Spotted Towhee

I love to wake up to the sound of birds singing. The “twup tewerp” of robins, the trills of house finches, the hyena-like call of Northern flickers. But in the past few years, I’ve started to hear a new sound in the mornings: “Cha cha cha che e e e ! Cha cha cha che e e e!” It took me a long time to find the owner of this song, and then I realized it was in the shrubs next to me. And when I realized that, I realized that Spotted Towhees were all over the neighborhood.

Spotted towhee in Gambel oak-07_edited-1 According to Cornell’s Birds of North America website, Spotted Towhees breed in the plains, mountain shrub and lower elevations of the mountains, scratching for insects and seeds in the litter. When staking their claim to territory, though, they perch in the upper branches of a shrub and sing. A nice addition to the dawn chorus.Singing spotted towhee_edited-1

Ponderosa pine cones


Green ponderosa pine cone.

    I am always amazed at how much there is to see when hiking the same trail over and over again. I was up at my Project Budburst site yesterday, checking on the progress of my plants. The ponderosa pine that I watch is in the process of opening its cones. I’d seen small cones developing on the tree, and I’d of course seen mature cones at the base of the trees. But I had never noticed this just-about-to-open stage of growth before.
    The large woody ponderosa pine cones often remind people of a pineapple, although the two plants are about as distantly related as it is possible to get and still photosynthesize. Even at this early stage, you can see the small bristle on the end of the big scales.


Open ponderosa pine cone.

    Ponderosas produce relatively few cones every year. Because they produce only a few cones and therefore only a few seeds, ponderosas are determined to keep animals from getting the seeds. To protect their seeds, each pine cone scale has a small bristle at the end of it.
    Just a few days older, this cone has opened, and is drying out. Soon, it will fall to the ground. Eventually, the seeds will work their way out of the cone, hopefully to be one of the lucky few to slide into a protected crack in the rocks before they are gobbled up by a squirrel or jay.