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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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At the Pond: Watched a sunset lately?

blackbirds in flightW

A flight of hundreds of mixed blackbirds wheels and soars above the land, gracefully changing shapes, turning all together, changing leadership, never colliding. How do they do it? Jean Jackman/Courtesy photo

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From page A8 | December 24, 2013 | 1 Comment

Take a break from the hectic holidays and savor some nature for a cleansing pause.

This week, I took just an hour to drive, stop, look, listen and photograph at the Yolo Basin Wildlife Area. Ponds now have water, and waterfowl are abundant. I went at 4 p.m. and drove the car tour clockwise. At first, the waterfowl could be seen only in contrast with the sun going down behind them in the west. But more than halfway around the tour, many were sunlit. I drive with windows wide open so I can listen and photograph from the car with a long lens or use binoculars.

Birds, plants, clouds and the big sky are reflected in the water. In the west, there are the coastal mountains, ever changing in color at that hour of the day as the sun heads to slip behind them. To the east, you see Sacramento’s downtown skyline contrasted with the nature scene.

A flight of hundreds of mixed blackbirds wheels and soars above the land, gracefully changing shapes, turning all together, changing leadership, never colliding. How do they do it?

Raptors are easy to spot perched in trees bare of leaves. You can walk areas, but I had already done my 4.5-mile, 7 a.m. Sierra Club meet-at-Peet’s-Coffee hike and was running out of daylight, so I stayed in my car — less likely to spook birds since they do not see human legs.

I photographed a northern pintail, a bird that has declined more than 75 percent in the last 40 years — so I was happy to see many. There were lots of coots, northern shovelers, cinnamon teal, gadwalls and mallards. Here and there, a great blue heron or white egret. You need to be off the tour by sunset but you could park on the levee and watch the end of the sunset.

Putah Creek meanders into the Yolo Basin. And good news from Putah Creek: Salmon are now spawning. Long ago, Native Americans speaking five different languages lived along the Putah Creek watershed, harvesting the bounty of salmon, sturgeon, steelhead and other abundant species.

Later, after the European Western movement, farmers and ranchers would harvest wagonloads of salmon. That huge flow of Putah Creek that is now dammed at Monticello Dam, stored in the Berryessa Reservoir and diverted to six cities downsteam, results in a Putah Creek with a scant amount of water or species.

But there is now enough water for the salmon to return, thanks to the three women who had the first meeting to protest dried-up parts of Putah Creek, which included Robin Kulakow, now executive director of Yolo Basin Foundation. Thanks also go to the three organizations that went to court to fight for more water, and to all of the people who have engaged in restoration efforts, restoring habitat along Putah Creek and removing invasive plant species. Putah Creek is looking better all the time.

We took a trip with our daughter’s family up to hike in Cold Canyon. En route, we stopped at Putah Creek Fishing Access No. 3, a beautiful spot with picnic tables. We chose one where the water divided to flow around an island with one stream moving fast and the other more slowly. An area was cordoned off to protect spawning trout. Grandchildren climbed up a tree hanging over the creek to watch the spawning in the gravel below. A sign cautions that spawning trout are protected.
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More than 10 years ago, I wrote about the North Ponds nearly every column. The larger pond is now called the Julie Partansky Wildlife Area. But a sad note, there are fewer and fewer species visiting the pond. There is a global and national and at-our-pond decline of common birds. And it is time to do something about that.

In the new year, we are organizing a Friends of North Ponds similar to the Friends of West Pond. If a Friends group interests you, please contact me. Ed Whisler, wildlife biologist, has compiled a list of mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish of North Ponds and will be part of the group. He is already recruiting interested people.

The Audubon Society, addressing the decline of common species, lists five things we can do: protect local habitat; promote sound agricultural policy; protect wetlands; combat invasive species; and fight global warming. For starters, we can organize a cleanup at the ponds, remove invasives and plant natives to encourage more birds, butterflies and pollinators.

————

As far as climate change, the world over, we all need to get informed and act now.

Are you aware that we have become a global warming machine? We’ve had the warmest year in American history. We are experiencing climate chaos — Hurricane Sandy; Arctic ice melt; largest fires recorded in California, Colorado and New Mexico; drought; floods; the Philippines typhoon.

If we’re going to slow the global warming that creates the climate chaos, most of the coal and gas and oil have to stay in the ground. In 2012, our coal exports were the equivalent of putting 55 million new cars on the road. The planet’s atmosphere knows no boundaries.

Hold the fracking, stop the pipeline, vote to limit and restrict technology, divest from fossil fuel companies.

And this climate change even affects which common birds we will enjoy in our back yards, at our ponds and wetlands, and what kind of Earth we will leave for our children and grandchildren.

— Jean Jackman is a Davis resident. Her column appears monthly. Got a story, comment, correction? Contact her at JeanJackman@gmail.com

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Discussion | 1 comment

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  • Rich RifkinDecember 24, 2013 - 8:33 pm

    "A flight of hundreds of mixed blackbirds wheels and soars above the land, gracefully changing shapes, turning all together, changing leadership, never colliding. How do they do it?" ……………….. A few years ago, a group of scientists published a piece in the journal, Nature, called, "Hierarchical group dynamics in pigeon flocks." What they found, if I recall correctly, is that pigeons (and likely all birds that swarm in a similar manner) have within their flock hierarchical ranks, almost like a military. ……………… One top leader decides where to go, and those next in rank pattern their movement in suit. The next highest in rank will take cues from those of the second rank, and so on down the line, so that the entire group movement appears to be completely coordinated. ………… The insight is not just the hierarchy. It's also the idea that one bird in the flock does not have to know what every one near him is doing. He simply follows the lead of his superior; and those below him in rank will follow him. …………… You can link to that Nature article here: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1010.5394&embedded=true

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