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Here are a few lessons from the real birders

By October 24, 2010

Enterprise columnist

I just returned to Davis after an extended vacation on the shores of Lake Michigan. I will miss watching the sun set out my window every evening, so I was quick to run out my first morning back to visit some natural pleasure spots in Davis.

In less than two hours, I found plenty to delight in three different places. At the North Ponds, I found a large flock of cedar waxwings. These beautiful crested birds were doing an energetic dance from a cottonwood tree. Actually, they were foraging for bugs, but it looked like a dance.

There would be 10 sitting together. They would take off solo or by twos and threes, and return to a new branch, seldom resting for long. They blended in with the yellow and brown cottonwood leaves. Their exuberance put a smile on my face.

The usual overlook at the Julie Partansky Pond is fenced off with no sign of explanation. A walker told me that repairs are being made and that there used to be a sign. Good news.

Next stop, the Wildhorse agriculture buffer around the golf course. Two Anna hummingbirds greeted me as I visited the area at the far northeast corner of the development on Rockwell Drive.

In 500 feet you usually see burrowing owls Ñ 9-inch-tall, short-tailed owls. However, I didnÕt see a one. This is a migration period; though little is known about the migration of burrowing owls, it does happen in October and November. However, I did enjoy photographing American kestrel, Northern flicker and other species.

Next, I took the driving tour of the Yolo Wildlife Area. Get out and listen at any of the flooded areas and there will be a cacophony of sounds from waterfowl and huge flocks of blackbirds. There is a wonderful new addition: a handicapped-accessible overlook complete with parking on cement. The overlook is in a wetland area, a good habitat for many species.

While I was away, I stayed in touch with bird happenings because I subscribe to Central Valley Bird online. You can too, and it is free. Google Central Valley Bird Club, then click on the listserv link to learn how to register. You can post information on bird sightings or request information from the group. There is also a chat room and photo archive. You do not have to subscribe to read the latest postings.

I am not a real birder. I am a nature enthusiast who enjoys learning more and more about birds. I learn so much reading what the real birders report. Here are some examples:

Manfred Kusch lives along Putah Creek. He has created his own bird preserve between Stevenson Bridge and Pedrick roads. Twenty years ago, he bought a row crop field and created a palm garden, orchard and native grassland that is now chock full of birds. In a recent posting he wrote:

ÒI noticed tonight that a SayÕs phoebe that, every year around this time, arrives at our house to spend the winter showed up today and chose one of its traditional sleeping spots. As the daylight faded, it perched on an outside light fixture of our house and settled in for the night.

ÒWhile there is nothing special about finding SayÕs phoebes in the valley this time of year, it is a special treat for the backyard birdwatcher. During the day, the phoebe flies off to catch insects often far from the house, but in the evening, like a family member returning from work, it comes home to spend the night.

ÒIt first perches on the power lines in front of the house as if enjoying the sunset or the dimming of the sky and then when the light is just right, shortly before darkness settles in, it swoops down in one unhesitating move and flies straight to its night-time perch, often under a roof overhang, where it stays until the morning.

ÒWatching birds retire for the night is an interesting spectacle in itself. Northern flickers converging on their favorite palm trees or wood duck nest boxes, NuttallÕs woodpeckers coming up from the creek as early as 4 p.m. and foraging in the sycamore trees before settling rather early into the bluebird nest boxes they use as sleeping quarters, the various sparrows quietly disappearing deeper and deeper into their favorite bushes and brush piles, or the hummingbirds that with the last light mysteriously vanish, zooming off from the feeder into the gathering darkness Ñ all this lends a certain rhythm and beauty to the natural world that our ancestors were more attuned to than we who live by the clock and who may be checking our e-mail or the evening news while all this is happening unobserved and unnoticed outside.

ÒAs a young boy living in a tiny village far from the next town I often wondered where birds went to sleep at night, but my research into the matter was severely hampered by the fact that I had to be home before the birds went to bed.

ÒSo I never saw a sleeping bird except perhaps a barn swallow dozing on the rim of its nest in the cow barn. But I have never lost interest in the question and have to smile when I see a SayÕs phoebe on our front porch all puffed up and asleep.Ó

Or read the report by Jim Tietz, who found 66 species in a Davis area hike off of Mace Boulevard. He writes:

ÒI hiked east along Putah Creek in the South Fork Preserve. The highlight was watching several kettles of turkey vultures thermal up at several spots and then head south. I saw at least six SwainsonÕs hawks mixed in with them and several young red-tails, too; they all headed south. The migrating birds reminded me of a mini Veracruz.

ÒA young CooperÕs hawk flew past me carrying a still-screaming scrub-jay. I really enjoyed watching a Merlin catch dragonflies high overhead before it flew south. In the riparia, I found a small flock of golden-crowned kinglets. I heard a varied thrush sing a few weak phrases. A pair of sleepy great horned owls watched me with slitted eyes from their cottonwood perch.Ó

Jim works for PRBO Conservation Science as a fall biologist on the Farallon Islands. He was on a two-week break from the island when he wrote this. You can check out fascinating information and videos of the Farallon Island scene on their blog: http://losfarallones.blogspot.com. ItÕs amazing.

Ñ Jean Jackman is a Davis resident. Her columns appear on the fourth Sunday of each month. Send questions, corrections or comments to [email protected]

Jean Jackman

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