Backpacking & Hiking in the Inland Mountains
These are the birdsongs that you're most likely to encounter on an outing above 5,000ft in the Klamaths, Trinities, Siskiyous, and Marble Mountains. About half of these recordings were made with a phone rather than my parabolic dish and so are of lesser quality...some strikingly so. My apologies ahead of your listening time.
Photos of the birds will be added into this space!
Mountain Quail take over the higher elevations of Humboldt from the lower California Quail. Hard to spot in the mountain brush and forests, this "crow" (as its sound is called) carries for miles across the valleys. They also approach the coast on the hills and ridges along our rivers.
This towhee's variable mix of chirps, warbles, and trills in short phrases is distinctive....except that even experts can struggle to distinguish it from the "Broad-billed" version of our inland summer Fox Sparrow. The Green-tailed Towhee's song can include more trills, and is more common at elevations above 6,000ft. In old burns and brushfields, especially of sage, these can be the dominant singer in our summers.
The "Thick-billed" variety of the 4 "forms" of Fox Sparrow moves into our mountains from the south for summer breeding. They have a variable song, very similar to the Green-tailed Towhee's, that can start with 1 or 2 intro notes, followed by some nice warbling. We've generally found them to be most common in the mountain brushfields right up to 6,000ft. (The Sooty, Red, and Slate-colored forms that overwinter in Humboldt move north for their summer breeding).
The Chipping Sparrow's song is a very fast, medium-pitch trill, much faster than that of the junco. These birds, along with the Green-tailed Towhee, can dominate the brushy mountain slopes above 6,000ft in our summers.
Their song is generally a form of medium-speed, same-pitched trill coming from the brush. One of the most common birds in HumCo, found in all types of habitat, year-round. (They do make some other sounds, which will be posted at some point).
This sparrow is a winter resident of our lowland brush and weedy areas, where it only issues a short tsik. But in its high mountain breeding meadows, especially those with ponds or lakes, it has a song of bubbly trills that work through several pitches.
The robin's song is rarely associated with the bird, as its singing is usually delivered from high perches. As opposed to the chirping we normally associate with them, their song consists of a series of slow, rich, rolling notes, "cheer-up, cheerily, cheer-up, cheerily." They're found from the coastal plains to our mountain meadows, an amazing versatility. (I've often wondered if a robin that I just saw in a high mountain meadow could be the same one in my coastal yard the next day, living up to their scientific name, Turdus migratorius.)
This grosbeak's song is "like a robin on speed," and is also delivered from the tops of trees. The birds spend their springs and summers singing away on our river bottoms and other brushy woodlands, and forest edges up to high elevations. Fun fact: if the male is slacking in his nesting duties, the female will impersonate a marauding male to get him back on task.
This Western tanager's song consists of several closely-spaced warbles, similar to the robin's song, but is just a smidge faster and more directly presented. They prefer mature forests away from the foggy coast, a delight to the eye and ear.
The bunting's song is a short phrase of warbled notes, usually pitching downwards. It's probably closest to resembling a House or Purple Finch, but rather than a jumble of notes, it's usually just 3 or 4 different notes (out of over 100 in their repertoire!), each repeated 2 to 5 times. They like warm, dry areas in open country as long as there are patches of brush.
The "beep beep beep" call of the nuthatch as it crawls around on vertical tree trunks is a signature sound of our coniferous forests in summer. They then spend the winter in various other types of trees, including those in urban areas, where they sometimes visit suet feeders.
The Wood-Peewee's call is a short, rough, repeated "preee ....preee..." that pitches slightly up or down near the end. They move into HumCo for the spring and summer, preferring open forests of all types as long as they're not too densely wooded.
This flycatcher's name is more difficult to remember than the mnemonic for its call, "drink 3 beers." They prefer mature coniferous and mixed forests, commonly heard in the conifers of our inland mountains.
The Cassin's vireos has a song that is easily recognized as sounding like it's asking itself questions, and then answering them. They prefer the warm, dry forests of our interior, particularly if there are some oaks in the mix.
This vireo has a slow warble similar to the Western Tanager, although a little more melodic, a variation on, "If I see it I will seize it and will squeeze it 'til it squirts ." They move into inland riparian areas and mixed evergreen forests with some tanoak understory for the spring and summer.
