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March is a lazy time of the year

OUTDOOR TALES -

March 21, 2002

This is always a difficult time of the year for me. It's hard to find something to do. Hunting season is over and the wind has been blowing too frequently to fish for corvina. Even if it wasn't blowing I doubt if the fish would be cooperative because the water is still too cold.

This is the time of year when the weather is beautiful and opportunity for bird watching is at its peak. The snow and Ross geese left a few weeks ago for their trip back north and it won't be long until the sandhill cranes follow the geese.

On the Salton Sea the water is covered by ruddy ducks and eared grebes. There are literally hundreds of thousands of these birds feeding on the surface. A few weeks ago during a warm snap, when the winds had abated, I tried my luck fishing for a few hours on the dike at the end of Lack Road. It was peaceful and not a soul was around, as I made cast after cast from the point, hoping a hungry corvina would swim by.

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The fish didn't cooperate and the ruddy ducks and grebes ignored me and fed closer and closer to the rocks I was perched on. After awhile I quit fishing and just watched them feeding on what I think was the larval stages of barnacles and pile worms floating on the surface of the water. Whatever they were eating there was lots of it and it must have been pretty tasty. They swam with their necks stretched close to the surface of the water, scooping up their food as they motored around.

Their feeding frenzy and my bird watching was rudely interrupted when a small earthquake shook the area. In recent years Obsidian Butte has been the epicenter of numerous small earthquakes. It's not fun when the large 10-ton concrete piece of riprap you're sitting on starts clacking and banging against another concrete piece next to it. The birds immediately quit feeding and headed for deeper water. I loaded up and left Dodge as thoughts of a massive tsunami flashed through my mind. Even a small earthquake becomes impressive when you're sitting right on the top of the epicenter.

A few days ago I spotted a peregrine falcon on the ditch bank next to the road. I thought that was odd so I stopped and backed up. The falcon still didn't fly, even when I stopped 10 feet from it. That's when I noticed that one wing drooped lower than the other. I called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and they arrived soon and captured the bird.

It's now in a rehabilitation center being nursed back to health. I hope it is able to fly again. I'm sure this is the same bird that's lived within a mile radius of my house all winter, feeding on cattle egrets. Which is fine with me. The cattle egrets line the canal next to my house and enjoy pooping in the water just to irritate me.

Earlier this year Dr. Dan Rosenberg and I were treated to an exciting aerial show as the young falcon repeatedly dive-bombed through a flock of cattle egrets as they tried to evade his attack. He finally connected with a puff of white feathers and dropped to the bare Bermuda grass field below to enjoy his breakfast.

Rosenberg is a professor at the University of Oregon and an expert on owls. He and his students have been studying the burrowing owl in the Imperial Valley for five years. On this particular morning, when we were treated to the aerial show, we were in the process of installing 24 owl boxes next to cement irrigation ditches to see if the owls would move from their natural burrows to the plastic boxes so the natural burrows could be covered. So far one-third of the boxes are occupied and the owls seem to prefer the new boxes over their old natural burrows. Burrowing owls like to burrow right beside concrete ditches but workers walking next to the ditch can easily injure their legs if the burrow collapses and they fall in.

If any bird watchers would like to observe close up one of the largest concentrations of burrowing owls in the Valley, the boxes are along the north side of Walker Road between Hoskins and Baker roads. Look for the short white pipes sticking out of the ground as markers. The entrance to the owl boxes is made from 4-inch corrugated black plastic drain pipe.

As spring arrives and plants erupt with bright-colored flowers, bees will be working everywhere collecting pollen. As you enjoy the outdoors be on the lookout for swarms of Africanized bees. These nasty little critters aren't any more poisonous than regular bees but they are much more aggressive and will chase you for long distances. The only way to escape is to seek cover where they can't reach you.

Outdoor Tales writer Al Kalin can be reached on the Internet at aklain@quix.net

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