November 28th, 10am.
This is my favorite kind of fall day. We have had over 4 inches of rain and today it is a little drizzly but very warm. There is a chance the sun may come out for a bit later on but more rain is due tonight. That feeling of drought is alleviated for a while and I feel content that the earth is getting a good soaking. This is the time also, between storms, when wildlife is out taking advantage of a break in the rainy weather. Hunting for food must happen in a focused and constructive way. It has been a week since I was out here in this bewitching valley and I am excited to be walking along Mill Creek towards Outlet Creek. The water has begun to flow in both though Outlet has more flow and looks deeper. The sound of water flowing by is an immediate relaxing element for me as I begin the loop. Looking out in the pasture I notice a large grey-blue bird stalking something in the grass. It is the Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias, probably looking for a Botta’s Pocket Gopher, Thomomys bottae, or a California Vole, Microtus californicus. When fields get flooded these rodents are more likely to come out above the ground or even get drowned so are easier to eat! The cows watch in amusement as it carefully moves forward. Once they catch one it is quite funny to see their antics with it to get it down their very long necks (throats). It can take several minutes to accomplish this and the large bulge is noticeable as it moves down. Even though I would love to see it catch one, I move away, not wanting to disturb this hunting hungry bird.
There are many birds flying about calling and even singing to each other and maybe even to the human walking by. When I reach the area where there is a created wetland, I am pleased to see it has filled with water, and once again looks like a real wetland. There are no ducks here yet, but I know that soon, as the rest of this end of the valley becomes inundated, there will be a great variety even for such a small area.
On one of the fences, I see a small falcon balancing on its bright orange-yellow feet. It is all puffed up protecting itself from the cold or maybe drying out after the shower we just had. This is the American Kestrel, Falco sparverius, or as it used to be called the Sparrowhawk. It was a good name for this voracious hunter because even though it mostly eats insects, small birds such as sparrows are also on its favorite list of edibles. I often see the sparrows, and other small birds scatter when this bird flies by. What a cute spotted ball this one is.
My route has taken me all the way to Outlet Creek where the water seems to have risen a couple of feet since last week. I enjoy watching it bubble past and dream about the beavers returning before too long. It is a perfect fall day and as I head back to my car I am very thankful for the rain.