The wind defines days like today blowing in from the ocean leaving whitecaps in its wake on the surface of the slough. Twelve miles per hour breezes are common until mid-September, keeping the bugs at bay and bringing relief to the hot central valley cities far to the south. With temperatures exceeding 100 F (37.77 C) sometimes for days on end, the heat waves are far too common. Zipping downwind in the center of the waterway close to the surface the big Vultures look as if it is a play day. Only to turn into the breeze to begin the real work of pounding their wide wings slowly making way to the challenge. They will climb high into the air to reach the best vantage point to begin their slow descent in a spiral, sometimes landing most of the time not.
They are big birds much maligned by creature and man for no reason other than cleaning the landscape. Climbing high exposes the telltale under the wings, dark leading edge feathers appear to mimic the outstretched arms of a man. The wings are wide, broad, and ragged, the feathers falling from them spice the ground like pepper flakes on a meal. To speculate their interest in what below is causing them to circle is known only to them, perhaps a dead mouse, or the remains of an animal killed on the road. They continue their endless search teetering as if they are performing a high wire act high above the grassy plain.
To see one lying on the shoulder of the roadway is a rare event, along with Turkeys they appear to be immune to the lure of the open road keeping them safe. On days such as this flying close to the ground allows them to use less energy as they hunt relentlessly across the open meadows and past pastures. They rest infrequently at times satisfied perching on the rocky shore with their beaks to the wind. Sitting on the far side for hours at a time they hurt nothing, they cause no harm.
They are the first birds to welcome the morning sun, remaining aloft most of the day though fighting the wind is a struggle. The small birds mistake them for the predators that steal from their nests. Caution must be practiced by the small ones that appear not to be able to tell the difference between friend or foe. The Starlings, Wrens, and Flycatchers rally together driving the perceived threat far from their nests. Waking at sunrise the small ones are fast dodging and dipping making their jobs appear like play.
Young birds in the nest are nearing their first flight from high in the branches of a mighty Oak or Forlorn Elm. The Swallows fly dodging one another to occasionally perform a chest thump, what that’s about is known only to them. Hundreds of them are in the sky, joined by the Flycatchers, Sparrows, and Wrens fighting and chirping they have one common bond. Big birds are not divided into who’s safe and who isn’t; the only interest is keeping their offspring from harm. The squabbling is interrupted only with the appearance of a large winged bird, every other activity is meaningless as they attack the larger flying cousin, no matter what species it is. The only bird not deserving their relentless pecking is the Vulture, but he is attacked only due to his size. Lacking no threat the small aggressive fighters always have one another to chase.
Crows avoid the wind choosing instead to remain on the leeward side out of the wind, but not safe from the marauding groups of patriotic protectors of their chosen environment. The large black birds leave a noticeable void in the sky, their place can not be taken up by any other bird or animal. Absence of them is noticed, the silence is obvious, only to be re-introduced when the wind stops and calm is restored. Restored to everywhere except for the sky above the slough, there is far too much at stake to paying no attention.
Far in the distance high above the grassy pasture, a mating pair of Falcons deliver food to their offspring in the nest preparing for the day to take that fateful leap into the void. Leaping from the homemade nest of twigs and string comfort will shortly be coming to an end. Adulthood in the wild is a test of every lesson they have learned in the short time they have shared the slough with all of us.
Owls tend to their young in the tree to the North, a nesting box has been placed high in a tree to protect them from the Great Horned Owl who emerges from the darkness every night. Predictability is a character of the Owls which they take advantage of, placing it on display every night at 8:30 as they are seen leaving their nest. Hunting from dusk to dawn they keep the rodent population under control unknowingly as they feed the fledglings waiting with open beaks. Great Horned Owls, Raccoons, and Snakes are daily threats to them and the brood of chicks. They attempt their virgin flights on windy nights often leading to disaster as they do their best to avoid obstacles, failing some never have another chance. A flock of white birds far above have come from the ocean, perhaps blown off course by the wind.
Pelicans land on the water blanketing it with so much white that it appears to be snow covering the river in July. As if to be alerted by a silent alarm known only to them they take to the air, looking like confusion it is anything but. As they are high flyers forming a pattern is not made until exiting the space to head west and home. Slow determined flyers they are truly majestic to watch, beating their wings to the rhythm of a slow love song. An obstacle course is ahead of them as they beat out the tune against the wind to be met by the high wires strung from one tower to its neighbor. Disaster looms in those wires, many of the majestic birds end their lives on a collision course with the nearly invisible electric system.
Aw, the trade winds to be interrupted and slowed by the collision with land and running up against a Mountain range. Having spent much of its energy after passing over Hawaii the winds if they continue from that far away Island, may one day make their appearance a sure sign rain is on the way. These winds control the weather for the rest of the country gaining strength and moisture to be deposited far to the East joining with the warm wind from the South.
The trees dance in perfect time to the song of the wind each of them seemingly dancing to the beat of their own drummer, knowing all along the wind owns their movements. They look as if they enjoy it perhaps the movements clean the dust collected on the leaves during calmer times. The lack of rain during these summer months along with the winds drain the landscape of its moisture.
Clearing the way for the Wildfires to begin which they will when the temperature rises drying the tinder to the point of combustion. This is a land of extremes overly wet, overly dry is the rule, the clock is ticking as it is only a matter of time now until the fires begin.
No smoke is visible over the dry Diablo Range to the West separating this waterway from the moist and breezy ocean shore. The Eastern slope is tinder dry while the West is green as a farmers crop in early spring, the harvest will never be realized on the Thirsty slope facing the dusty flatland. For now, the sky is clear, the air is breathable, we are safe from the fires for a while longer.
Jacques Lebec Natural Self Reliance