Robin gets the worm!

The April blizzard is melting and apparently all that soil moisture is making the earthworms restless.  Robins are scouring the front yard for delectables, with great success.

Got the worm out of the soil, now to get it down the gullet.

That was quite a meal!

Ever wondered how Robins find those juicy earthworms?  Slight movements in the grassy thatch or bare soil tips them off to the worm’s presence, then they focus in on tiny holes in the soil where the top of the worm’s proboscis may be sticking up.  There is also evidence that they can hear the worms moving through the soil matrix.  End result — a juicy meal.

Buried treasure

April blizzards create new challenges for wildlife, already limited by the diminished resources available.  Can squirrels really remember where they hid some buried treasure last fall?  Apparently so.

After the blizzard, gray squirrels ventured out in the deep snow, digging holes down to the dirt surface in search of their buried treasures.
This shot begs for a clever caption. Got any ideas?

It looks like the squirrel found what it was searching for — a dried up walnut.

I wonder if they can smell nuts under snow cover?

April blizzard

After a week of warmth in California weather, we returned to a Minnesota “spring” blizzard, complete with wet snow, fierce winds, icy rain, and frigid temperatures.  Pity the poor migratory birds that came here to replenish their energy before continuing north.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow looking forlorn about all the snow covering the vegetation.

The icy crust was too hard for them to scratch below in search of fallen seeds from the feeders.

Slate-colored Junco

Slate-colored Juncos were everywhere scavenging fallen seed.

Male House Finch

This House Finch was eating the snow!

Male Northern Cardinal standing tall, trying to look in the feeder to find seed.

Female Northern Cardinal, not finding much to eat with the snow covering all the feeder holes.

American Goldfinch males have turned their bright yellow spring breeding colors. But it doesn’t seem like spring weather now.

Hopefully this is the last of the white stuff we will see this spring.


Bird walk at Alviso marina

Where have all the birds gone?  Just a handful of Avocets, a scattered few ducks, two pairs of Canada Geese, and a dozen or so Black-necked Stilts were around on this sunny (finally) morning at the salt ponds that empty into the southern end of San Francisco Bay.

Alviso marina county park

A beautiful morning for a bird walk, with lilac plants framing the salt ponds.

Alviso marina county park

The ponds here are usually full of waders and ducks, but not today.

Black-necked Stilts

One-legged birds? Black-necked Stilts at rest

Alviso marina county park

I must be desperate to take photos of something, if I’m shooting train pictures.

Kind of disappointing.

But we accidentally started a feud between a Marsh Wren and a Common Yellowthroat Warbler, which made the morning memorable.  After seeing a male Common Yellowthroat land nearby, we played his “wichety” song, and instead of the Yellowthroat popping into view, we made the local Marsh Wren mad enough to come scold us for several minutes.

Common Yellowthroat male

This bright Common Yellowthroat male was the one we were after.

Marsh Wren

You wouldn’t think a Marsh Wren would respond so intensely to the call of another species…but this bird was quite vocal about defending his nest territory.

Marsh Wren

Whistles, chirps, rattles, and buzzes come out in a continuous stream to drive off the invaders.

Marsh Wren

You almost never get this bird in view because they hide down in the reeds, and blend into their habitat quite well. But he/she was mad!

Poppy fields

just what I wanted to see…I love the way they change color from deep orange to bright yellow-orange, depending on the direction of the light.

California poppy California poppy California poppy and lupines California poppy

These poppies are self-seeding, drought tolerant, will colonize disturbed, poor soils other plants cannot, and come in a variety of colors in the red-orange-yellow spectrum. No wonder they are such a dominant roadside plant in California and Oregon. And they brighten your day, just looking at them.

Deer in the meadow

How picturesque, stumbling onto a mule deer herd in Calero county park east of San Jose, CA, as they munched their way through the spring wildflowers.

Mule deer herd in Calero County Park, San Jose CA

Mule deer herd in Calero County Park, San Jose CA

Mule deer herd in Calero County Park, San Jose CA

Yes, picturesque.

Tom Turkey displaying

Tom Turkey was displaying energetically, but the two hens present ignored him.

Ah, spring! So green!

It may be a while before Minnesota takes on such a green glow!

