An Introduction to Our Local Sparrows, as Spotted Recently on Bernal Hill

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Neigbor John and his 7 year-old son Eddie live on Lundys. They’re heavy into bird-watching, and they inform us that Bernal Heights is actually a rather lively place to spy the local avians.

Neighbor John tells Bernalwood:

Here are three photos I took while bird watching with Eddie this morning. Within 100 yards on the south slope of Bernal Heights Blvd. we saw all three of the varieties of sparrows that can be seen on the hill.

The White Crowned Sparrow is obvious, with the distinctive white stripes on its head. They are currently in their “first winter” plumage:

White Crowned Sparrow

The second is the Golden Crown Sparrow, also in the first winter plumage. While you can clearly see the gold color on its head, the color will brighten as we head into spring:

Golden Crowned Sparrow

The House Sparrow is actually an ally of the finches. It has a distinctive, if boring, slate gray scalp, which is more than made up for with the black breast and colorful brown back:

House Sparrow

One of the lessons we are learning from bird watching with Eddie is to take joy in watching common birds. And, when you look closely, they have interesting stories as well!

PHOTOS: Neighbor John and Eddie

Neighbor Stumped by Mysterious Trunk of Sidewalk Tree

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Over the break, Neighbor Matthew wondered about the odd tree in front his house on Wool Street:

What’s the deal with the strange Bernal trees that are stumpy on the bottom and narrower on top? See attached photos. I have noticed these while running all over the ‘Wood Hood. This photo is from in front of my house on Wool Street. I’m stumped (wakka wakka wakka) as to whether these trees grow this way naturally, whether they had some sort of disease, or whether a smaller tree was somehow transplanted into a previously larger tree.

Any insight from Bernal’s many armchair arborists?

PHOTO: Neighbor Matthew

Behold, an Elegant New Photo of the Mysterious Tree-Shrub Thing on Bernal Hill

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Over on the Twitter, Neighbor Tim shared this super snap of the spooky tree-shrub thing on the eastern slope of Bernal Hill summit.

It’s long been known that Bernal’s tree-shrub thing has supernatural powers and functions as a gateway to the afterlife.

Some say it’s a California Buckeye, but no one seems to know exactly definitely for sure.

What we can say for sure is that Neighbor Tim has captured the beauty of the mysterious tree-shrub thing, in a very elemental way. Lovely!

PHOTO: Neighbor Tim

Rude Mockingbird Sings Loudly All Night, Will Not Shut Up

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A male mockingbird has taken up residence in Precita Valley, near the intersection of Precita and Shotwell. And as male mockingbirds are wont to do this time of year, Precitaville’s mockingbird has been singing his little avian heart out during nighttime hours — and he is loud as hell.

Here’s what the damn bird sounded like at approximately 12:37 am last night:

Why? Why do mockingbirds sing at night? What is the purpose of their nocturnal crooning? While prevented from sleep by the singing of this mockingbird last night, Bernalwood found a Los Angeles Times article from 1987 that provides some insight:

Research has shown that mockingbird males, like songbirds everywhere, sing to attract mates and to advertise territorial boundaries–during the day–but unlike most birds, they also sing at night for hours on end during the spring and summer. This piqued my curiosity. I was trained as a biologist, and while no longer doing “official” research, I am not above a speculation or two or even a simple, easy-to-do experiment. The results and the conclusions can be provocative and can also run counter to folklore. Mockingbirds, for instance, are not singing out of joy or pleasure as is commonly believed. Much of the time, they sing out of desperation. […]

Like most songbirds, [mockingbirds] have evolved a system of parceling up the land, which acts as a kind of natural farm, with the males defending the boundaries. They rarely fight physically, though, presumably because injury is too costly at a time when a bird needs all its strength just to break even in the energy economics of life. But there is usually no need to fight, because the vigor and skill of your song gives a good idea of the vigor and skill of your body–should a little more convincing be necessary.

The odds are that [a mockingbird near the author’s home] was locked in musical combat for his family’s survival. And singing was the measure of his substance and grit. If he got sick or injured, or old, that would also come out in his song, and his neighbors would probably start to encroach.

PHOTO: Northern Mockingbird, via Wikipedia

Loudmouth Bernal Heights Frogs Want Sex, Won’t Shut Up

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Everyone knows Bernal Heights is home to lots of dogs. And some cats. And some dissident parrots. But Neighbor Lori is playing host to some really chatty Bernal Heights frogs:

They are Pacific Chorus Frogs, in my backyard pond. It ‘s breeding season, and they are loudmouths! The males make a lot of noise, mostly at night. They stop if I get too close. They are native to the Bernal area and were rescued from behind an industrial shop. I’ve had the pond about five years or so, and every spring during the breeding season they sing. They are hard to see, because they are so tiny. But in the summer when it gets dry I find them camped out around the garden hose.

These frogs are small, but they make a big noise. Here’s Neighbor Lori’s recording of the frog chorus in her back yard:

PHOTO: Frog in Neighbor Lori’s backyard, by Neighbor Lori