On this blazingly hot day, D. and I decided to take our field trip at the Stevens Creek Shoreline Nature Study Area in the cool of the evening, during the magical twilight time.
Since his apartment was just too hot and stuffy to hang around in after dinner waiting for dusk, we went downtown to find an air-conditioned place to have a cool beverage before hitting the road. In a little coffee house we had iced coffee drinks and watched a guy at the next table write code on a laptop and work on a little robot. He got it to move around a little, teetering and tottering as it took some tentative steps on the small tabletop. I hope he programs it to be friendly.
Then we were on our way to the wildlife preserve. It is on the other side of Whisman Slough from the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field. As we went out onto the trail into the marsh we went behind the huge wind tunnels and found a curious area. There was a fake half-building, with a fake 2-story façade of two exterior walls at right angles but nothing at all inside, no floors, no nothing, except for some struts bracing it. In front of that was a big pile of broken concrete slabs like what you might see following a catastrophic earthquake. There was a separate tower with a platform on top with weird stuff sticking up out of it but not connected to anything underneath. There were also some vehicles that said NASA Emergency Response and NASA Emergency Communications, as well as a small plane with a NASA logo on it.
The fake building reminded me of what firefighters train on. When I was a kid my mom used to work as a dispatcher for my hometown's fire department, and she once took me and some friends to one of the practice sessions at the department's training grounds. It had a fake building just like the one in back of Moffett Field. I guess the people at Ames do their own disaster training there on the campus.
Anyway, the wildlife preserve is comprised mostly of Crittenden Marsh, which is not subjected to tidal flow from Stevens Creek and is brackish, so the plants and animals there are a little different from those found in salt marshes.
We saw all kinds birds, primarily snowy egrets, but also ducks, swallows, mourning doves, black-crowned night herons, a coot with a juvenile coot alongside (a cootlet? cooticule? cootie? ), terns, cormorants, a phoebe, a great blue heron, a marsh hawk, and most amazingly a pheasant dashing across the trail and rustling around to hide in the brush, completely camouflaged in the dry tawny grasses.
We also saw a marsh hawk nest high up in one of the high-tension electrical lines running across the Bay, as well as several other towers festooned with cormorants gathering for the evening. Scattered about the salt evaporation ponds next to the marsh were nesting boxes for ducks (which were all empty, since the ducklings have fledged by now); either that, or they were duck blinds for hunting and/or photographing.
As ducks and geese called to each other flying in to roost in the marsh for the night, the sun set in a hazy but clear sky, the western horizon blazing vermillion, then dull amber, then cool blue. Distant city lights came on around the south end of the Bay, sparkling in the quiet waters. The sundown breeze died away and the stars came out, one by one, then two by two. And in the still-warm evening, we too went home.