Thursday, May 13, 2010

An Erratic Week in an Aberrant Spring

After a weekend of stunningly perfect weather (bright blue skies, mild wind, brilliant sun), last Monday arrived cold and rainy, a thick sky of grim nimbus clouds and a wind too full of itself. Cloudburst, downpour, sprinkle, drizzle, rinse, repeat. The view out the office window was grey, grey, grey, all day. Still, not much daunts the intrepid Amateur Campus Naturalist and so, jamming the hat down to my ears and cinching tight all openings of the raincoat, out I went. Sticking to a route under overhangs and close to trees, I avoided becoming completely drenched while freshening my lungs with oxygen-rich air. Win, win, win. At least for me.

We're not used to this sort of wet and variable spring in Sonoma County. All this cold rain and dreary grey feels more like epileptic relapses into winter. April showers bring May flowers in other parts of the country. Here, the ultra-pleasant and dry weeks of April merely launch us full-tilt into summer; by mid-May, telltale patches of brown will line the crests of the hills as the winter rains recede into the water table. This spring though, with rains every other week, the hills are staying green, and with rainfall totals above normal, the three-year drought has been conquered. (Fingers crossed on that one.)

Walking just inside a silvery curtain of rain under the Salazar overhang, I wondered where the cliff swallows hide in all this wet. The birds had arrived per usual in mid-April, with their radio-static buzzy clicks, swinging freely over the quad in waves, then winging over the playing fields, scooping up their bug lunches. Certainly nest building has suffered from rain delays; under the eaves high above, I could see only the most rudimentary lines of daubed mud sketching in the nest foundations. How will this affect raising and fledging the next brood?

From Salazar, I hopped, skipped and skidded around the gym and up into the Kenneth Stocking Native Botanical Garden. Under the tree-canopy, the rain was but a minor nuisance. I wandered along the spongy floor of dense leaf-litter and needles, breathing deep, the air fragrant and damp, and stopped to watch through crossed tree branches as the lessening rain dimpled the pond. Suddenly I heard dee! dee dee dee! dee! shockingly close to my head. I spotted the commotion right away:  two spry chestnut-backed chickadees bouncing around the branches and twigs just above me, gleaning insects and bugs as fast as they could to feed their fluffy, demanding, just-fledged progeny, three lumps-on-a-branch, barely moving, except to open their beaks for food or to dee! deee! deee! for more.

Obviously, this aberrant spring has had little effect on these adorable (admit it, they are) little busybodies.   And it probably won't do more than slow down the swallows as they follow the inevitable course of actions leading to the next generation. Nor will it interfere with our own about-to-fledge graduates who, in about two weeks, will fling up their black caps, tassels and all, and come rain or come shine, fly on.


  1. A pleasant read indeed!

  2. thanks, I! (er, not me, you!)

  3. Never again will I let the rain deter me from walking about on a stormy spring day. Lovely. Janet

  4. next time, I'll call you, we'll head out together. I hear there's a chance of rain on Monday...
    ps thanks!

  5. After reading this post, a colleague sent me this dramatic story:

    Yesterday afternoon in my backyard I witnessed quite a dramatic spectacle with the crows that live in the redwood treetops. As we were working, we heard a couple of the crows cawing with alarm. I mean you could tell it was alarm!

    Looking up we saw why. A hawk was circling pretty high above. Within seconds there were about twenty crows circling the tree that we knew had to have the nest. In five minutes there were about fifty crows, diving and screeching all around the tree, performing major acrobatics in the air.

    It was amazing. They slowed down a little and then suddenly a hawk emerged from the tree with baby crow in talons. Oh my gosh! The crows went absolutely ballistic and took out after him. They disappeared from our sight so I don't know what happened after that.

    In about five minutes, members of the group starting coming back, taking up perches in the treetops and cawing. I presume lamenting the loss of the baby.

    I have never seen anything like it. This all took up at least twenty minutes. I do not know much about crows but I certainly learned how close knit their community is!



Noise makers!