Sounds and Sights and Sounds of the Valley

Sandhill cranes at Merced National Wildlife Refuge. February 14, 2022.

We spent last weekend in the San Joaquin Valley looking at birds. Thousands and thousands of birds — snow geese and white-fronted geese, shovelers, pintails and teals, killdeer and meadowlarks, avocets and ibises, stilts and wrens, red-winged blackbirds and red-tailed hawks, tundra swans and sandhill cranes.

Part of the experience of entering into the world of the birds is the sound. Actually: part of the experience? Visiting these places where tens or hundreds of thousands of migrating birds have gathered is mesmerizing, electric, sometimes overpowering, utterly enveloping and at moments gives a hint of what this place we live was like before we began the project of radically reshaping it.

Here are three snippets of that sound. The first is from Super Bowl Sunday, when Kate and I found ourselves virtually alone — except for the birds — in the 10 square miles of the Los Banos National Wildlife Refuge. After that clip are a couple from the Merced National Wildlife Refuge — the crazily energetic stylings of a marsh wren and a surprise overflight of about 300 sandhill cranes at midday on Valentine’s Day.

Midday Deer Encounter


About 1 this afternoon, walking south on the north end of Shattuck Avenue (the end that turns into a narrow residential street in the lower hills after coursing six-lane style across downtown). The Dog was off the leash after we crossed Los Angeles Avenue, and out of nowhere (a yard, actually), this young deer landed in the middle of the street. I don’t think he (I think it’s a he) had seen the dog, because he immediately froze.

The Dog froze, too. At one point in his life I think he would have lit out after anything on four legs. But I think he gets it that if this is a squirrel, it’s a very tall, long-legged one, and he needs to watch for a while to see if a strategy suggests itself. A few seconds after the deer appeared in the street, a car arrived, too; the driver stopped to watch the show, then pulled up close to the animal to take some pictures after it had bounded up into a yard across the way. We moved on after a few minutes. Last I saw, the deer was contemplating the action on the street from a deck on top of someone’s garage.

(And yes, there was a time not too long ago when encountering a deer in the middle of the day here would have been very surprising; at dusk and after dark, not a shock. But this is the second time in the last couple of weeks I’ve happened across a young deer right around noontime. Not sure what accounts for it beyond the apparent large number of deer in the hills moving down into the city and maybe young ones out there learning the urban ropes.)


Berkeley Infrastructure Notes: Apiary Edition

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A sharp-eyed dog-walker of my acquaintance (I’m married to her) spotted something a little unusual near the bottom of a utility pole a couple blocks from our place. Bees were flying in and out of a cavity about three and a half feet above the sidewalk. A honeycomb was visible. They had a full-fledged if rather small hive going, right out in plain sight. My acquaintance took my out to the scene so I could document the scene. (Click the images for larger views of the pictures.)

An unaddressed question: Does this little insect colony pose a danger? The pictures show evidence of boring, probably by powder-post beetles. Is the pole going to snap off? Except for this one area, it appears pretty solid. (The question brings up some interesting issues, such as who’s responsible for fixing or replacing a damaged pole. A friend who works for the city and is generally pretty well informed tells me that the last utility that attached something to the pole generally bears responsibility.