Somewhat surprisingly, BT Collins is a hotbed of wildlife activity. You won’t expect such a small post to have much in the way of biodiversity, but strangely, there are distinct zones along the perimeter of the base where certain birds and animals congregate.

The northern and eastern edges are sort of a arid grassland type of environment, with coyotes and giant hares (some as big as a house cat) roaming the land. Western Meadowlarks spill their watery, warbly songs from the razor wire fence and from the light poles, while Red-Tailed Hawks circle overhead, rising fast on thermals in the hot afternoon. There’s at least one rooster pheasant out there, too – we’ve heard him in the mornings, cackling at the rising sun.

The western side of camp is more of a pine woodland environment, with Western Scrub Jays flitting among the trees and foraging on the cracked asphalt and Mourning Doves sitting in pairs along the power lines, cooing in the evening. There’s a woodpecker of some kind out there too – I can hear it hammering away, faster than any woodpecker I’m familiar with. A few days ago I saw a White-Crowned Sparrow dart from the fence into the woods, the bird sitting just long enough for me to identify it.

The southern edge is a combination of the arid grassland of the north and east boundary and a quasi-wetland situation, with a long drainage ditch outside the fence and a seasonal marshland (according to the environmental sign posted along the road, telling us soldiers to keep off the proverbial grass). Red-Winged Blackbirds flit among the grasses and trees, the males displaying their fire-red epaulets and uttering their familiar, grating oke-a-lee call (though I can hear the regional dialect – their call isn’t quite as harsh as those further east). Last night I saw a Black-Crowned Night Heron fly overhead in the twilight and dive in to the drainage ditch. Some kind of finch and its mate can be seen perched on the southern fence; but the most surprising resident there is a pair of burrowing owls.

I never expected to see burrowing owls in California, least of all on the Army Reserve base – I always associated them with the Great Plains. And yet there they are, every day, perched by their burrow or along the fence, following me with their yellow eyes, sitting patiently.

I’ve seen more birds than listed above – there have been Western Kingbirds, some kind of small dark flycatcher (probably a Black Phoebe), Brewer’s Blackbirds, a pair of American Kestrels who seem to live nearby…it’s a veritable birder’s paradise! And me without my binoculars…