By Susan Juetten
One of the special aspects of living in Washoe Valley are the daily opportunities to view birds (and wildlife ) life in action. Washoe Valley is designed a Nevada State Important Bird Area, a label reserved for places of unique importance to our avian friends.
Recently, a reminder of this richness came from a friend who lives near the state park on the valley’s east side. She swore she saw a great gray owl in a tree in her yard. Gray owls are magnificent boreal creatures, the tallest North American bird with the greatest wingspan. Great horned owls, on the other hand, are common residents of the valley. So I wondered if she was not mistaking one for the other. Some Internet digging proved that she could have been lucky and spotted a great gray – a few are winter residents of the Sierra Nevada, their farthest-south point.
Now a story about a far more common resident – crows: My neighbor and I, on our morning dog walks up lower Jumbo Grade, have lately observed large contingents of crows, 30-50, flying together, always in a northerly direction. We speculated they are headed for the dump at Lockwood, crows being common visitors to landfills, about 25 miles northeast of Jumbo Grade as the crows fly, possibly literally. I became aware of how close we were across the Virginia Range to Lockwood back in 1998, when the Sierra Chemical Plant in Mustang exploded. I happened to be walking on my road that January morning, and the two blasts, which killed 4 people and injured 6, were so loud I thought they originated just a few streets away.
More Internet searching (allaboutbirds.org from Cornell University’s bird lab is a great source for bird info, including recorded calls) revealed that crows in some areas lead a double life, maintaining a year round territory with their extended family, but also peeling off to join giant flocks in dumps and fields, and roosting together at night. So is that what we are witnessing on Jumbo Grade, a crow gathering to visit that faraway landfill?
One afternoon a week or two ago, I heard a frightful racket coming from the direction of the ridge to the east of my house, and looked out my kitchen window to spy a merlin , a smallish raptor of the falcon family who was making the kik kik kik sound typical to his kind only with a frequency and urgency I’d never heard (A merlin is often after the small birds feeding in my yard). S/he was making those urgent cries because s/he was being harassed by crows – I counted 7 of them, flying in great loops around him and coming in close to harass him (or her). I waved, shouted and stomped, wanting to break up the fight for the sake of the outnumbered merlin but the mass of birds was high, and whirling rapidly east away from me (never have liked the aggressive ways of crows, and would not like them to take over the territory around here occupied currently by magpies). The next day while driving to Carson City I glimpsed a half dozen crows pecking in the stubble of the alfalfa fields on Eastlake. Was I just noticing crow activity there for the first time, or are they moving in?
I do love observing the ways of our valley’s wild coinhabitants, free still from utter control by the human species. (photo by crowdive on flikr.com)
Submitted by Susan Juetten.
My orange tabby cat Alexander got attacked by an owl the other evening. At least that was the logical guess by my neighbor when I told her Alexander had a wound on his neck about the size of a quarter; when I looked closer there was one tiny puncture mark to the side of the wound.
Blew my mind, the option that his puncture was from an owl, but it made sense – I’ve been hearing, and have seen once or twice, great horned owls in the trees and utility poles on the property. In fact, a couple of nights ago, I stuck my head out the door hoping to see the owl that, at dusk, was calling so nearby. And along came Alex, an inside/outside cat with a history we won’t go into, tail all puffy, and dashed through the door to the safety of inside.
My neighbor and I surmised that the great horneds are coming in close to prey on the cottontail rabbits, which inhabit our yards because there is more to munch than in the surrounding desert (we spend a lot of time surmising about the wildlife around us).
I’m glad Alexander survived, but there is nature’s rough justice in this story. Alexander is a great hunter, and kills baby rabbits every year – because of his hunting I realized that cottontails don’t just breed in the spring. And now he has himself been prey. We are guessing that domestic cats allowed outside around here are more in danger from the owls than from coyotes.
