Having returned from my top-secret mission to the Bay Area of California (oooh, spoilers!), I am pleased to report that there are birds there.

Now, that’s not much of a surprise, is it? Not surprising that on a college campus in Oakland you could find Steller’s and Western Scrub Jays, California Towhees, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and Anna’s Hummingbirds. Not surprising that when a friend was kind enough to escort me to the aquarium at Pier 39 in SF, he had to stop and wait for me to dig the binoculars out of my backpack so I could scope out some Clark’s Grebes (I can be pretty hard on my friends).

But birds don’t have to be surprising to be awesome. Even incredibly common species, like the sandy but subtly elegant towhees and the ubiquitous, vocal hummingbirds, are exciting when they’re part of the giant burst of potential that is spring in the northern hemisphere.

Western Scrub-jays (hopefully soon to be California Scrub-jays, but who’s counting? Well, all of us!) can be more than just another bouncing blue corvid when they appear in a moment when all seems lost, when you’re thinking “what in the hell am I doing? I’m on the entire wrong side of the continent.” In that moment, they can let you – and by you, I mean me, an easily discombobulated person facing one of the biggest challenges of her life – focus and reassure yourself. That is, herself. Myself. Anyway, there they were, right when I needed them.

And Steller’s Jays! What can I say about them? They’re another of the species that I spent years staring at in field guides, wishing and hoping and thinking jay-like thoughts (“oooh! shiny!”). On my very first day in California, my sister pointed out their calls and assured me that if they were around, I’d definitely see them. But two days later I found myself on a trail covered with alarming signage (“Fire risk high!” “If you see suspicious activity, contact campus security!” “If someone approaches you, trust your instincts. If you feel threatened, run in the opposite direction”, “Check out portable alarms here.”), nettles, and bugs, only to suddenly hear the rattle and scream of a flock coming over the ridge and lose all regard for my personal safety. They settled into a towering pine and began harassing a squirrel, and nothing else even existed for at least five minutes.

And Ravens perched in old Spanish fountains. And a Golden-crowned Sparrow popped out of a brush pile just long enough to be id’d, then popped back in again. And Rufus Hummingbirds joined the Anna’s in their buzzing and scolding. It was a beautiful thing.

But is it to be my final fate? Stay tuned.

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