YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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This northern harrier is one of the at least 147 that roosted outside of Davis in a fallow field over the past month. By now, perhaps only one pair commands that field. Jean Jackman/Courtesy photo

Columns

At the Pond: Harrier roost offers a window into nature

By From page A9 | March 23, 2014

Sometimes, adventures that make you feel alive, awaken your senses and restore your soul are just minutes away. The trick is to try new things, shake up your usual routine and look at something anew.

I subscribe to a listserv, Central Valley Birds, where birders write in to tell of birds seen, their location, debate what species and the like. I hit the delete button pretty quickly because I am not a birder who keeps a list and then rushes out to view every bird coming through to add to my list. I only pay attention when something strikes my fancy.

One man reported seeing a huge roost of harriers in the fields out near the Yolo Landfill. He said they started flying in around 4:30 p.m. and he had counted 125. I couldn’t imagine 125 harriers together. What for?

I’ll bet you have seen a harrier before even if you don’t think you know the bird. It’s a hawk that you often see flying low over fields and marshes and parallel to the ground. Then it often pounces and is off again, working the field. It has a white rump. The white rump and the behavior make it an easy identification. They are usually seen flying solo, so a report of 125 together fascinated me.

Instead of cooking dinner, I headed toward the dump; the roost is on County Road 30, east of Road 105. It’s a poor road with deep potholes. Luckily we met the biologist, Shawn Lockwood, who discovered the harrier roost. He assured me that in the area where as many as 147 harriers (his peak number counted in mid-February) were now roosting, in a month, all would be vanished except for one pair.

It was lovely standing out there. If you drove past it in a car, you would just think it was a big, barren field. But there was so much going on. As we drove up, we saw a huge flock of mixed blackbirds flying with graceful choreography. At the site, the red-winged blackbirds were visible staking out their territory, perched high on reeds an equal distances along the road. And even old ears could hear their rusty song of kon ka-reeeee. Breeding plumage was apparent, with highly visible bright red epaulets.

In the south, we could see Mount Diablo, purple in the fading light.

Soon, a flock of long-billed curlews flew overhead. Shortly afterward, a flock of snow geese flew over; their white turned a golden color because of the setting sun. There were the sounds of western meadowlark, Savannah sparrow, ring-necked pheasant, Lincoln sparrow, a kite and a kestrel.

The sun began to drop behind the coastal mountains, making a fiery sky. There was the constant faint hum of the freeway. A long freight train passed by in the distance.

We heard the warning wheezy cheef cheef of a short-eared owl. Soon, a couple flew out across the road, too dark, too far for a good photo. They can fly so well they are often mistaken for a harrier. Harriers continued to come in, barely visible

It is peaceful practice — standing on a rutted old road, next to a fallow field, listening to the distant sounds of civilization and the wildlife that finds a fallow field welcoming. I felt anxiety peel away. I felt refreshed, less fatigue and the excitement that comes with wonder and discovery. Perhaps I have the nature deficit that has become a popular topic.

I am grateful for such a memorable night.

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Join the Friends of North Davis Ponds for the first of their monthly bird strolls, on the first Saturday of the month. The April 5 stroll will be co-led by Ed Whisler, wildlife biologist, and Ken Ealy, avid birder, and will run from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Participants should meet at the parking lot next to 3500 Anderson Road. Bathrooms and a drinking fountain are located there also. Bring binoculars if you have them.

For more information, call Whisler at 916-204-0471 or Ealy at 530 756 8159.

Friends of North Davis Ponds is a new group for anyone who would like to enjoy the Julie Partansky Pond and the Northstar Park Pond. Find us at Facebook Friends of North Davis Ponds and learn of activities and see many photographs. During the recent Great Backyard Bird Count, 42 species were observed in less than three hours.

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On the March Friends of West Pond monthly walk, a mink was spotted. Whisler said this was the first time he had ever seen one in Davis.

Daily, I see the 30-plus turkeys fly down from their roost in the Covell Memorial Grove and then head out on their daily rounds. However, I observed some mating behavior new to me. Two males went shoulder to shoulder in a push-of-war that I watched for 20 minutes with a push six feet one direction, then six feet the other. I couldn’t stay to watch the winner.

Millions of birds are migrating. And they are most colorful during this migration — wearing their most mating finery. Look anywhere — woods, water, bushes — and you will see some.

Kiss each day!

— Jean Jackman is a Davis resident; her column is published monthly. Got a story, comment, correction? Contact her at [email protected]

Jean Jackman

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