Fall migration is happening. Now is your chance to see the shorebirds since they have left their arctic breeding grounds and are beginning to pass through. At least 30 species come through Davis.
Where might you see them? At the Julie Partansky Wildlife Pond, the West Pond, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, the city of Davis wetlands and the Farmers Central Pond in Woodland. Shorebirds will be congregating anyplace there are mudflats or water of a specific depth.
Migration is also under way for songbirds. Many species of warblers have been sighted in Davis, along with western tanagers, black-headed grosbeaks, lazuli buntings and Bullock’s orioles. Meanwhile, some birds are completing a third nest before taking off.
As you drive out in open space, keep your eyes open for large flocks of Swainson’s hawks. The birds gather together at this time before the start of their lengthy migration to their southern grounds. A birder just reported hundreds of hawks on the ground and in the air following a tractor at the Yolo Bypass, gorging on stirred-up rodents, grasshoppers, dragonflies and the like.
Swainson’s hawks provide service and entertainment for six or seven months of the year in our region. I know it is spring when I hear a short cheew cheew cheew or a long kweeeahhhhhh ruckus and go outside to see smaller birds chasing a Swainson’s hawk away from their nests. And then I know that our Covell Park Memorial Grove Swainson’s hawks or their offspring have returned.
I watch them make nests and wait eagerly to see a head or multiple heads appear. And about this time of year, I watch as the chicks become branchers and start to fly to nearby trees while still calling for parents to feed them. The immature birds are larger than the parents at this stage.
For the last eight years, except for last year, a pair of Swainson’s hawks has nested in the same Canary pines. I didn’t think they were there this year in spite of what Nancy Candello on Balboa Avenue told me. They are so good at hiding the nest that this year, the only place you could see the nest was from Nancy and Leo’s back yard and, if you stood just so, across the street from their house.
In addition, the nest was very deep so the chick didn’t start showing itself until the end of July. At that time, I photographed a parent bringing dinner, a fresh squirrel. They eat small mammals during the breeding season but their usual diet is insects. Other years, we have delighted in seeing a second chick and even finally a third chick. This year there is just one.
I wonder if the hawks are raising only one chick because of reduced food supply. Their habitat is being lost nearby as farmers convert land to orchards, vineyards, corn and sunflowers.
The hawks need grassland, idle fields and pastures for foraging. They are a threatened species and it is great to have them back. I appreciate their squirrel extermination service. The squirrels have destroyed wiring in two cars in our yard in nesting attempts. And we have killed the squirrel’s mammalian predators — coyotes.
Speaking of coyotes, there will be a coyote workshop at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Community Chambers at Davis City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd. John McNerney, the city’s wildlife resource specialist, will present the program. There will be information on coyote biology and behavior, a summary of laws and regulations regarding coyote trapping, public health and safety goals and aggressive animal response.
You can learn about the city’s new policy and get an update on the coyote coexistence plan. The public meeting is an opportunity to voice support, concern and suggestions.
People worry about coyotes killing their cats or small dogs. Some things to consider: Cars kill 5.4 million cats each year. The National Audubon Society says 100 million birds a year fall prey to cats. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Ornithology with researchers from the Smithsonian Institute and Townsend University has found that cats are the No. 1 enemy of birds in suburban environments.
I’ll admit to having had outdoor cats for years. However, I now know better. Birds suffer from increasing loss of habitat; death by wind turbines and glass windows, and diseases such as West Nile virus. But the No. 1 cause of death is cats.
We suffer when cars kill our cats. It happened to our daughter’s two best cats ever. She now has indoor cats. They do just fine and it is kinder to the cats. We can all change as we learn new facts and experience cat automobile fatalities.
Along with the birds, I will be migrating north to south. I will be cycling from Canada to Mexico on a 2,000-mile ride to call attention to multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. My kid brother and a family friend both suffer from this cancer of the plasma cells. There is no cure and an estimated 15,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.
So, I’ll be writing the September and October columns as I make my way down the Pacific coast. I’ll be camping along the way so will report on the flora and fauna. My companions will be 14 strangers, but I’m sure we won’t be strangers for long.
Kindly consider donating to find a cure for multiple myeloma. Here is the link: http://www.active.com/donate/2012mmrfYOR/Jean-Bike_Canada-Mexico. I would be most grateful. All funds raised go to the foundation to fund a search for the cure.
Enjoy the fall migration, and kiss each day.
— Jean Jackman is a Davis resident. Her columns are published monthly. Got a story, comment, question? Contact her at [email protected]