In November, the California Wildlife Conservation Board notified the City of Woodland of a grant award for more than $1.5 million for the enhancement of Pacific Flyway Pond (formerly known as North Regional Pond) for habitat to support shorebirds (avocets, sandpipers, plovers), wading birds (egrets, herons, ibis), waterfowl (duck and geese), and tricolored blackbirds. The Pacific Flyway Pond is a stormwater drainage system and is a part of the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency Regional Water Treatment Facility. In addition to stormwater management, the 78-acre detention basin also provides year-round open water habitat for birds, including spring and summer breeding grounds for waterbirds.
The Pacific Flyway Pond gets its name from one of the major North American bird migration routes, the Pacific Flyway, which extends from Alaska and Canada, through California, and to Mexico and South America. As birds migrate along this route, they need stopover sites, particularly wetlands, a habitat that has been in drastic decline since the 1880s. Previously, the Central Valley was a vast network of seasonal wetlands that supported the immense diversity of life in California. Currently, 90 percent of wetlands in the Central Valley have been destroyed due to the damming of California’s rivers for agriculture, drinking water, and flood control. Today, many wetlands throughout the Pacific Flyway, including the Sacramento Valley, are managed wetlands that depend on groundwater and/or conveyed surface water for habitat. In the Sacramento Valley, rice fields and managed stormwater retention ponds provide habitat and food for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds.
In partnership with the City of Woodland, Yolo County RCD has planned, installed, and maintained a small planting of native habitat on the margins of the Pacific Flyway Pond for 2 years. Plantings of native trees, shrubs, grasses, and herbaceous plants line the northeast corner of the pond and were installed by RCD staff, community volunteers, and high school students. Habitat enhancements, like the small planting conducted by the RCD, provide vital nesting, foraging, and cover opportunities for birds and other wildlife.
The northeast corner of the Pacific Flyway Pond in October 2021 before the RCD began invasive weed management and native plant installations.
Building on this foundation, the recently awarded grant will further enhance the Pacific Flyway Pond from a single purpose detention basin to a multi-benefit wetland to support migrating songbirds, migrating monarch butterflies, pollinator insects, and tricolored blackbirds. The project will support building a new island for safe waterbird resting space, increasing variation in water depth to support greater waterfowl diversity, a cattail island for increased tricolored blackbird habitat, and enhancement of upland vegetation and pollinator habitat.
These enhancements will also improve connectivity of local wetlands to the north (Cache Creek Settling Basin), east (Conaway Ranch), and south (East Regional Pond and Park Preserve Pond). Wetlands support 60% of migratory birds using the Pacific Flyway. Inland wetland habitats are essential in the support of local food webs all while contributing to flood protection, groundwater recharge, and water filtration.
Among the improvements at the Pacific Flyway Pond, one in particular is sure to excite local bird watchers, the cattail island for nesting tricolored blackbirds. Often mistaken for red-winged blackbirds, tricolored blackbirds also have red patches on their wings but they also have a white line below the red patch that differentiates the two species. These birds, which are a listed species under California’s Endangered Species Act, have declined in numbers due to wetland loss. Because tricolored blackbirds are grain-eating birds, they often forage and nest in agricultural areas. Their breeding season often coincides with harvesting which severely limits nesting success. Lack of insect prey and water resources also severely limit colony size, one of the birds most defining features., Tricolored blackbirds form the largest songbird breeding colonies in North America with thousands or tens of thousands of birds in one colony. By providing these birds with their historic habitat, the Pacific Flyway Pond cattail island will be a safer nesting habitat while protecting from natural predators like coyotes and raccoons.
Habitat construction and interpretive signage are scheduled to begin in the spring of 2024. Yolo County RCD looks forward to the continued stewardship of Pacific Flyway Pond!