By Jimmy Jordan
PUC’s geography is one of its most defining features. We are surrounded by a variety of distinct terrains and habitats from vast wetlands to dense forests. The fun does not end there, however. Along with beautiful scenery, the surrounding area provides a surprisingly diverse set of wildlife. Recently, I have realized the substantial biodiversity that can be observed on just a short walk in PUC's Back 40. I hope that the following words will encourage some to learn about the wildlife around us. I wish good luck to all in future wildlife-viewing endeavors.
While I love all animals, I am primarily a birder – I really like looking for birds. My favorite route for birding, recently, has been from the PUC Airport's parking lot down the straight “main” path to the pond. This walk will almost always produce an ever-changing ensemble of birds, from the expected dark-eyed juncos, to the rotund, yet secretive, Wilson's snipe. I use binoculars and a spotting scope on a tripod during these trips, though many observations can be made with the naked eye. While long range optics will certainly make a world of difference for those who are serious about birding, those wanting a more leisurely stroll free of extra equipment may find that becoming familiar with the species around them adds a certain degree of appreciation to an already-pleasant jaunt through the forest.
While probably the most diverse, the Back 40 is not the only home on campus for wild birds. The most easily identifiable bird on campus, in my opinion, is the California scrub-jay. Give it a Google and be on the lookout during your next walk to class. Even dorm parking lots have yielded exciting sightings. My first black-headed grosbeak was spotted in Grainger's rear parking lot. Additionally, a particularly fruitful endeavor revealed my first hermit thrush and ruby-crowned kinglet near McReynolds' parking lot, and both are now familiar faces on campus. During a rainy morning, I was thrilled to lay eyes on a brown creeper, cryptically-colored and doing as its name suggests – creeping – and searching for the smallest morsels amongst the bark of a pine tree. This was exciting for me partly because of the inherently charming anthropomorphic personalities I perceive in these birds, but also simply because I had not seen one for some time. Moments like these are what make birding special. You have your usual suspects, – but there is always a chance of seeing something unexpected.
During my walks in the Back 40, I mostly focus on observing birds, I have also been pleasantly surprised to see, on recent yet separate occasions, a bobcat and some coyotes, the former being an unexpected treat. Black-tailed jackrabbits are another mammalian character, perhaps one of the more comical looking, in the Back 40's cast of creatures. Generally, early morning and evening are the best times to see wildlife. I highly recommend a walk around sunset in the Back 40 if you are interested in some of the best views that our campus has to offer. While enjoying the sunset, scan the fields for wandering coyote or hovering kestrel searching for an evening meal, or see how many species of waterfowl you can identify on the pond. Added observation makes these experiences so engaging and enriching, and I promise it is really fun.
Observing wildlife is how I stop to smell the proverbial roses. It is how I continually appreciate nature. It also gives me an “excuse” to get outside. While I have touched upon opportunities for viewing wildlife on campus, there are an absolute multitude of locations nearby with significant animal-viewing potential. Next time you are on a walk anywhere, I encourage you to simply look and listen – it is a great reward to behold the creatures that call this earth “home” with us.