A pair of killdeer has built its nest between two of the ponds. “Nest” is a generous term when it comes to killdeer; they do little more than clear some of the larger bits of gravel from the patch they’ve chosen for laying their eggs. Right now one of them broods while the other forages, and the small, brown bird is barely visible against the gravel despite its striking double black collar. The eggs, should both parents leave for a while, are even less visible. They’re mottled black and whitish to match the gravel. Because the nest is so close to where I’m setting up my experiments, I’m worried that I’ll scare the birds off it. But so far, whichever parent is brooding has barely reacted to my presence, staying as still as the rocks on which it sits unless I walk directly towards it, and certainly not living up to its scientific name, Charadrius vociferus.
More winged signs of spring have arrived this week. The white-crowned sparrows are back in force. It’s lovely to see native sparrows at least as often as the introduced Passer domesticus, and this species is a striking one. Its grey head is capped with bold black and white stripes, and its whistles compete with the robin and chickadee calls that fill the spring air.
As the white-crowns arrived, the juncos were leaving. Junco classification is a mess; the birds I see here may or may not be the same species I used to see back home—Junco hyemalis, a beautiful name meaning wintery reed-dweller. Unlike their slate-grey eastern brethren, these birds have brown, almost rust-coloured bodies, but both share a pale beak, black head, and white along the sides of their tails which flashes against the dead undergrowth as a flock flies away.
The surest sign of spring is the arrival of the first swallows. A handful of violet-green swallows (Tachycineta thalassina) provided running commentary on my pond work today. Their backs are glossy brown, purple, or green depending on the lighting, while their bellies are clear white. They (mercifully) feast on mosquitoes and their ilk, and seem unafraid of humans as they swoop by me to drink from the pond on the wing.