Between the storm clouds

The sun is a fickle thing in Northern California these days; it remains hidden behind dense cloud banks and then teases us with its all-too-brief appearances.  Nevertheless, we’ve been out in search of the few wildflowers in bloom now; apparently, peak bloom is a little late this year.  A few highlights of our adventures in Santa Clara county parks below…

Wildflowers, Calero county park, San Jose CA

Roadside lupines, they really do well in bare, rocky, sandy soil where other plants have trouble getting established.

Wildflowers, Calero county park, San Jose CA

Blue-eyed grass makes an early spring appearance.

Wildflowers, Calero county park, San Jose CA

Possibly a species of Checker Mallow, a dainty and scarce herb in this field of lupines.

Wildflowers, Calero county park, San Jose CA

Yellow violets embedded among the other vegetation


Fiddleheads poke up between other wildflowers in the field.

California poppy

Everyone’s favorite, the California poppy, another scrappy survivor of rocky, barren places.

California poppy

The color orange is defined by the California poppy!  This was just one plant.

California green!

After several months of living in landscapes painted mostly white, mixed with gray and brown, it’s nice to be overwhelmed with the green-ness that has resulted from so much rain in California this past winter.  Feast your eyes, those of you who have been deprived of outdoor color for the past few months.

Santa Teresa county park, San Jose CA

At Santa Teresa county park, San Jose CA

Santa Teresa county park, San Jose CA

No color adjustment on this photo — that’s really what it looks like here in this oak savanah.

Santa Teresa county park, San Jose CA

Oaks have just recently leafed out.

Santa Teresa county park, San Jose CA

It seems that it’s a little early for the wildflowers here.  I wanted to see a carpet of poppies, lupine, etc.


Only a few lupine to be found in the grassy fields

Bees and blossoms

Spring is in full swing here in northern California, and I was glad to see so many honeybees out performing their pollinating service.  In fact, there were many more honeybees here than I typically see on the flowers in streetside gardens at home. Hmmmm…wonder what that means?

honeybee on Ceanothus (California lilac)

Honeybees swarmed the tinybflowers of California lilac (Ceanothus species)

honeybee on Ceanothus (California lilac)

They were probably collecting pollen from this plant (rather than nectar).  Look at those full pollen baskets on the rear appendages.

Honeybee pollination

Twin flowers of this mint species offer nectar at the bottom of a deep floral tube, causing the bee to pick up pollen on its back as they brush by the anthers.

Honeybee pollination

Better view of the plant-pollinator geometry that ensures the bee does its job for the flower while getting its reward. Bees typically spent several seconds on each flower, so either the nectar was hard to get to, or there was a lot of it (probably the former).

Honeybee pollination

Bright purple modified leaves at the top of the flower stem attract bees to this fragrant mint. The tiny, purple-black flowers stud the sides of a thick floral stem.

Purple sage garden plant

I think this might be Spanish Lavender, which looks nothing like MN lavender.  It’s highly aromatic, like other lavenders, though.

California is experiencing a mega-bloom after all the recent winter rain, so I hope I will see a lot more of these plant-pollinator interactions in the next few days.

the competition

They’re back, and they’re busily staking out their territories.  The Red-winged Blackbirds that is.

Red-winged Blackbird

Timing is everything when males want to control the best space and resources to attract females when they arrive, so it’s best to be the first to arrive in coveted areas.

I had heard that blackbirds had been spotted along the southern border of the Twin Cities two days ago, so I went looking for them in our nearby local marshes, and didn’t find or hear a single bird.

But a very small pond lined with cattails bordering the parking lot of the local YMCA had three male blackbirds patrolling the space and actively announcing their presence.

One bird was hiding behind branches of a tree along the busy road.

Red-winged Blackbird

And he wouldn’t move! So this was the best shot I could get. Fortunately the brick walls of the YMCA were out of focus.

Another bird called from down in the cattails, but hopped up on them momentarily for a photo.

Red-winged Blackbird

Not much aggressive action between these two birds on this cold day.

The third bird called from his perch high up on a light pole, and I didn’t bother photographing him.

I wonder which of them will win the competition for this site.  It seems to me they could do so much better for breeding sites at some of the local ponds in parks nearby…but then I don’t know what blackbirds like.