Thursday, December 18, 2014

At the Pond: What’s in your back yard?

white-crowned sparrow

From page A8 | January 27, 2013 |

The 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count will take place Feb. 15-18 and you can participate, even if you can’t tell the difference between a house finch and a sparrow.

Friends of the West Davis Pond invite you to join them on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 3:30 p.m. or Sunday, Feb. 17, at 8:30 a.m. Meet at the gazebo at the west end of Isle Royale Lane. Bring binoculars and plan to spend two to three hours strolling and stopping along the greenbelt paths. The list of birds observed each day will be submitted to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Affable, expert birder Ed Whisler will be the leader, and he will have assistants to help beginners. I’ve enjoyed Ed’s generous expertise on numerous occasions. He is an enthusiastic teacher.

Here is a list of 42 species spotted on one day at the West Pond submitted to the 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count: cackling goose, 6; cackling goose (Aleutian), one; Canada goose, 90; wood duck, 31; gadwall, one; mallard, 25; hooded merganser, four; pied-billed grebe, three; great egret, one; green heron, two; white-tailed kite, one; Cooper’s hawk, one; red-shouldered hawk, one; red-tailed hawk, one; American coot, 35; Wilson’s snipe, 3; gull, 648; rock pigeon, 18; mourning dove, nine; great horned owl, two; Anna’s hummingbird, six; red-breasted sapsucker, two.

Also, Nuttall’s woodpecker, five; northern flicker, six; black phoebe, 10; western scrub jay, 13; yellow-billed magpie, 12; American crow, 19; ruby-crowned kinglet, three; American robin, 19; northern mockingbird, four; European starling, two; cedar waxwing, 44; orange-crowned warbler, two; yellow-rumped warbler, 17; spotted towhee, one; white-crowned sparrow, five; golden-crowned sparrow, three; Brewer’s blackbird, 30; house finch, seven; lesser goldfinch, one; and American goldfinch, 25.

Jo Ellen Ryan and Gene Trapp sent me the invitation and information. They and others have organized an exemplary and active community group, the Friends of the West Davis Pond. Take a look at their Facebook page. You don’t have to be a registered Facebook user to enjoy parts of it.

Google “Friends of West Pond Facebook” and you will get a glimpse of their activities and gorgeous photos contributed by a number of Friends of West Pond. They have a bird walk open to all on the first Wednesday of every month at 9 a.m. Meet at the gazebo.

You can do your own individual bird count. Be amazed at what is in your own back yard if you just stop and look for a while. Go to for the details. In 2012, 104,285 checklists were submitted with observations of 623 species. This year, they are accepting bird lists from anywhere in the world. You can count for as little as 15 minutes and enter them on a website after establishing your free account online. You will always be able to access your list and you can have a list that serves year-round.

Scientists and bird enthusiasts learn a great deal from citizen-scientist projects. They get a big picture of what is happening to bird populations due to weather, bird diseases and habitat changes, and you will get access to much information. The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada.


You’ve heard me say it before, but take advantage of the Yolo Basin Wildlife Area as an easy-get-close-to-nature spot. Now is the time, with thousands of birds and many species. Put your windows down, drive the auto tour route, stop and look. And bring your binoculars. You might get out and walk a little.

Terry Colburn, birder extraordinaire, reported seeing a first-year bald eagle on the auto tour this month. As the group approached, it flew, stirring up thousands of waterfowl. They got a scope on it and watched it feast on a kill.

I drove out there this week with a friend who commuted to Sacramento to work for many years. She would always gaze down from the freeway but never got around to making the auto tour loop. It’s simple, it’s marked. You will not get lost. You can get a map online or just look at the map on the bulletin board that you will see after you drive up and over the levee and down into the basin.

There are porta-potties on the way and a handicap-accessible lookout. Lots of northern pintails are out there now. You will spot at least 25 species — everything from black-necked stilts and long-billed curlews to green-winged teals and snow geese and many hawks.


Several people reported sandhill cranes in the county. Whisler observed them on the north side of County Road 27 between County Roads 103 and 104, northeast of Davis. I went out looking for them and did not spot them but got to see hundreds of white-fronted geese and swans in the rice fields.

The leaves are off the trees. Now is a good time to get a good look at many birds. Enjoy and kiss each day.

— Jean Jackman is a Davis resident; her column is published monthly. Got a comment, question, correction? Contact her at



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