As many of my readers know, I got a new camera a few months ago, and the powerful zoom lens has allowed me to explore a world that has been largely hidden to me until now: birds. Living in the Great Valley is wonderful for the access it provides to the incredible geological wonders of the Sierra Nevada, the Coast Ranges and the Cascades, but during the winter months when most field studies aren't happening the valley can seem a boring place. But not for the birds; for the birds, the valley is life itself. Millions of migratory birds winter on the valley floor, primarily in the federal and state bird refuges that have been established up and down the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valley floors. Over the last few months we have been frequenting some of the wildlife refuges, and the variety and number of bird species has been stunning to me (the neophyte birder). But the lingering drought is going to have an effect on their populations.
In some ways, the most surprising aspect of the bird-watching has been the variety of species I've found in my local neighborhood. I documented some of them back in January in this post, but I have seen some more as the rain has finally come, and a few migrants have arrived back in the valley for the spring and summer. Here is a selection of the birds I have seen in the last week or two.
|Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)|
|Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana)|
|Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria)|
|Black Phoebes (Sayornis nigricans)|
|Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)|
|Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)|
|Nuttall's Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii)|
|Great-tailed Grackle males (Quiscalus mexicanus)|
The Great-tailed Grackles just recently arrived on the CSU Stanislaus campus. They arrived raucously, with one of the loudest calls I've heard during my bird travels of late.The males are dark black (above), while the females are brown (and much smaller).
|Great-tailed Grackle females (Quiscalus mexicanus)|
|Yellowlegs Sandpiper (Tringas species); I don't know if it is the Greater or the Lesser.|
|Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)|
I've briefly seen the Yellow-rumped Warbler flitting about in the grass on my campus, and even chasing insects on my back porch one morning, but I walked out of my classroom on the third floor of our new Science Community Center the other day, and there was this little one right there in front of me. He politely waited until I had taken a few pictures before flying off.
|Yellow-billed Magpie (Pica nuttalli), a Central Valley original|
So why all these birds on my geology site? Well, mainly because it's my blog, and I write about whatever interests me at the moment. But in the larger picture, the native species of a region are shaped by the geological forces acting on that area. These birds are adapted to the Mediterranean climate of the Great Valley and the riparian areas (rivers) and grasslands found within. They have survived hundreds of droughts in the past, and presumably are equipped to survive those of the present and the future. They have persisted through the vast floods which sometimes turn our valley into a vast lake. They are products of the geological forces shaping our valley just as surely as the rocks and sediment beneath our feet. And like so many of the wonderful geological sites in our state, they are interesting and often beautiful.