Monday, May 21 , 2018, 7:25 pm | Fair 64º


Karen Telleen-Lawton: A Bird’s-Eye Perspective on Spring Zingers

An American kestrel enjoys the restored San Marcos Foothills Preserve. Click to view larger
An American kestrel enjoys the restored San Marcos Foothills Preserve. (David Telleen-Lawton photo)

The bird's-eye perspective this spring must be nothing short of beak-dropping. Birds are accustomed to seeing people as semi-autonomous extensions of cars, scurrying from wheeled vehicles to houses and offices and back again. But this spring we are getting out of our cars and walking around in great numbers, enjoying green trails, rushing creeks and a plethora of wildflowers. I heard on the radio that those heading to the Anza-Borrego desert should have plenty of food and a full tank of gas since gridlock could await native flower-gawkers in the state park.

One sign of spring slightly subtler than a profusion of flowers is the absence of adult Western gulls on the beach. Look around the next time you’re there: Western gulls that are still hanging around are mostly the brownish-whitish variety: juveniles. They may or may not be wondering where the old folks went, which is largely out to Anacapa Island.

Something like 7,500 or more females have reunited with their lifelong mates and are settling into digs in tight quarters on the one-square-mile island. The pairs sound pretty much like you would imagine 15,000 gulls to sound like when they’re arguing over which square yard or two will be theirs for the season.

The rain has been good for giant coreopsis, their preferred habitat. It will be interesting to see if the abundant rains induce the gulls to produce more clutches of three or even four than the usual two to three.

A surprise beneficiary of the abundant rains has been a tiny, delicate plant hitherto unknown to Santa Barbara Island. Eremalche exilis, the while mallow, is known by specimens gathered on Santa Cruz Island in 1888 and on Catalina Island in 1902. Five separate populations were found in several parts of the tiny island during the annual plant survey. The white mallow is part of the hibiscus family often found in deserts. A common mallow trait is seeds that can lie dormant for decades until the right conditions exist. They exist!

Closer to home, wild cucumber vines proliferate on our local trails. Their seeds look more like prickly tennis balls. The clematis vine’s creamy fragrant flowers are ahead of schedule. Blue dicks stems poke into the wet trail like tiny jack-in-the-boxes, and the angular fruit of ceanothus appears alongside fading white blossoms.

The winter floods destroyed some manmade habitats like the cabins at El Capitan, but were restorative for the habitat itself. The storm redesigned creek architectures at every turn. They scoured the pools in a periodic cleaning and replenished the system for stream biota like steelhead and insects. If the creeks were unimpeded by dams and such, they’d also be delivering fresh sand to the starved beaches.

In these waning weeks of the rainy season, I remembered birder Joan Lenz describing a bird fallout, when a spring storm stalls a migration. “Right alongside the creek, the trees were just dripping with warblers, flycatchers and finches,” she told me for Canyon Voices. I hurried through the rain to Rattlesnake Creek to see if I could witness the phenomenon.

What I saw and heard seemed like mostly locals, but I counted about 14 species in a little less than an hour. I did spy a bright pair of warblers — Wilson’s, I think — that may have “fallen out.” The true joy was seeing one of nature’s secrets in plain sight: a bird’s-eye perspective.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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