noble

(photos not taken by me--I'm hopeless at bird photography)

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