The sudden flash of yellow in the tree outside the Daly City BART station stopped me in my tracks. I'd been hustling from the parking lot to catch my 8:30 train, thinking about all the stuff I had to do in the office. But that was all erased by what turned out to be a Townsend's Warbler hopping from branch to branch in this bare tree. The bird gave me a just few seconds to marvel at it, and then blasted off. The little birds are coming through San Francisco in a wave, humbling our morning commutes with their migration from Central America to British Columbia.
For a birder in San Francisco, this is the time of year when our city's notoriously celebrated local color and diversity goes to a whole new level. I'll be hearing the bright chirp of my favorite Ash-throated Flycatchers any day, and I'll need to keep an eye out for the annual visit of the brilliant orange Rufous Hummingbirds. The Pacific Wren is already singing its song in the Presidio, and I know from the photos on Craig Newmark's Twitter feed that Golden Gate Park is starting to light up with winged migrants.
The conservationist in me, when thinking about spring migration, will always tend toward thinking about the challenges these birds face on their long journeys. All too many of these challenges are man-made and avoidable. I'm worried about California's drought, and how it could transform our landscape, and break a migratory continuum that stretches all along the Pacific Flyway from South America to Alaska.
San Francisco, however, is not only a great city to bird, but it's also a great bird city. It like many around the country, sponsors an annual Lights Out campaign, encouraging building owners to turn out their lights to avoid confusing migrating birds, and the city in 2011 was the first on the West Coast to approve bird-safe building standards.
But when I see my first Hooded Oriole this spring, I won't be thinking about all that. Instead I'll be thinking about this glorious creature all dressed up in yellow and black, the incredible journey it made to be right here, and how fortunate I am to witness its arrival.