Nature Notes: North of Capistrano

<I>MARSHA SPARKS photo</i>

Just a few days ago, here on the Peninsula, we spotted the first swallows of the season zooming in and around our trees, hot on the trail of some luckless insect. Not an hour later, from the same vantage point, we also spotted two turkey vultures, the first of the season for our favorite long distance fliers!

Glancing at my Peterson Field Guide where I keep notes and dates of bird sightings, the swallow appeared within two days of the same date from last year's first appearance, and the turkey vultures were only earlier by five days than the year before. My friends who snowbird back and forth to Mexico every year aren't even that exact!

I guess the arrival of these soaring harbingers of spring make it official. We can now reasonably expect our hummers (the pretty ones with wings that get great mpg) any day now.

Notes on annual bird arrivals and movements can tell us a lot about what is going on in their world with wind, weather, food supply, length of days and temperatures.

The brown pelicans were very late arriving last summer by almost three weeks as the bait fish population was still quite good further south, which somewhat delayed the birds' arrival here for breeding season. Hey, sometimes you just gotta eat first.

The overall picture, when we take a few minutes to size it up, shows us squarely in the middle of titanic forces, ocean currents, solar insolation, sunspot activity, commercial fishing pressures, high and low pressure weather systems, predator populations, air and water quality and at least ten thousand other factors that somehow these little guys manage to navigate year in and year out. They arrive here happy and healthy to feast on their food chain that we (luckily for us) live among, and they somehow survive all of this to arrive here within the same few days, plus or minus, every year!

Try that in your '78 Cordoba.

Also consider that many of the first year pilots will be making southbound flights in the fall of at least a thousand miles, and some well over two thousand miles when they are only a few months old. Flying over terrain they have never seen before, yet somehow know, landing for the first time in places that some part of them knows from ancient time. We can learn much from them. After all, they've been flying this route for about three million years, plus or minus.

Craig Sparks is director of NAWA, a filmmaker, freelance writer and wildlife rehabilitator.

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