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April 29, 2010

April is perhaps my favorite, a month of renewals and returns. Some species leave, it is true. The dark-eyed juncos and pine siskins we have hosted since November are mostly gone, returned to the high country with the other montane species that find life easier at lower elevations when there is snow. The neighborhood Lewis’s woodpeckers will soon disappear for the summer. It is assumed that they too move up the mountain to breed in the cooler air, but no one is quite certain where they go. Perhaps they have a timeshare at Snowbird. We also witness a curious reversal of this altitudinal migration. Cassin’s finches, which seem mostly to remain at higher elevations during the winter, congregate at valley feeders for a few weeks every April before returning to the mountains for nesting season.

The northward movement of the summer nesters approaches its May crescendo. Lark sparrows have begun to arrive in the valleys and foothills. Broad-tailed hummingbirds, green-tailed towhees, and Virginia’s warblers have been seen this last week. Other migratory species that nest in our neighborhood – western kingbird, Bullock’s oriole, black-headed grosbeak, and plumbeous and warbling vireos, should soon be here, perhaps this week.

My personal feeder favorite made its first appearance of the year a few days ago. Three male lazuli buntings took turns at the white millet in our tray and foraged on the ground beneath it. An irresistibly brilliant blue, they will not stay. They do not move far, breeding in the oak brush on the hillsides around us, but they only grace our feeders for a few weeks as they move in, and again, for a few weeks in late summer, as they leave. After a cold winter and gray spring, how can a bird the color of the summer sky fail to bring good cheer?

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