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Birding is Soaring in Eastlake

Western Tanagers

Editor’s Note: Dave Galvin guided about 50 people over the course of two bird walks on Sunday, April 8. He’s been doing these Eastlake walks for the last three years and they have become increasingly popular. You’d be surprised by how many birds you can see even in the rain, and Dave has fascinating stories to tell about the secret parallel lives of our feathered cohabitants. Still, it’s tricky to keep the identity of each bird species straight. So, in an effort to make that easier, we’re re-publishing Dave’s current column in the Eastlake News here with lots of pictures that the hard copy didn’t have space for. Special thanks to Larry Hubbel for allowing us to use his amazing images. (Check out Larry’s weekly blogpost at www.Unionbaywatch.blogspot.com — he is a detailed observer of urban nature as well as an awesome photographer.)

Dave mentions in his column the bird songs of many local birds and says if you want to try to identify them yourself to download the free app “Merlin” (Bird ID by the Cornell Lab) to your phone. Your phone’s mic will pick up the song and tell you what bird it belongs to. Now here’s his column:

Isn’t it wonderful to come out of our cold, dark, wet winters into the promise of spring?  I hope you’ll notice that our local birds agree.  American Robins stop hanging out in winter flocks, and the males pick a local perch at the tree tops to sing their heads off, signaling their territory and hoping for notice by the right female. 

American Robin

The Robin’s “cheer-up, cheerily” song is a true harbinger of spring.  Lots of other male birds are doing the same, from Black-capped Chickadees who start their spring “hey, sweetie” song; to House Finches in bright red head-and-chest plumage singing their convoluted finch song with a raspy ending,; to Song Sparrows who burst into “hip, hip, hip, hurray boys, spring is here” song in every hedgerow and block of the neighborhood. 

Black-capped Chickadee
House Finch

Bewick’s Wrens get active now after keeping a low winter profile, as do Dark-eyed Juncos with their black heads and white outer tail-feathers, who start singing their soft trill from small street trees. 

Bewick’s Wren
Dark-eyed Junco

Even European Starlings are in their finest, pin-striped glory this time of year as they sing their own mixture of starling notes (often very confusing to this birder’s ear) as well as mimic other local sounds, from hawks to car alarms. 

European Starlings

Northern Flickers rap on wood and metal to get attention, and yell their “yakyakyakyak…:” calls to attract a mate.  All these species over-winter with us, and now join us in saluting brighter, warmer days.

Northern Flicker

Many birds migrate, choosing to expend energy to move seasonally to places better suited to stay alive. (“Snowbirds,” we call our human equivalents who don’t have to do quite as much work migrating yet overwinter in Palm Springs or Cabo.)  Our White-crowned Sparrows arrive back in numbers in late March and early April from winters spent in California  (a few over-winter here); their buzzy “more, more cheezies, please” song is another clear, although monotonous, harbinger of spring. 

White-crowned Sparrow

Yellow-rumped Warblers, some of whom over-winter here, swell in numbers in April as they come back north from winter as far south as Panama; most keep moving, going all the way to the edges of the taiga in northern Alaska and Canada, an incredible journey for a creature that weighs half an ounce.  Birds that rely on flying insects such as our swallows show up in late April and May, often moving on father north.

Yellow-rumped Warblers

One of my local treats in May is the very short pass-through of Western Tanagers, one of my iconic Washington birds, who winter from southern Mexico to Costa Rica (nice choices!) and who then nest as far north as B.C. and the Yukon.  We experience a wave of these lovely birds in mid to late May, usually only for a week or so, usually up-hill in the Eastlake neighborhood, such as near I-5, including especially the area along Lakeview Blvd. E. just uphill of the freeway, where there is a concentration of trees in the St. Mark’s Greenbelt.  I hear them singing their raspy “Robin-with-a-sore-throat” songs and often find twenty or more in a few trees there; but then they’re gone a few days later, as they move both north into Canada and up-hill into and over our Cascades, where they are a dominant summer resident. 

Western Tanagers

These tanagers are, to me, the epitome of our vulnerable migrants who rely on habitats both here in the Northwest and Canada to nest and also appropriate habitats in transit and in their wintering forests in southern Mexico and Central America.  I have witnessed them, in our winter, in tropical forests in Chiapas (southern Mexico) and Costa Rica, and each time they have helped to connect me to this continuity of life from here to there, and to its extreme vulnerability.

Enjoy the emergence of spring in our neighborhood!  Let me know what you are seeing or hearing, or any questions you have about our local birds, at galvind53@gmail.com .  Thanks for your continuing interest.

P.S.  Isabella Yeager and I are scheming about how to turn Eastlake into the premiere neighborhood in Seattle for a more natural city environment, with more native plants, more native insects and pollinators, more diversity of life.  If this is of interest to you to join in, let us know at isabella@flowermoongardens.com or galvind53@gmail.com .

Written by Dave Galvin

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