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At the Pond: Nature is a quick-change artist

By From page A4 | March 24, 2013

This Anna's hummingbird nest was suspended above Putah Creek Manfred Kusch/Courtesy photo

What are you noticing in your natural world? Spring officially started this week but changes happened earlier. You blink twice and miss the peak flowering of a familiar tree and see mostly falling and grounded petals. You blink again and a tree has miraculously leafed out.

Birds are in mating plumage right now, looking their best. Hard-to-miss showy magenta pink redbud is in bloom all around town. Some trees are just starting to leaf out so you can still spot nests being made. Take time to walk, stop and listen in your yard and neighborhood and you might hear baby hummingbirds calling, watch birds mating. Something new will catch your eye or your nose.

I am on a listserv that alerts me to what local birders are spotting. It’s [email protected]. I skim many reports but always read postings by Manfred Kusch. I’ve written about him before. Manfred bought 21 acres of land along Putah Creek that were nothing but flat, fallow land, all weeds and no trees. And with no plan, he just looked for big trees and plants and started filling in. Somehow, he created a paradise along the creek with huge trees, bunchgrass he mows once a year that needs no irrigation and bird- and butterfly-friendly plants. He has added numerous nest boxes and feeders.

I enjoy reading his detailed observations. Here are two of his recent posts:

“Spring is announcing itself more and more forcefully around my place. The female red-tailed hawk is sitting on her eggs while the male is bringing food to her or sitting nearby keeping an eye on her, bushtits are collecting nesting material down by the creek, three pairs of black phoebe occupy territories along the creek while a fourth pair is already relining their old mud nest at my garden shed, the first house finches are beginning to build nests on my front porch and in my palm trees.

“European starlings, alas, in their most beautiful sparkling breeding plumage, are hauling wheelbarrow loads of nesting material into the dry skirts of my washingtonia palms, and Anna’s hummingbirds are tending to their young in three nests, are sitting still on eggs in one nest, and busy building new nests, either late start first broods or already second brood nests.

“There are still many American robins around, kept here by the abundance of overripe olives, and mixed in among them at least two varied thrushes, one brilliant male and one female. Yellow-rumped warblers, still plentiful, are molting into their showy breeding colors, a few, 2-3, ruby-crowned kinglets still forage along the creek, as are dark-eyed juncos, white-crowned, golden-crowned, fox, song and Lincoln’s sparrows.

“A couple of hermit thrushes have been around for several weeks. But wood ducks are still pretty scarce on the creek, considering that they should start breeding within the next week if they were to follow previous years’ schedule.

“A red-breasted sapsucker still puts in fairly frequent appearances while downy, Nuttall’s and northern flickers seem all paired up and ready to add another generation. A Bewick’s wren is singing his heart out but so far he seems to be still a bachelor; a couple of house wrens are foraging in my garden. Tree swallows have arrived for good and are checking out my nest boxes as are several pairs of Western bluebirds. The next few days should see the arrival of barn swallows, Swainson’s hawks and rufous hummingbirds. I’ll keep you posted.

“
And last, I visited Colusa National Wildlife Refuge late in February and beginning of March to witness the late afternoon fly-in of hundreds of geese, mostly Ross’, snow and white-fronted, to the pond next to the viewing platform. A wonderful spectacle since the geese swooped in very close to the platform and would even fly right over my head. I took a lot of pictures and posted some on my Facebook page where anybody, even without a Facebook account, can access them by simply clicking on the following link: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.4777685923559.1073741825.1337955149&type=1&l=b33f40b5c7.

“Today, March 12 , around 11 a.m., the first barn swallows of the season arrived at my place and swooped under the roof of my back porch, twittering (if that is a word one can still use with birds) excitedly, as if to say: ‘Yes, this is the place!’ In all likelihood the place where they were born.


”

Gene Trapp is another birder with a good eye who generously shares his observations. He conducts a monthly West Pond birding walk. Join Gene on April 3 for a two-hour birding and botanizing walk in the West Pond area. Meet at the gazebo in the park at the west end of Isle Royale Lane at 9 a.m. If you have questions, call Gene at 530-756-6271.

And if you would like a bird’s-eye view of nesting and mating, there are numerous bird cameras trained on nests where you can see real-time events happening. I just googled Cornell Bird Cam and got to watch a red-tailed hawk sitting on her nest. The wind was blowing her feathers, she was preening, and I could read all about when the eggs were laid, how many and hear a recording of her calling.

Google Eaglecrest Nest Cam and you will be taken to a site with 14 nest cameras. Their mission control moves to various of the cameras depending on where good action is happening. Nest cams provide a new tool for entertaining science about what is really happening in those nests. It’s close watching without disturbing the birds. Enjoy!

May you enjoy the gifts of spring and kiss each day.

— Jean Jackman is a Davis resident; her column is published monthly. Questions, comments, corrections? Contact her at [email protected].

 

Jean Jackman

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