We received this info on the biomass brush disposal site at the fire station on Eastlake Blvd:
The biomass site on Eastlake Blvd will not be reopened in 2013. I know many homeowners were probably looking forward to the biomass site opening again this fire season. It’s a loss to our area as I saw a lot of brush, dead trees, etc. removed by home owners over the past two years.
There are multiple reasons for the closure with the primary reason being commercial landscapers using the sites to dump their brush, etc. This in turn caused the piles to exceed by over 50% of the estimated usage. This caused costs exceeding the planned budgets and caused complaints from some people about its large size and even some air quality complaints about the mulching process. Those complaints about air quality must have come from the designated mulching site as the brush was not mulched on site like the prior year and was transported from Washoe Valley.
I also heard that the project is subject to whatever grant money is available every year. It’s been a great benefit to the community in the areas of yard maintenance and defensible space.
The Lyon fire in New Washoe City last week burned 10 acres and two outbuildings. We were lucky that, even though there were strong winds, the fire angled across mostly open ground and was stopped by a quick response by local responders before it reached homes. A “hat-tip” to our local fire crews! Living With Fire has issued these tips for handling stove and fireplace ashes:
Please be careful when discarding your fireplace ashes. Some tips:
Store ash in a metal can with an air tight seal. After adding ash to the bucket, pour water in the bucket to extinguish any hot coals. Place lid on pail tightly.
Store ash bucket in a safe location away from flammable materials, just in case stray cinders escape.
The Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Department in cooperation with Pleasant Valley Elementary School has set up an account to allow the community to donate to the victims of the Washoe Drive fire. People wishing to donate can go to any Wells Fargo branch and reference; Pleasant Valley VFD Washoe Drive Fire Victims Fund acct # 9932426530. I am available any time for questions.
Shawn Wilburn, Chief
Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Department
Every time a wildfire would occur my wife would ask me if we had anything to worry about. I said, No, There is a buffer of 10-20 houses between us and the wildlands. Now that I have seen what a bucket of fireplace ashes in 80mph winds can do, I realize none of us can ignore the threat. Thousands of burning embers were transported hundreds of yards to land on tinder-dry vegetation and homes. Every minute, as the fire blew closer at 80mph, more and hotter embers arrived to make just escaping the only option. The embers blew over and around many homes sparing them only to ignite homes further away, sending my theory “up in smoke”.
The very similar Caughlin Fire in Reno, just two months ago, should have been all that was needed, but just that distance made the lesson abstract to me and it didn’t hit home until I saw the wind and flames from my own deck.
Personally, we will pay even more attention to fire safety around the house. Over the last several years fires have been started by abandoned yard waste burning, construction work, downed power lines, kids partying, unsupervised kids camping, and now, fireplace ashes. These are all areas where we should be vigilant. Also, we will make an evacuation plan: Learn the escape routes, organize our valuables (including livestock) for quick movement, and set up communication plans with family members.
On washoevalley.org I will permanently post the link to livingwithfire.com, the local site on how to prepare and manage and survive just such an emergency. I know a couple of years ago a group in the valley sought to organize a community plan for these emergencies and I will try to find out if it was implemented. If anyone knows, let me know and I will add it to this website.
Hopefully, our run of regional bad luck is over and we will never see another such fire. But the odds are against that. I also used to brag to family around the country that here in Nevada, we don’t have “natural disasters”. I think I should acknowledge that we do and be prepared.
Our thoughts go out to our neighbors that have been impacted by this fire and I hope if those that need assistance and those that can provide it will use this site to communicate and coordinate.
I’ve attached a file for those of you who are interested in the tangible benefits of community. An online article I found that supports the concept of community in the context of general emergencies. This article does not talk about the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of community, but I can offer from my public health background that there are many and they are proven. Let me know if you wish to discuss this article. There is also a quiz about personal resilience the article points to that I’ll send to anyone who is interested.
Let me know if you’re unable to print the article. I’ll print a copy for you.
Donna Murphy-Sharp 345-1515
Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here we might as well dance.