Wild about wildlife

On toads, life lessons and local whales

Jennifer Davidson is a CSUS graduate with a degree in biological sciences.

NEXT WEEK’S TOPIC: Homes that breathe

When I was a little girl, I found a toad that had been injured on a gravel road. He was in a pothole not big enough for the tire of a car to sink into completely, but I guessed he had been grazed just enough to cause him harm. I wrapped him in a red bandana and held him on the long drive home. As soon as the car stopped, I raced into my bedroom and tucked him into my dollhouse. I remember innocently thinking how comforted he must have felt in this tiny house of mine.

This poor toad didn’t budge from where I placed him, but he had just enough strength to draw his little arms inward and tuck them beneath his chest like a resting cat does for comfort. At the time I thought he was so weak that his arms merely buckled underneath him, so I gently pulled his arms back out and positioned him as if he were preparing to hop. We went through this all day until he died—him pulling his arms in, me gently pulling them back out.

It wasn’t until years later I realized what I had done. To think of the discomfort I caused this poor creature as he laid dying pains me to this day. It wasn’t enough that I loved him—and I did, but even so my lack of knowledge contributed in some small way to his uncomfortable demise.

The arrival of Sacramento’s newest and most memorable visitors, the mother-child pair of humpback whales, reminded me of my little toad. The precariously misplaced pair attracted flocks of people who delighted in their presence, cheered and snapped photos of these gentle giants with wounds on their backs. I couldn’t understand why people would want to watch animals in distress or what would make the experience a memory one would want to remember. I felt frustrated and saddened.

And then my friend, Molly, told me that she and her husband took their young children to see the whales. I stared at her for a moment and then listened to what she had to say. She tilted her head like people do when there’s an emotion they want to convey that words can’t quite capture and her hands gestured as if to help. “There was this communal sense of hope among everyone out there that these creatures would find their way home,” she said.

Even her young daughter said, “They’re not to supposed to be in freshwater, are they mommy?” And as Molly would say, I had my own little epiphany. It wasn’t out of disregard for these whales’ circumstances that people flocked to see them. Rather, they came for the single opportunity that may never come again—to be swept away by the presence of one of nature’s most astounding creatures and for the chance to will them home safely.

Below you will find a bounty of endless opportunities to commune with wildlife in their natural settings, understand the challenges they face and the need to preserve the sensitive habitat and open spaces critical to their survival. As always, I hope you are inspired, engaged and empowered.

Go wild about local wildlife

Take a bird-watching trip with your local Audubon Society. Visit www.sacramentoaudubon.org.

Invite birds, butterflies and ladybugs into your backyard. Find out how simple it is to turn your yard into a wildlife habitat. The Wild Bird Center in Fair Oaks or Folsom can help you with everything you need. Visit www.wildbirdsac.com.

Commune with nature, learn about it, marvel it

Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael. Visit www.effieyeaw.org.

Nimbus Salmon and Steelhead Hatchery, Rancho Cordova. Visit www.dfg.ca.gov/hatcheries/nimbus.

Cosumnes River Preserve, Galt. Visit www.cosumnes.org.

Get up close and personal: rehabilitate wildlife

Sacramento Wildlife Care Association. Volunteer and learn how to rehabilitate everything from opossums, bats, turtles, birds, waterfowl, reptiles, amphibians, raccoons and more. Visit www.wildlifecareassociation.net.

Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito. This rehabilitative center is typically open to the public for tours (at the moment the hospital is temporarily closed to the public due to construction). The center also offers a number of volunteer opportunities in animal care, education, research and rescue. Visit www.marinemammalcenter.org.

Be there for wildlife’s mass migrations in California

Sandhill crane migration: www.dfg.ca.gov/reg2/shcranetour

Grunion Run: www.dfg.ca.gov/Mrd/gruschd.html

Monarch butterfly migration: www.bigsurcalifornia.org/monarchs.html

Amazing wildlife Webcams

Jump into a nest with bald eagles as they raise their young at www.nps.gov/chis. Scroll down to Channel Islands Live Eagle Webcam and be prepared to be wowed.

The sights and sounds from this African watering hole instantly transport you to Nkorho, Africa. This live, streaming video zeros in on wildlife and follows it. It’s as if you are watching wildlife from an Acacia tree yourself. I’ve viewed a most peaceful sunrise over this watering hole, identified my first African birds and sat rapt watching a pack of baboons go about their day as zebras wandered by. Visit www.africam.com and click on “Nkorho Stream” in the left hand column. You’ll have to sit through an unrelated video advertisement that lasts just a few seconds, and then you’re on your way to a wildly amazing experience.