Ten years ago, I started writing this column. Why? I agree with Henry David Thoreau, who said, “An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”
I enjoyed walking to the North Pond and had already been involved in several fights to keep the pond much as it is now. I thought that if I wrote about some of the cool stuff happening there, people would take a closer look and enjoy and protect the pond that is a functional water retention area but also habitat for more than 100 bird species plus visiting otters, muskrats, raccoons, coyotes and more. It is a great destination point for a walk around our green necklace, our greenbelts.
Well, people continued to come up with pond ideas that I judged to be destructive to habitat, however, we now have more people to fight for protection and improvement of its present state. Gradually, I started writing about other underappreciated areas in the region or numerous opportunities for enjoying the great outdoors.
It is a continual learning experience. I am grateful to the many experts who answer my questions. I am grateful for the many people who write and ask a question, leave a comment, let me know about interesting wildlife happenings or send me cool photos to share with others. I also love meeting people who see me around town and say, “Oh, you are the bird lady. I have to tell you that after I read one article I finally got out to the Yolo Wildlife Area and saw…” My heart gladdens.
Right before I wrote the first column, river otters came to the smaller North Pond. It was a first spotting for me. I wrote about it and went out on a Sunday afternoon and saw about a dozen people sitting on the grass watching the otters and two had newspapers in hand. I was thrilled.
The otters have returned every year. Now I know the signs to watch for. The birds are usually out of the water and standing on the side. (Otters actually eat birds, especially in the absence of good fishing.) The swimming otters are fast and even if they are underwater, I can see the speed of the wake and know to wait for them to surface. I photographed one in mid-December in the pond area now called the Julie Partansky Wildlife Area, named after a former mayor who was a personal friend and an ardent environmentalist.
This week, I photographed an otter in the Whitcombe Pond, which is on private land but is visible on a walk along the north side of the ditch or channel accessed off of F Street. John Whitcombe was one of the Tandem Properties owners who developed Northstar and, as part of the development agreement, took what was an unattractive rectangular storm water retention pond and turned it into a more natural-looking pond that would attract wildlife. His wife Judy is a birder and around their private pond they also have created good bird habitat. In addition to seeing an otter there this week, I also photographed a common goldeneye, an interesting duck with a white circular patch on its cheek.
Some of the highlights over 10 years: Thanksgiving 2003, 150 white pelicans were at the pond. Some flew overhead, some preened on the islands and others fished displaying perfectly synchronized choreography. They would all dip their bills at the same moment. And a coyote was on the edge of the pond hoping for a big bird for Thanksgiving dinner. Hundreds of people were strolling and got to witness the unusual display.
Every year except for one, Swainson’s hawks have nested in the Canary pines in the Covell Park Memorial Grove and I have chronicled the birth of chicks, sometimes as many as three, and the recovery of one that fell or was pushed out of the nest. I took it to the California Raptor Center at UC Davis. We watch beginning in March and are entertained until the chicks become branchers and then take off with their parents in September for Mexico
Another highlight was reader Steve Brown’s photo and stories of a fence-climbing native gray fox in his back yard. A pair was frequently seen in residential areas of North Davis in 2009.
I was excited to photograph turkeys at the Davis Cemetery back in 2007. Now they parade by my house twice a day, climb on my roof, go in my back yard and roost in nearby trees. I worry at their numbers.
Rachel Carson said, “There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.” Writing this column makes me more aware of that truth.
Here I am once again writing with enthusiasm about the numerous birds at my feeders. Six or eight goldfinch and pine siskins hang on my Niger thistle net sock feeder while the house finches — males now with breeding plumage orange — flock to my black sunflower seed feeder.
An Anna’s hummingbird flies in. Dark-eyed juncos feed on the spilled seed. Numerous robins bathe and drink at the bird bath. And this year red-breasted nuthatches, something new, are in my yard. White-crowned sparrows line up six at a time to sun on the fence. Given the right feeders, water, bushes and trees for cover, you, too, will have those birds at this time.
— Jean Jackman is a Davis resident. Her column is published on the fourth Sunday of each month. Got a question, correction or comment? Contact her at JeanJackman@gmail.com