On the last day of May, I was talking to John Grow, that gentle giant of Kelly Ridge who was also an official California State Park seasonal aide at the Visitors Center this year 2000, and the subject drifted away to birds. That's what happens when bird watchers meet.
"Any success with the Wood Duck boxes this year?" I asked, knowing John is involved in providing nesting boxes around the Feather River area.
"Not much luck along the Diversion Pool (or what's its new name?), and it seems there just aren't enough shallow feeding places along the edge, but there is some box use at Glen Pond." John went on to describe one "dump box," where more than one hen will sometimes lay a pile of 30 or more eggs, and many do not get properly incubated or covered by the hen. He also mentioned the problem with vandalism and boys throwing rocks at the boxes, or actually "swinging" them, sometimes to the ground.
I had just been down to Glen Pond to check on the seasonal wildlife activity, and a Wood Duck had flashed overhead, as well as three flushed Mallards that shifted direction overhead and showered me with water drops. The whole thrust of the Wood Duck box program, sparked by Gray Lodge Wildlife Area's central station, is to encourage the crevice-nesting beauty to hang around during the summer. Many that would normally migrate to find northern nesting sites do stick around with enticements, and Gray Lodge maintains over 300 boxes to the tune of over 3,000 laid eggs last year.
Also at Glen Pond, I had seen a vulture sitting over those placid waters as if enjoying the view. I know I also enjoy the calm pond that is partly nourished by the high water level in the Diversion Pond. The reassurance that you can always go there and see shining green reflections on a surface that always stays perfectly level in a basin cradling a variety of wildlife with the possibility of seeing Wood Ducks is vital fortification for the human experience.
Sometimes I am inclined to flip a cork and hook into those murky depths and await the telltale ripple of a fish. On that day, I did catch one nice big-mouthed perch so beautiful I released it. The best thing about "sitting fishing" is that you are focused onto one area, and before long you begin to notice things happening around you. Pick any woodland spot and, if you sit quietly long enough, you will surely see some stupendous wonder of life!
After I talked to John, I went over to Wick Island, where the transplanted Bidwell Bar Bridge is located, expecting to see Cliff Swallows dashing through the air and hovering around their mud jug nests plastered to the bridge beams. But alas! The classic nests were shattered, broken as if a wall of ceramics had been pelted with rocks! Ranger Denise did not know about it but was sure the nests had not been purposefully destroyed as sometimes happens around building where people don't want the birds' mess. We suspected foul play and rock throwers.
Only a few swallows drifted in the sky, as if pitifully surveying the ruins of their laborious efforts. How many trips to a mud source does it take for a swallow to build that fruit-jar-sized housing mouthful by mouthful!? It would take a murderous instinct to destroy the homes of delicate feathered creatures sharing this earth with us. I cannot imagine such disregard for life, nor why anyone would break into a nature center and spraypaint the exhibits.
Swallows of several species provide a visual joy for summer spectators as they swoop around the skies, dashing to and fro as if in love with flying - gleaning insects and mosquitos by the thousands as they fill their niche with exquisite beauty. Their main directive is to return to the summer homeland and participate in parenting a new generation into existence. How many hundreds of miles do they fly to reach home, and how much energy do they exert in choosing a mate, selecting a nest site, constructing an egg container with a thousand mouthfuls of mud, incubating the eggs, and then in grand output, feed those infants until they grow strong enough to fly? My heart weeps to think of those nests being destroyed.
At least, that was my first impression of what I observed. I must go back to get more clues and see if I read it right. You have to be a regular detective and study the details in nearly every woodland encounter. We often can see only the surface of a deep subject - and imagination often fills in the details. Later, my suspicions were verified by a park ranger.
I didn't see the roadrunner around the marina parking lot, where it is sometimes reported, and I wonder if that mystery bird still lives to roam the ridge. Checking up on nature and its welfare is enough to keep you going!
© 2000 Rex Burress
June 1, 2000