Under the bridge of Old Highway 40 in Crystal Peak Park in Verdi, I hear chirping. Overhead, high in the concrete rafters, Cliff Swallows fly in and out of clusters of gourd-shaped mud nests, which are glued into right-angled spaces along the underside of the bridge. As I scramble over bird-poop encrusted boulders for a better view, I pause to acknowledge that I have strange hobbies.
Still, what better way to spend the early hours of a sunny July morning? The sky is blue, the dark green leaves of Black Cottonwood are dancing in the breeze, and the river is bubbling by. Downstream from the bridge, twenty or thirty Cliff Swallows swoop, circle and soar in the air above the river, catching bugs. One by one, the swallows fly back to their nests, deliver breakfast to their growing chicks, and quickly return to the hunting grounds.
Cliff Swallows live in colonies of up to 3,500 nests, but in the colony under the Crystal Peak Park bridge I count only about 30. Some are active, some are old. By this morning in late July, the chicks are getting large. A few poke their heads up to the entrances of their nests, and I can see their white foreheads and light-colored beaks. Occasionally, trucks roll by overhead and the bridge rumbles. In the next few weeks, the chicks will learn to fly and leave their nests, preparing to migrate somewhere far south of here for the winter.
Crystal Peak Park is located along the Truckee River in Verdi, about 10 miles west of Reno. It was once the site of an old lumber mill, and now is a Washoe County Park with walking trails, great river access, and big fishing ponds. Continuing my walk through the park, I saw a Western terrestrial garter snake, a California Quail and a Northern Flicker. Farther down the trail, an Osprey circled by, grabbed a big stick from a dead cottonwood, and flew off downstream. As I learned last week, female ospreys continue collecting sticks and adding to their nests all summer long — so, maybe there’s another Osprey nest out here in Verdi. Has anyone seen it?