The Ducks and the Seeds

This is a ‘Mostly…not’ post. Not Sonoma County, for we travelled several counties East to go to Duck Day in Davis, CA in the Central Valley. The walking was easy and we found future spots to stroll. (We won’t try it in the summer – too hot!)

We started out last Saturday morning at 6:15. Skirting the bay on the luge run that’s called Hwy 37, we saw a grey sky and a glowing orange in the east. The fields were yellow and the wetlands were oranges and brown. The water was calm. San Francisco wasn’t visible, but I was sure it was still there.

Apparently, the ducks were already in Davis, as only a few coots and some large black and white dunker were visible in the bay’s wetlands.

We checked in at the Yolo Basin Foundation, east of Davis. They’d  organized many tours and workshops for the day (link below). Our tour was of Hedgerow Farm (a seed farm). I wrangled a ride, because we were going to backtrack to Winters. Our driver, Fred Hanson, was the tour lead, specializing in the bird element of the day.

He’s a fount of endless bird info. Besides indicating good birding locations along the way, he pointed out a male Northern Harrier and Red-tail Hawk. (We could catch the Great Blue Heron by the side of the road on our own.) This is a good raptor area with vast flat fields of alfalfa, now cut down, full of various rodents and amphibians.

Hedgerow Farms Nursery

We arrived at Hedgerow Farm under a solid gray sky. This is a seed farm with 450 acres in production. The other acres are either fallow, under a restoration project or made up of roads, creeks or irrigation canals.

Around the farm yard are an office, seed storage barn, barn for seed cleaning, a small nursery and a kenneled Rottweiler. Besides seeds, they sell native grasses and forbs (think lupine) transplants in quantities anywhere from 10 to 20,000.

They harvest 90k lbs of seeds a year, labeled by seed, ecosystem (county of origin) and year. Seeds for the next season are planted in .1 acre experimental plots to 10 acre fields.

Seeds are harvested by machine and hand. They are dried and then cleaned down to a certified less than .1% noxious weed content. Most of the harvest is from May to August.

View at Hedgerow Farms

You may be wondering what happened to the birds at this point. Well, there were traces of owl (a young man on the tour, a very bright 12, was picking through the ‘traces’ for bones) and amply visible Robins, Lesser Goldfinches, Nutall Woodpeckers, Kestrels, Mockingbird and Turkey Vulture.

Not only does Hedgerow Farm find seeds (mostly in Northern California), they plant them, collect seeds from them to replant or resell, but they maintain the farm in as natural a way as possible.

The farm is bisected by canals that they have been able to convince authorities to vegetate. Rather than blocking the flow of water, these canals reduce weeds and prevent erosion. Near the canals are coyote bush, Toyon and native grasses.

Hedgerow Canal

The picture on the right shows a canal stripped and ready for erosion.

Tailwater (runoff) ponds at the ‘low’ end of the fields collect water and allow the sediment to drop out before entering the canals. This saves the topsoil. The ponds are surrounded with oaks, Toyon, willows and creeping wild rye. Buckeyes were starting to open.

Irrigation Erosion

As part of the tour we went to a restoration project on the farm. We walked along a ‘natural’ canal to an open area that had been burned and was recently seeded with wildflowers to see what happens. There is a hardpan not too far below the surface that leaves the ground soft (if it had rained recently, it would have been impassable). We went by two vernal pools.

Vernal Pool

At the first one, we inadvertently, shooed up 20 Wood Ducks. A Loggerhead Shrike sat on a distant fence post and at the next pool a Black Phoebe posed on a post quite near us and waited patiently as we each focused our binoculars. (Okay, so they sit on posts searching for food.) And if that wasn’t enough fun, we saw a Ferruginous Hawk circling the meadow and eight Killdeer across the pool, taking off together in a sharp shriek.

On the way back to the Yolo Basin Foundation, Fred pointed out birds and more birding locations. A Northern Harrier flew along with us showing underside and top and flight pattern so carefully, that even if he hadn’t told us the name, we could have found it in our guide book.

Back at the Yolo Basin Foundation we ate our lunch, before exploring the exhibits and demonstrations for Duck Day.

The coolest was this river otter at the Demonstration Wetland.

Yolo Foundation Otter

At the Exhibit Hall were displays by various groups. Mike held a baby Mallard. (People often think that’s our last name.) I talked to a woman who was working on a project with kids about their watershed and their plastic garbage. She gave me the links listed below.

Heading home, we were treated to a silver sunset, with Mt. Tamalpais outlined in all its glory. We live in a beautiful place.

Written several years ago Bonus poem:

I ride with my head out the window.
Not  like a dog smelling the wind, ready to bark,

I’m searching for birds.
Six white pelicans ocean bound, spanning the river.
Two mergansers flying apace with the car.
One red-tail hawk scanning the hill for lunch.
My head out the window, I’m searching for birds.

Lynn Millar

Pictures by Mike Millar

Yolo Wetland

Other walks in the Davis area: Since the valley is so big and flat, I think the secret is to look for cars parked by the side of a county road. This often leads to a level path atop a levee, popular with dog walkers. Mr. Hanson mentioned a Grassland Parks off of Pedrick Rd. We’ll try it out. Anyone have a spot out there?

Yolo Basin Foundation (they also have monthly walks)

Hedgerow Farm having a field day April 16, 2010

NOAH marine debris about where your stuff has got to and what to do about it

Algalita Marine Research

EPA Surf your Water


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