More About Interspecies Feeding Among Birds

Pacific Coast Flycatcher

Dear Friends:

In order to do justice to Ann Allen’s lovely painting of her birdbaths in Where The Birds Are, I eliminated two photos which helped tell the story.

Interspecies bird feeding is unusual but not rare. The behavior is fueled by the powerful hormones which respond to the lengthening days in the spring.

Birds (male or female) may become a “helper” if their own nest is destroyed or if a bird is unable to find a mate. If nestlings have lost their parents and their calls are loud and persistent enough, a neighboring bird of another species may fill in as a parent.

Nestlings and fledglings learn their songs and calls from the feeding parents. Results can sometimes be disastrous as in the case where the helper, a gull of one species feeds gull of another species and the recipients no longer know when to migrate, I’m assuming our four juncos grew up to be proper adult juncos and didn’t leave for Mexico in the fall.

Where The Birds Are

“Birdbaths” by Ann Allen

In December each year, many in the country participate in the annual Audubon Christmas bird count. For the last ten years Samarkand has mustered up a dozen willing souls to walk Samarkand’s 16 acres to record the birds seen or heard. Half of their time was spent in Ann and Bob Allen’s Oak Crest garden, over the fence at the far end of the Native Plant Garden, where many species of birds come to visit their bird baths.

In the spring, local birds build their nests on the beams supporting the roof that overhangs part of their patio. Several years ago, when a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos were feeding their nestlings there, a stranger showed up with food in its beak. The Juncos chased off the intruder and then realized that a helper had shown up. The three birds fed the nestlings until they were old enough to leave the nest.

The stranger was a different species, a Pacific Slope Flycatcher with an upright posture and a slender beak for catching insects – a migrant who spent its winter in Southern Mexico. When the fledglings left the nest, the Flycatcher was out of a job. It called repeatedly for its lost family.

Come celebrate early summer at the Native Plant Garden, where you can enjoy orange poppies, blue and purple verbena, iris and fragrant sage. Stop at the sandstone fountain for wildflowers, birds and grand views.

A Garden at Each End

Eastview is a bit of a loner, located at the far southeast corner of the Samarkand property. The live oak trees from Oak Park climb up the slope to provide a protective background around our Native Plant Garden. L-shaped Eastview with its porches and patios complete the sheltering of the garden within its two wings.

On their porch, Joyce and Allan Anderson have assembled a whimsical collection of pots and mostly succulent plants. Even the walls and doors showcase unusual art pieces, but what is so special is its location under the jacaranda trees with their lacy leaves which filter the western sun. A table and chairs provide a beguiling and private spot for taking meals and entertaining friends. And once a year the jacarandas produce trumpet-shaped flowers which retain their purple color even when they fall to the ground. Joyce also provides flowers and seasonal decorations for the Eastview mailbox area.

My own garden is at the opposite end of the building where the light from the north is limited and the sun withdraws completely in the winter. My solution is to hang red ivy geraniums over the railing and to put large pots of lushly green sword ferns on the floor. At the end of the porch, facing a mountain view I have a chaise for napping, reading or doing nothing. A fountain against the east wall provides pleasing music.

What have you created on your patio, balcony or garden area? Contact me if you’d like to share!

Once Upon A Time

I take pleasure in thinking about the Santa Barbara of 500 years ago, before the arrival of the first traders and the mission builders. From the breakwater, I look to the city and the mountains, mentally removing buildings, roads, railroads, and all other signs of human habitation except for a scattering of thatched huts of the original Chumash tribes. As hunters and gatherers, they lived lightly on the land.

Now I will take away all the non-native vegetation. Yes, that includes the palms, which are native only to Palm Springs oases; the eucalyptus, olive and pepper trees; the purple-flowered jacarandas; and all of the other non-native species which later found Santa Barbara to be a suitable home.

I now can see the bones of the landscape, the boulders and rock outcroppings. And the many creeks, most originating in mountain springs and fueled by winter rain. The creeks flow rapidly downhill and when reaching the flood plain, meander to the ocean.

The gentle sloping plain and surrounding hills are an oak savanna covered with grasses and scattered coastal live oak – a perfect habitat for grazing deer, elk and antelope who are stalked by wolves, mountain lions and grizzly bears, the most massive mammal of all.

In today’s Santa Barbara, the distant howl of a coyote or a rare sighting of a mountain lion reminds us of the wild past of our unique locale.

Montecito Peak – My Volcano

I have a fine view of Montecito Peak from my east-facing windows. Perched at the south end of the Santa Ynez mountains, Montecito Peak is shaped like a cone, while the rest of the range, with its sheer cliffs and rock outcroppings, has an undulating profile against the sky.

Put a fragment of cloud on the top of the peak and it’s easy to believe that an eruption is imminent. Magma, which heats the Montecito Hot Springs, is nearby, but a geologist friend assures me that the range, including Montecito Peak, is composed mostly of sandstone that is full of marine fossils from the time when the land was covered by a warm sea.

Montecito Peak with its 3,214-foot summit is definitely worth the climb as you have an uninterrupted view of the coastline from Oxnard to Refugio once you reach the top. Though not a climber, I depend on whether Montecito Peak is visible or not to tell me what kind of a day to expect.

Karin Shelton is a Santa Barbara painter and this image is from one of her note cards. Some of her paintings are on display in the Life Center at the Samarkand.

Looking South to the Ocean

I lived most of my life in the Berkeley Hills where I looked west through the Golden Gate knowing that it is the only sea level break along the coastal mountains. At night, two lighthouse beacons told me where I was – one flashing light on Alcatraz Island just inside the Gate and the other 25 miles offshore on the Farallon Islands.

When I first came to Santa Barbara, I looked for what might be special. I admired the mountains at the edge of town which are twice as high as the Berkeley Hills. Then l remembered that in Santa Barbara you looked due south to the ocean because 30 miles west at Point Conception, the coastline turns abruptly 90 degrees east. Near Ventura the coastline straightens up again and resumes its roughly north/south trend of the rest of the California coastline.

On clear days I can see the profiles of Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands which are part of the five Northern Channel Island group, giving Santa Barbara another distinction in a state with few offshore islands.

And how about another fact: it is the motion of the San Andreas fault over time that has twisted the coastal mountains in the region to also run east/west, which is why on the maps they are referred to as the Transverse Ranges.

But aside from all the interesting geology, what I truly love about the mountains behind Santa Barbara is the way they reflect back the low winter sun to help give us the mild winter climate.