“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”
— John Muir
This is not a real birdy time at our local ponds. It is the time between spring and fall migration. Most of the youngsters have fledged. We have some breeding birds left and perhaps breeding another round. But train your binoculars on the dragonflies and damselflies to see some beauty.
Out at the North Davis Ponds, on our first-Saturday-of-the-month walk led by Ed Whisler, we observed 22 bird species in 1 1/2 hours — a pretty-cool number for this time of the year. We were delighted to have photographer Beth Savidge along and she has shared her photos on our Facebook page, Friends of North Davis Ponds. She lives over near West Pond and also shares photographs on Facebook Friends of West Ponds. You don’t need an account to view the photos and read all of the news.
The photo treasures of the day were the dragonflies, and we saw at least three varieties.
They are a fascinating insect with nearly 6,000 species. We find them around water because most of their lives are spent underwater in a larvae, nymph or naiad aquatic stage. They may spend as long as five years maturing in the aquatic stage. The winged adults we see are set up to breed and may fly around for just a couple of weeks or a year. Some migrate; the globe skinner flies more than 11,000 miles.
Dragonflies have been around since prehistoric times, since before the dinosaurs, though in a much larger form, with a 2 1/2-foot wingspan. California has 108 species. We welcome them as they eat mosquito larvae during the aquatic stage and mosquitoes in the flight stage. And birds eat the dragonflies.
Former Yolo Basin Superintendent Dave Feliz once related how he kept watching Swainson’s hawks flying above and finally figured out what they were doing. They were catching large dragonflies with their feet, eating them like corn on the cob and throwing away the wings.
If you want to photograph dragonflies or get close to them with binoculars, approach from the rear because they have large compound eyes that can see upward and to the sides. Make sure you don’t cast a shadow. If you do scare them, back off and they often return to the same perch.
The West Pond has a bird stroll the first Wednesday of the month. The next will be July 2 at 8 a.m. at the gazebo. The North Davis Ponds bird stroll will be the first Saturday, July 5, at 8 a.m. Meet at the parking lot next to the Northstar Pond. There will be even more dragonflies by then.
If you want a bird-friendly yard, you need to provide water in addition to habitat, food, nest material and nest boxes. A large robin visits daily to frolic in our bird bath. We also have a small water feature that we turn on during an outside dinner. The birds are drawn to the sound and water. Some sit right in the miniature waterfall.
However, since we have to worry about West Nile virus, we add a portion of a mosquito dunk, sold at the hardware store. The dunks are safe for the birds and kill mosquito larvae before they’re old enough to bite. For a bath, you can use something as simple as a plant saucer or an old frying pan and set it on the ground. They like ground level. It’s more like a natural puddle.
A clean bird bath is a real bird magnet.
Last weekend, we rafted and kayaked the American River starting at Sunrise Bridge with our daughter’s family. You can park your car and rent your equipment right there and then spend the day going with the current. Get out at River Bend Park and catch the raft company shuttle back to your car. Or, you can do what we normally do. Lock an old bike at River Bend and use your own equipment at Sunrise. At the end, one person bikes back along the bike trail to the car for our own save-money shuttle.
The water was a delicious temperature, and we have never seen so much wildlife up close there, including geese, ducks, cormorants, mergansers, egrets, turtles, turkeys, great blue herons, swallows, vultures and hawks. Folsom Lake is at 63 percent of the historical average for this date and since we are supposed to have a hot summer, June is the time for that trip. We trail our cooler in an inner tube. Bring an air mattress for alone time. Lovely.
All of our lovely areas are there because of citizen effort. Pick an issue, write a letter, donate and make a call to legislators to make a difference. Big Oil alone spent $268.9 million in the past 15 years on lobbying and campaigns in Sacramento. Let’s all pitch in and not take beauty for granted. And kiss each day.
— Jean Jackman is a Davis resident; her column is published monthly. Got a story, question, correction? Contact her at JeanJackman@gmail.com