The Wrentit's song is a short phrase of the same, fast notes that speed up as the phrase continues. I compare it to a bouncing ping pong ball, heard in almost all of our habitats year-round, although less common at higher altitudes. (This recording is a duet of 2 birds).
This bird's song can be remembered as a "jitterbug" for its fast, repeated trill. They live in most of our brushy areas, including along streams and rivers, and breed in that habitat even at higher elevations.
Nashville Warblers have a song phrase that starts with a few repeated notes or warbles, followed by several dropped-pitch notes or warbles. They sound similar to a Wilson's Warbler, but the Wilson's isn't a big fan of our higher altitudes. They're most commonly heard in the burns, brushfields, and regenerating clearcuts in the mountains of eastern Humboldt, but can occur at lower elevations along some of our rivers.
Hermit Warblers, the 1st, wheezier song in this alternation with a Nashville Warbler, are found all through HumCo's conifer forests except for the coastal plains, preferring regrowth forests.
The off-key fluting song of the Hermit Thrush is found throughout our forested areas to above 5,000ft, except for the moist fog belt along the coast. (My apologies for the poor recording of this amazing songster, a problem that will be remedied as soon as luck and timing favor me).
The crazily long, warbly jumble (35sec on this recording!) of the Townsend's Solitaire can, unfortunately, only be heard at mid to higher elevations of eastern Humboldt. Burns, high meadow edges, ridge-tops, rockslides, and upper mountain slopes are where to keep your ears peeled for this wonderful song.
The Yellow-rumped Warbler's song is a varied, warble of repeating notes, the last few dropping in pitch. It's similar-sounding to both the Wilson's and Nashville Warblers, but prefers open conifer forests at all elevations, unlike the altitude-loving Nashville and the moist shrubs of the Wilson's Warbler.
I'm very sorry for the terrible recording, but it's the best I've gotten so far. You can at least get an idea of what they sound like, a sort of soft churring sound, gentler than the Western Bluebird. These bluebirds are heard only at high elevations in subalpine meadows and the high, open, pine/fir forests in far eastern Humboldt and mountains of adjoining counties.
The "check check check "of these native blackbirds is ubiquitous in our human landscapes of parks and roadsides, and are also very common in summer in our high mountain meadows.
This sandpiper breeds around the edges of the high ponds and lakes of our mountains, along with the shores and banks of our streams and rivers, Its peeping sounds are a pleasant part of mountain experiences.
Similarly as chatty as our other chickadees, and co-existing with the Chestnut-backed in Humboldt's eastern mountains, the Mountain Chickadee has the distinction of being restricted to those eastern, high conifer forests. Oddly, it does have the "fee-bee-bee" (cheese-burg-er" song of the Black-capped Chickadees of our coast, which the Chestnut-backed lacks.
Their song is a short-to-long burst of bubbly warbles, repeated from high in the conifers all over Humboldt County, including fairly high in our mountains. There's really no other birds with such a fast, clear warble except the House Finch, which doesn't usually stray into our upper mountain reaches.
Steller's Jays are the familiar, noisy guards of all habitats in HumCo that contain conifers, including the urban areas. They're 2nd only to ravens in the extent of their distribution.
The commonly heard call of the Northern Flicker is a repeated loud, clear "peah" note repeated a few seconds apart, or a faster repeated "wacka-wacka-wacka" (next song down), heard year-round.
This is the Northern Flicker's "wacka-wacka-wacka" call, less commonly heard than that of the above "peah" call. It's easily confused with the Pileated's call, which you can hear further down the list.
This is the call of our largest woodpecker (in all of North America!), a magnificent bird. The call can be confused with another of our woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker, but the Pileated's call is "more resonant, less even in tone, and can contain a bit more changes in rhythm or emphasis."
The Pileated Woodpeckers share their fast drumming cadence with several other woodpeckers. Listening for an associated call and the "depth" of the beat can differentiate the birds.
This "beeping" song is usually heard in the early morning or late evening, and has been compared to the warning sounds of a truck backing up. The beeping can be confused with that of the Saw-whet and Screech Owls, but they don't inhabit the higher altitudes with these Pygmies.
Great Horned Owl: I don't currently have a recording of this owl, its call being the classic, deep "who-who, who, whoooo" (4 or 5 syllables) that we have in our heads as the sounds that owls make. These will live at our higher altitudes, being the only owl sharing the forests above 5,000ft with the Northern Pygmy Owls.