(Eighty-five year old Beba Frey of Frey Vineyards is an avid bird watcher. She recently wrote down some thoughts on her favorite pastime. The bird to the right is a Pileated Woodpecker, taken by Nathan Frey in woodlands adjacent the vineyards. In a future post we will talk about the many bird houses we have set up around the vineyards and the species of birds that use them to raise their hatchlings each year.)
I yelped. I was looking at the bird feeder outside my window. There, pecking bird seeds, was a strange (to me) large black saucy bird. For a fleeting moment I took it for a Brewer’s blackbird. But no, it had a graceful crest of black and fiery red eyes. It was early March. Then I remembered. Thirty years earlier in northern Mexico I had seen and identified the same black bird sitting proudly on a bush as the Phainopepla. It was my only sighting here in Redwood Valley. The name is as lovely as the bird. It is Greek for “shining robe,” undoubtedly referring to its sleek smooth body. Then two weeks later, for a scarce 4 minutes, two male Phainopeplas and 2 females (gray in color but with a similar crown) visited my feeder. They like mistletoe berries. I have never heard its “short soft whistle,” as described in the bird book. But I look for their return every day.
Mendocino County is the proverbial birder’s paradise. The temperate climate keeps many species here year round. Rivers, lakes, fields, woods, meadows abound with our fine feathered friends. And the mighty Pacific with its large swooping sea birds hugs the Mendocino coastline. The result is a plethora of bird species, here either all year long or passing through along the coastline or inland valleys on their way north or south. We love the loud honking of geese as they head north or south in their elongated V high in the sky. As our valley narrows on its way north it is home to the occasional pair of bald eagles which hunt unsuspecting smaller prey up and down the swiftly descending creek.
A pair of red-tailed hawks and their descendents have been in the same stretch of woods adjacent the vineyards for the last 40 years. We hear their particular series of cries, always starting on the same note and slurring downward. We wonder whether they nest in the same tree year after year or just in the same area. They consider this region home as surely as we do.