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Posts by Tina Mitchell

Winter Spectacle — Cedar Waxwings

Christmas Bird Count 2018, Anstine Audubon Preserve in Vista. Our small group climbs a hill and checks for birds. Craning my neck, I mutter, “I hear Cedar Waxwings.”  We all start scanning the tops of trees, the sky, in all directions. Nowhere to be seen. As the enumerator, I could just mark down “1” and…

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A Study in Contrasts House Wren — The 21st-Century Caveman

When I used to monitor nestboxes, I would listen carefully as I approached a box, trying to hear what birds were in the area.  One especially bubbly, bouncing song would alert me to potential problems for the other cavity nesters in the vicinity. A 21st-century “troglodyte”—a.k.a. a House Wren—was looking to set up housekeeping.  …

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He May Not Be Pavarotti, But…

Anyone who enjoys bird song dreads summer’s end as a bit of an auditory desert. But if you live near California Thrashers, you can take heart. These songsters will actually begin ramping up their voices again in late August.   Slightly larger than a California Scrub-Jay, a California Thrasher features a long, heavy, and distinctly…

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Nature’s Path Back

Wildfire and wildlife—what’s the first image that comes to your mind?  I’m 7 years old, sitting in a darkened movie theater, watching the fire scene in the Disney animated classic Bambi.  Birds, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, our protagonist deer all flee through scorching embers, swirling smoke, and crashing, flaming branches.  That scene seemed to last for…

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Hummingbird Feeders

Feeding hummingbirds can be simple and inexpensive.  Here’s a time- and hummer-tested recipe. Use a 1-to-4 ratio of white table sugar to water (for example, ¼ cup of sugar to 1 cup of water).  Don’t use honey, brown sugar, organic cane sugar, artificial sweeteners—just table sugar. Heat the water in the microwave; in my microwave,…

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It Takes a Village: San Diego’s Acorn Woodpecker

In the 1920s, an American ornithologist called this bird “our native aristocrat—unruffled by the operations of the human plebs…”   In that same decade, an avian researcher proclaimed that these birds practiced communism. More recently, their social behavior has been likened to a noisy avian Keystone Cops routine, featuring loud calling, bobbing, wing displaying, and jockeying…

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In Living Color: Black-headed Grosbeaks are Back in Town

Just before my shift started, I walked into the baby bird room at the wildlife rehabilitation center. A distinctive sound ringing through the room—”WEE-urrr, WEE-urrr”—transported me back more than five years and 1,000 miles. The soundtrack of late summer in the pinyon-juniper habitat of our previous home in the Colorado mountains—baby Black-headed Grosbeaks were in…

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Avian Architects Setting Up Shop

They typically nest in large colonies, occasionally numbering in the thousands.  Within these noisy, chattering colonies, they push “neighborliness” to the limit, laying eggs in or even moving their eggs into their neighbors’ nests.  They recognize the voices of their offspring even among thousands of other kids squawking to be fed.  They spy on their…

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Familiar Friend The Lesser Goldfinch

Naming a species a “least” this-or-that or a “lesser” such-and-such smacks a bit of disparagement.  The bird exists only in relationship to a larger/greater/“better” bird.  The Lesser Goldfinch’s comparator is its Spinus congener, the American Goldfinch.  In this context, the Lesser Goldfinch comes up short in several ways.  It measures ½” (10%) shorter and weighs…

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Tripping the Light Fantastic

When I set out to write about a species, I start with “What is interesting about this species?”  With hummingbirds, though, what isn’t interesting about them?  The smallest of all birds, most of the hummingbirds seen in California weigh between 0.1 and 0.3 ounces (~2.5 – 4 grams) or less than 5 original M&Ms.  Probably…

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