There’s nothing quite like Northern California’s unfettered wildlife to remind us all of our great outdoor heritage.
Big-toothed beavers paddling placidly through sewage treatment ponds, raucous raccoons power-lifting garbage cans from one’s back porch and playful bears smashing through the windows of snack-bearing Subarus all remind us that the Golden State was once home to more than herds of beady-eyed Yuppies driving $60,000 sport utility vehicles.
Unfortunately, some of California’s original inhabitants have been known to intrude on the daily routines of the state’s frenetic 21st century suburbanites. A small but quite vocal flock of undomesticated loudmouths recently descended on a strategically unimportant corner of south Vacaville and they’re letting their presence be known shortly before dawn each morning.
As luck would have it, that strategically unimportant corner of Vacaville is about 30 feet from my bedroom window.
Perhaps I should explain.
(Sure, why not?)
I count myself fortunate to live in an apartment complex filled with trees. As dawn approaches, squirrels begin gently scampering from limb to limb, a lone owl hoots gently and mourning doves begin their, er, mourning. You can almost make out Henry David Thoreau’s ghost hovering near the volleyball net in the misty courtyard.
I’ve always rather enjoyed these early morning sounds. And then the crows arrived, vowing in their raspy-throated way to turn up the excitement at about 4 o’clock every morning. Within days, they were joined by a rowdy bunch of scrub jays with their own chorus of gargle-shrieks.
Don’t get me wrong. I like birds. They’ve got feathers and they fly around and stuff. Many of them chirp. Chirping’s cute. And some of them are quite tasty with wild rice and a light madeira sauce.
The guys who recently flew into my little corner of the apartment complex, however, do only one thing well. It sounds kinda like kwar-kwar-kwar! (crows). And screek-screek-screek! (scrub jays).
This is a whole lot worse than the former neighbor who used to howl like a wolf every other Friday night after a refreshing 12-pack of Schlitz malt liquor.
Worse, these characters are locked in a perpetual battle of vocal one upsmanship. For every crow’s kwar there will be two jays’ screeks until there are roughly 200 birds simultaneously dissing each other before sunrise.
It’s kind of like living on a street populated by two rival motorcycle gangs that thunder home shortly after the bars close each morning.
I’ve even learned to translate a few pre-dawn squawks and phrases.
Screeeeek-squawrk-screek-gaaaaah! for example, roughly translates to “Hey, road kill breath, ya wanta piece of me? Huh? Eh?! C’mon, c’mon…”
Whereas “Kwar-kwar, kwark-gacack!” means “Yer mother was a green-tailed towhee!”
There is, I suppose, a positive side to all of this. I no longer have to set my clock radio to awaken me at 6 a.m., since the crows and jays get the job done about an hour earlier.
And, as one of my bright-eyed, sprout-eating coworkers gleefully trilled, “Just think, spring is here and soon there will be lots and lots of baby birds, too!”
Originally published April 14, 2002