* Editor’s note: This column was written before news of the arson and destruction at the Julie Partansky Pond overlook. Jean Jackman sends condolences to all friends of the North Davis Ponds.
I’ve been far away on our big Pacific pond — off on a South American adventure.
Imagine standing next to two almost-3-foot-tall birds with bright blue feet doing a mating dance. And those birds seem oblivious to you. The male blue-footed booby struts, slowly lifting his big, blue webbed feet — one then the other. The brighter the blue, the sexier he is, and healthier, to the eye of the larger female.
He gives her a small stick, then points his beak and tail and wings to the sky and whistles, then slowly marches his big, blue feet. Like everything you are curious about, you can watch it on YouTube. They are rare visitors in California but half of the blue-footed boobies are found on the Galapagos Islands, which is where I enjoyed them.
The great frigate bird was another spectacular bird I observed at close range. The black, long-winged birds are commonly seen around the sea world. Both the male and the female have a bright red gular throat sac. The male displays by puffing it up like a big red, vulnerable balloon while vibrating outstretched wings. And if the pair bonds, they will lay one egg and spend two years raising that chick. They spend a longer time of post-fledging care than other birds.
I was surprised to find myself suddenly swimming with Galapagos penguins. They are small, about 19 inches, and the only penguin that lives north of the equator in the wild. They come to curiously look and shoot in front of you like a rocket so they are hard to photograph.
I visited Peru and Ecuador plus the Galapagos Islands and engaged in a smorgasbord of activities: fished for piranhas in the rain forest and ate them; held a baby sloth and a juvenile toucan at a shelter, hiked at 12,000 feet where we visited a weaving community; ate cuy, the Peruvian guinea pig dish in a family home and helped prepare it; hiked above Machu Picchu, the most beautiful city I have ever seen and an Incan construction and hydrological wonder; and more.
So how did it feel to return to Davis? Delicious. Delightful to come home to a greener Davis with puffy clouds, leafed-out trees, sweet-smelling air and mating birds in breeding plumage. Has the air ever been more aromatic?
The first morning back I was out at 8 a.m. for the first-ever-official Friends of North Ponds monthly bird stroll led by Ed Whisler and Ken Ealy. An amazing 37 bird species were observed as well as two red-eared sliders (turtles).
There were two surprise birds. A California quail ran across Anderson Road before flying into the Julie Partansky Pond and a male great-tailed grackle was singing on the Northstar Park Pond island. The great-tailed grackle is pretty noisy with rattles of kikikiki, sliding whistles, and a low chuk, chuk.
You can join the next monthly bird stroll from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Saturday, May 3, at the North Ponds. Meet in the parking lot next to 3500 Anderson Road and bring binoculars if you have them. The stroll will be co-led by Chris Dunford and Ealy, both expert birders.
I must admit I seldom spot more than a dozen on my own short visits. We have much to learn from our generous volunteer monthly guides. Check out the activities of the new group; google Facebook Friends of North Davis Ponds. You can view it even if you are not on Facebook.
Several people have reported sightings of our state bird, the California quail, in new Davis locations. Janet and Randy Brendia have enjoyed quail in their back yard on Quail Avenue. One posed for Janet on the fence. Once you hear their call of Chi-ca-go, Chi-ca-go, you won’t forget it. Google to hear it online. Then next time you hear it, you will look for them. It’s usually them, plural, as they like to travel in a covey of quail.
The 23rd annual Pence Garden Tour, from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 4, will include plein art painting in six rural gardens plus a weaving demonstration, homemade refreshments and a silent auction. Proceeds will support the Pence Gallery, a nonprofit organization.
I’m especially excited to see Warren Roberts and Rich Z. Naval’s garden, since Warren is the former longtime superintendent of the UC Davis Arboretum. He is also a sixth-generation Californian. You can get tickets online at pencegallery.org or at the gallery, Newsbeat or Redwood Barn.
I regularly do a one-hour bike ride almost exactly following the Pence Garden tour map and end up at the North Ponds. Along the way, I watch for hawks, usually on the same poles and wires and at this time; male red-winged blackbirds are along the fields. I listen for their rusty whistle, terr-eeee and watch for the display of red shoulder patches. They’re not quite as dramatic as the frigatebird, but still spectacular.
Tara Watt, designer, and Roger Madison, metal artist, invite you to visit their lawnless East Davis garden in all of its spring glory, from noon to 5 p.m on Saturday and Sunday, May 3 and 4, at 116 Dartmouth Place. Admission is free. It’s a busy weekend; May 3 is also the free open house for the California Raptor Center from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A hawk walk begins at 8 a.m.
Enjoy our glorious spring and kiss each day.
— Jean Jackman is a Davis resident; her column is published monthly. Got a question, comment or correction? Contact her at [email protected].