First off, a huge thank you to the coordinators and participants of our very first Winery Lake bird walk at di Rosa Center for Contemporary Arts. I am so grateful to share the wonders of the wild world with the community at such an idyllic venue as di Rosa. I hope that everyone involved left the event feeling a little more connected to the world outside.
December 5 marked the first in a series of three bird walks at di Rosa. Chilly fog settled over Winery Lake, lending an air of mystery to the environment. Not the best weather for birdwatching, but we’ll have to make do. The parking lot had the most activity from the start. Brewer’s and red-winged blackbirds squabbled in a mixed flock of at least 80 birds, arguing over grubs and grains. Starlings babbled above, maybe 30 or so along the phone lines. A male American Kestral kept watch over the vineyards from that same wire, his streaky facial markings looking especially disdainful towards his obnoxious neighbors.
As guests started to congregate at 9:30, two black phoebes playfully chased each other in the reeds, giving a great introduction to the wildlife of di Rosa. Three song sparrows and a Lincoln’s sparrow also hopped in an out of the reeds, using their brown stripes as perfect camouflage to hide from eager and curious eyes. “Keep an eye on the reeds and speak up if you see movement!” But those sneaky little sparrows kept to themselves.
As we rounded into the thicket at the eastern edge of the lake, a group of northern shovelers came into view, with two mallards leading the floating flock. Excellent, an opportunity to talk about duck migration! Everyone immediately recognized the mallards, but the shovelers were new to most of the group. Their white breasts popped against the grey fog, the green, white, and cinnamon like a bobbing Italian flag. “These ducks are winter visitors. They breed in the midwestern plains and north into Canada and Alaska, unlike the mallards, which stay year-round.” The fact that Napa/Sonoma is “south for the winter” for some species tickled my audience.
The vineyards at the end of the path had recently been pulled up for replanting next spring. The huge, spherical piles of dormant vines were still in the field, waiting to be burned or carted off to a composting facility. They were perfect sparrow habitats, with golden-crowns and white-crowns hopping along the ground and lower levels of the piles, while California towhees perched on the tops, looking like cranky little fluffballs in the mist. On the way back, an osprey flew low over the lake in the direction of the distant marshes, past the dispersing group of birders. It was probably disappointed that there aren’t fish in the manmade Winery Lake. I may have been the only one to notice as it flew quickly by, but I took it as a good omen – a delightful end to an enjoyable birding adventure. Until next time!