Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Can You See It? Seeking a Natural World in an Urban Setting
We have a drainage pond on our west campus at the edge of town. It's been a mostly neglected corner of the campus, used occasionally to graze sheep from our agricultural unit. I've been exploring it for the last two years looking to photograph birds (forty species and counting). It's not far from our Science Community Center and Great Valley Museum. The museum and science teaching facility are new, and have garnered a great deal of community interest, with a planetarium, observatory, Science on a Sphere, and all kinds of science-related exhibits. The final jewel in the crown, an outdoor education laboratory, was sort of a political football in the last year or two as the bond issue that paid for these incredible educational facilities started to run short.
Luckily, there is funding in place to build the outdoor lab, with plans in place to plant native vegetation and habitat for animals that could thrive there. The California Drought, about to enter a fifth year, put the kibosh on what was to be a central attraction, a pond. No new water features, they said.
We're going to let nature decide that issue for us. We will be designing an artificial vernal pool, a habitat almost unique to our valley. Such pools only hold water after storms in the winter and spring, and give rise to a number of endemic plants and animals. In the meantime, our attention shifted to the drainage pond. It's been there since World War II and has evolved into a natural habitat, sort of a mini-wilderness on the edge of our campus. Since we can't make new ponds, we are going to make improvements to the old one, putting in walkways, and adding a platform that students and visitors can use to take water samples and observe wildlife.
It's always a thrill to see a bit of wildness in the middle of an urban environment. That's what the picture above is about. I had my own thrill of discovery as I was taking an evening walk before class. If you look at the left side of the picture, you'll see a bit of nature staring back at me.
Postscript: As cute as they are, the Red Foxes are not native to California. There is a threatened subspecies, the Sierra Red Fox, that lives in the higher parts of the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade Range. All others across the state were introduced more than a century ago and have proved a problem in many ecosystems, as they eat just about anything and adapt easily to new environments at the expense of native species. I don't know what role they play in our area, or if they are a problem. My feeling is that they help control rodent populations on the campus, but I'm no biologist!