Thursday, April 17, 2014

At the Pond: Winter birds are here


Human-made burrows along the northeast corner of the Wildhorse agricultural buffer, provided by city of Davis open space staffers, are perfect homes for these 9.5-inch-tall birds. Jean Jackman/Courtesy photo

From page A14 | November 24, 2013 | Leave Comment

What’s in your back yard or apartment window feeder box?

My yard is finally getting a bit birdy again with the return of winter birds — white-crowned sparrows, finches, northern flicker, dark-eyed junco and black phoebe. Some splash vigorously in the birdbath. Others are at the feeders or foraging under leaves and in the garden. It gladdens my heart to see them and makes me feel alive.

If you haven’t invested in feeders, you might think about doing that. Apartment dwellers can have a feeder attached to the window. It’s a winter brightener. In grad school, I was amazed to meet people who fed hummingbirds at their seventh-floor apartment feeder in busy Palo Alto.

Consider becoming a useful citizen scientist. Join Project Feeder Watch. This is the 27th season. People of all interests and skill levels are welcome. You pay $15 fee that covers staff time and your project kits.

Google Project Feeder Watch and you can enjoy the informative website. Learn the common birds in all areas of the country, how to identify backyard birds, trends and more. You will aid Cornell Ornithological Lab in tracking changes to bird populations across North America.

They list the 10 most common birds at California feeders: house finch, Anna’s hummingbird, mourning dove, Western scrub jay, dark-eye junco, white-crowned sparrow, lesser goldfinch, California towhee, American robin and pine siskin. If some are unfamiliar to you, learn them at that site.

Invest in a good pair of binoculars. Think of all of the changes in cameras in 10 years. The same holds true to binocs. A mid-price pair is now as good as the most expensive pair of yesteryear. It’s amazing to see some little dark bird on a reed, then look at it through good binoculars or with a good camera with long lens and see glorious color and markings. And it is that gift-buying and -giving time of year.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology assembled 60 interested binoculars users at the lab to test more than 100 models. See the full report, listing the top 2013 picks in each price category, at They last rated in 2005 and binocs have gotten even better. With every price range you can find a compact pair, waterproof roof-prism design, high-quality optics.
Most people use 8x magnification. If you get higher, handshake becomes a problem.

In three mid-range categories, best in class was Zeiss Conquest HD 8×32 (22.4 oz.) at $999, Nikon Monarch 7 8×42 (22.6 oz.) at $530 and Nikon Monarch 5 8×32 (20.8 oz.) at $309. In the budget bin, best in class was Celestron Nature DX 8×42 (23.4 oz.) at $185. Spot a bird and get a spectacular view and your regular walk becomes memorable, your back yard holds new treasures.

Call to action: If you care about our watershed, our water. climate and air quality, please be informed about fracking and new scenarios that are happening. And if you are disturbed by the threat to our waters and air, please make calls and write letters.

Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing. Water, sand and chemicals are injected underground to fracture the rock surrounding an oil or gas well. The land gets cleared. The injected water becomes toxic.

Our Coast Guard is entertaining a proposal to allow the oil and gas industry to put toxic fracking wastewater on barges to ship down our nation’s rivers. Seems pretty risky for our rivers, our drinking water. Barge accidents happen.

We have until Nov. 29 to give comment. And Bureau of Land Management has released a set of rules to allow fracking on public lands. Write the president.

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration released draft fracking regulations for public comments. The fracking bill recently passed was greatly weakened by last-minute amendments. The regulations do not address air pollution caused by fracking or do anything to reduce carbon pollution. So, Assemblyman Marc Levine and three other Assembly members have signed on to a letter proposing a moratorium. An action: call Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada and state Sen. Lois Wolk and ask them to co-sign the letter. Call Gov. Brown and ask for a moratorium unless you are OK with weakly regulated fracking.

The oil industry is eyeing the Monterey Shale, which spans 1,750 square miles of Central and Southern California. It may have five times the gas and oil of North Dakota. Fracking it may be the new gold rush. In our watershed, we still have the scars of the California gold rush with piles of gravel, heavy metals and other pollutants into our streams and rivers. And what kind of earthquakes will fracking precipitate?

Last year, I was one of more than 60 citizens in Sacramento asking for a moratorium. Only one industry spokesperson presented the other side. Lobbyists and money won the vote for no moratorium. Let’s try again.

As I write, great horned owls are calling from the Covell Greenbelt pines. It’s a duet of the higher female and lower male, hoo-h’HOO-hoo hoo. They call so often I wonder when they have time to hunt. I run outside and listen closely. Ah, there’s something to be thankful for. I’m even grateful for the 37 turkeys that visit my yard daily. Have a grateful Thanksgiving. And kiss each day.

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


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