Last year a chestnut-backed chickadee family nested inside a knot in an old madrone tree on our property, and this year I figured they were back - but on closer inspection, I saw that this time two small gray and white birds were flying in and out, working hard, and moving too fast to ID.
If you look hard you'll see a black arrow on the photo above, pointing to the nesting hole.
Today I happened to look while there was a lot of activity. I grabbed my binoculars, and I could see the younglings pretty clearly, and I am pretty sure I saw two of the babies hop out and take a few test flights and fly off. . .
Soon there was just one baby left in the nest - and only one adult bird feeding it - or anyway one baby and one adult bird at a time is all I see.
I phoned up my daughter in the UK and chatted while watching them from our upper deck. Between me saying "No, there's no black on the head, just gray, and a bit of white behind at the nape," and such like, and my daughter sitting at her computer in the night time of far far away, working on the clues with whatbird.com, we identified the species as - we are pretty sure - Pigmy Nuthatch, Sitta pygmaea.
Above you can see the distance I was from the tree and the knot hole where the birds are nesting, so I know you'll forgive the grainy quality of the following photos from my trusty little superzoom camera, which I set on a tripod. I took them right after getting off the phone.
Where are you?
Mother! Where's my dinner? Ah - here she is!
Insects and seeds form their diet.
Yum-yum. Can I have more please?
Anything for dessert?
Below is mother I think, bottoms-up, checking the big baby, and then she was off foraging for more.
Here's the Snag
This year the energetic Huerta Brothers tree company has been doing great business up and down the street, as I have mentioned in prior posts. For several of my neighbors, they have removed all understory growth - scalped it to the ground - and removed all dead and low-hanging limbs. The pruning looks very neat, and there is much less fuel load now. But I do wonder about removing so many nesting sites. And about the missing understory - will it all grow back, healthier and less flammable than before, as if a fire had come through?
The old madrone where the birds are nesting has a neighbor, a completely dead madrone, and I know I should have her - I say her because I think of her as a tall and elegantly silver old lady - at least trimmed to remove all the twiggy bits. But It would be a real shame to totally remove her. She adds a lot of character to the north facing slope, as well as habitat for wildlife.
If you have an old dead or dying tree, consider leaving it as a "snag" for the wild life around you to use as homes. Here's a link to a short article on the value of snags, by the California Forest Stewardship Program.
Snags of large diameter do not burn as fast as brushy stuff. On the other hand, they can fall and kill fire fighters. I asked Jeffrey Caldwell if the dead madrone posed a problem in terms of just plain old falling over and he said that because they harden as they age and die, it would not pose a risk.
Of course, we must balance livability for humans and animals with fire safety. This week a botanist is coming up for a consultation, and I'll ask about the old madrone, and many other things, and let you know what I find out.