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Posts by Tina Mitchell

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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119 Years… and Counting

  December 23, 2017.  I jolt awake at 3 a.m.  Was that a Great Horned Owl calling?  I strain to listen without getting out of bed, without opening a window.  I can’t be sure.  Better not count it.  In vain, I try to go back to sleep.  At 4:30, I finally get up even though…

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A Bird For All Seasons – The Western Meadowlark

While scouting the Great Falls Portage along the Missouri River in 1805, Merriweather Lewis heard an unexpected vocal fanfare from an otherwise familiar bird from the East—a bird then called the “oldfield lark” and now known as the Eastern Meadowlark.  Studying it closely, though, Lewis noted a differently shaped tail; a longer, more curved beak;…

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The Song Sparrow – San Diego’s Reliable Crooner

Outdoors on late summer mornings, I strain to catch any hint of bird song.  For those who relish the avian breeding season symphony, the end of summer represents a bit of an auditory desert.  As breeding season wraps up, with no need to attract mates or defend territories, the birds quit singing. Some even head…

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Learning from the Past, Fighting for the Future

In the early 1800s, the Passenger Pigeon held the distinction of the most abundant land bird in North America—perhaps in the world—with an estimated population of 3-5 billion individuals. (That’s billion. With a “b.”)  Compare this figure to the present-day North American abundance champion, the Mourning Dove, with estimates ranging from 100-450 million. (With an…

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A Win for the Home Team!

In the birding world, the look-alike Empidonax flycatchers—affectionately or dejectedly referred to as “empids”—create two non-overlapping groups: those who eagerly rise to the ID challenge (not me) and those who despairingly mutter “empid” and move on (me).  But one empid occupies a rarefied spot in San Diego County:  the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.   The Willow…

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Hooded Orioles – Coming Home to Roost

Commotion at a hummingbird feeder drew my eye.  A Bullock’s Oriole—all 9” of him—was trying to maneuver around the various ports to get a drink.  No luck.  The fellow reminded me of a 6th grader trying to ride a tricycle—nothing fit and nothing worked.  Later that day, a Hooded Oriole (a bit smaller at 8”)…

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Hawk Watch: Spring Brings More Than Flowers to Anza-Borrego

My first (and, so far, only) hawkwatch—a play in one act   [curtain rises: a ridge in Morrison, Colorado]   Hawk Enumerator 1:  I’ve got a bird—over the microwave tower, moving north. Me:  *searches for the microwave tower, wonders which way is north* HE2:  Got ‘im!  Looks like an American Kestrel, male. Me:  *might have…

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