While my laundry was in the machines at the laundromat, I took a walk along the bay. High tide pushed the shorebirds in close to the bike path, so it was easy to sort out dowitchers, Willets, Marbled Godwits, and Black-bellied Plovers. There were also half a dozen Black Skimmers spaced out along the water, each one making a striking contrast to the mixed flock of shorebirds.
This morning, I had a hard time getting on the road; a week’s worth of twelve-hour days running Ecojustice Camp finally caught up with me. I was a little bleary when I started driving. Yesterday in a truck stop I had found an audiobook, on CDs no less, of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, and I put the first disc into the car’s CD player. When I was in high school, I had loved I, Robot; I found I still liked it, even though there were huge holes in the plot, even though Asimov doesn’t appear to like women very much, even though he mixes slide rules and space ships; I liked it even though the characters were caricatures, but they were engaging caricatures.
At some point after I passed through Battle Mountain, I began to notice how green the mountains looked — green by northeastern Nevada standards, that is. It had obviously rained in the recent past. Then I began to notice the banks of yellow flowers along the edges of the interstate; I could not only see them, but in a few places I could feel the pollen in the air. They ere so stunning in that desert landscape that I finally pulled over at the exit ramp to Welcome, Nevada, and photographed them. They looked bright and dramatic against the freshly green sage brush.
I rolled through dreary little West Wendover, Nevada, its faintly shabby casinos looking even more shabby in that huge landscape, with towering mountains, and the white expanse of the salt flats stretching eastward into the haze. I rolled across the salt flats — stopping briefly to eat a sandwich in the shade of the rest area in the middle of the salt flats — across the plains and hills on the other side, and got off at the Dugway exit. The directions said to head north, take an immediate left, go a third of a mile, then take the right fork. But the road didn’t fork, it terminated in the exit gate of a huge Cargill salt facility, with a railroad siding and towering piles of salt. Finally I figured out that what I was supposed to do was to turn right at the gates to the Cargill plant, and sure enough there I was at the entrance to Timpe Spring Wildlife Management Area.
One moment I was between the railroad siding and the salt plant, and the next moment I was driving along a narrow dirt road looking out at American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts squawking at me, and California Gulls soaring purposefully overhead towards Antelope Island, which loomed out of the invisible Great Salt Lake in the distance, and a Northern Shoveler dabbling at the edge of the marsh with that absurdly long bill it has.
I started walking out across one of the dikes, but Forster’s Terns and Black-necked Stilts began circling closer and closer to me, and Song Sparrows came up out of the brush at the edge of the dike, all of them giving calls of alarm. Obviously, I was getting too close to their nests. So I walked out along the other dike, but soon an American Avocet and a Wilson’s Phalarope came out of the marsh grasses giving their calls of alarm, so I retreated once more. By that time, I had been walking around for most of an hour, and the temperature was one hundred degrees even, and I was longing for a drink of water. I walked back to the car.
The birds were not so bothered by me while I was in the car. I drove out very slowly, stopping several times to see if I could see the nests of the American Avocets and the Black-necked Stilts, but I could not; the nests must have been well down in the marsh grass. I swatted one last biting fly, slow and stupid from the heat, that had landed on my face, rolled up the window, and drove on to Evanston, Wyoming.
At lunch time, I drove down to the marshes at Baylands Nature Preserve. A baby American Avocet stood at the edge of the water swishing its tiny beak back and forth to gather insects and other invertebrates from the water, just like the adult avocets a few yards away. Out in deeper water, a Mallard hen watched carefully over two baby Mallards swimming on either side of her. I couldn’t help noticing the difference in the way the two species raise their young: the American Avocet is a precocial species whose young are on their own from hatching, while the Mallard is an altricial species whose adults care for their babies for some time. It seemed that everywhere I looked I saw birds nesting or getting ready to nest: Cliff Swallows building their nests of clay on the side of a building, Forster’s Terns apparently nesting on a tiny island in the middle of the marsh, Marsh Wrens warbling madly in the rushes.
I looked across the bay at the green hills of the East Bay. Except some of the lower hills at the far end of the Dumbarton Bridge don’t look all that green any more. It’s been warm for the past few days, and it looks like the rains are finally over and gone, and now some of the low hills are turning summer-brown. The higher hills and mountains are still brilliant green, but it won’t be long before they turn brown, too.
Baby birds and hills turning brown: these two markers in time are as good as any to mark the end of the winter-wet season, and the beginning of the summer-dry season.