Davis Station

My brother spent almost half of his life in the Central Valley college town, Davis, California. He attended the University of California at Davis (UCD), worked in it’s public and private schools, got married, and raised his three children in “The City of All Things Right and Relevant!”

For Mother’s Day we where meeting my mother and sister-in-law in Davis so I arrived a little early to I sketch the historic train station and do a little railfanning.

Most towns start with a train station and Davisville, as Davis was then known, got their passenger depot in 1868. The original station burned down and the current station was built by Southern Pacific Railroad in 1913. The station is built in a Mission revival style. The University Farm, which later became UCD, opened five years before the current building was finished. At the time, the University wanted a befitting station to the town and the university stop. And they certainly got one!

Three passenger trains stop at Davis: the Capital Corridor, AMTRAK’s Coast Starlight, and the California Zephyr.

A view of Davis Station from Track 1. The SP stands for Southern Pacific. The bike racks in the foreground tells you this is Bike City, Davis.

I sat on the north side of the station and sketched it’s Mission Revival stylings. The station is island by three sets of tracks which at the time was an important stop on the Cal-P line. While I was sketching the station, I was very familiar with it’s curved lines, arches, and tile roof because I had sketched all of California’s Spanish Mission and a few Southern Pacific Mission Revival stations (Burlingame Station comes to mind). Davis Station and the Davis Tower are the only examples of Mission Revival in the city of Davis.

The interlocking control tower still stands just northeast of the station. This will have to be for another sketching day.
A Union Pacific freight blazes through Davis Station with it’s curved track. Union Pacific owns the tracks and freight, not passengers service, pays the bills for the railroad.

There were a few clues that a train was coming down the line at Davis Station. The first was that the signal light was green, meeting that whatever train was heading down the line had the “high ball”, in other words, the train had the right of passage. The other clue was that people began to arrive at the station with their flowers in pots or plastic; it was Mother’s Day after all.

At 10:40 AM, a westbound Union Pacific freight train sped through the curve at Davis Station on track 1, the engineer giving me a thumbs up as the train rumbled through. At 10:50 AM, on track 2, the eastbound Capital Corridor train #724, pulled into Davis to take on passengers on her way to California’s capital: Sacramento.

The westbound Train # 731 was right on time and pulled into Davis at 11:10 AM. This Capital Corridor passenger train was heading to San Jose.

On point was locomotive 2004. I looked down at the front truck, containing the leading axels of the locomotive and stenciled, in yellow, where the two letters “GP”. In an odd bit of coincidence, I has replaced the initials “SP” on the Davis Station with my brother’s initials, “GP”, as an honor to his memory.

A westbound Capitol Corridor train pulls into Davis Station on it’s way to San Jose. On point is Locomotive 2004, an EMD F59PHI with “California” styling. I should say so.
In one of those “I-can-make-this-sh*t-up” moments, the initials “GP”, my bother’s intials, were stenciled into the trucks of locomotive 2004. Unreal.


Right Time and Place: Black Terns

A lot of birding is dumb luck.

It about being in the right place at the right time. You happen to be there, the Davis Water Treatment Plant, at the right time, ten minutes before noon on May 4, 2019. If you were here ten minutes too early or ten minutes too late, the birds would have been missed.

Black tern is bird that I have wanted to add to my lifelist list for a long time. It is a bird seen in transit in the Central Valley as it heads north in the spring to the small ponds and lakes of its breeding grounds in Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Canada.

It does seem to be a matter of luck and being in the right time in the right place and May at the Woodland Water Treatment Plant was the right time and place. Black tern had been seen here in the previous days so Dickcissel and I reckoned our changes were pretty good.

After a two and a half hour search, it seemed pretty clear that black tern was not here and whatever birds that had been seen on the previous days had headed on north.

So we decided to head over to the nearby Davis Water Treatment Plant and try there. That morning a rare ruddy turnstone and two black turnstones were being seen. These birds are normally seen on the coast and can be common on the California coast. And if we were persistent enough, we could pick through the dowitchers to find a lone Baird’s sandpiper.

As we pulled up there were already four birders scoping the ponds, no doubt looking at the wayward turnstones. We pulled up to park when we noticed two dark, long-winged short-tailed terns. Black terns!!! Once parked we got out our bins on this much sought after species that had alluded me in California, Texas, and Central America.

The two terns past back and forth over the ponds for about five minutes and then unceremoniously disappeared from our lives. If we had dilly dallied five minutes longer at Woodland, we would have completely dipped on these terns. Such is birding.

After getting our fill of dowitchers, turnstones, and the lone Baird’s, we headed further down the road to scope the avian life on some other ponds.

We were entertained by a pair of killdeer that wandered around the road way, looking at us with their large, inquisitive eyes and calling their eerie call. I though it odd that they were hanging around and the broken-wing display should have really been a hint but I had black tern on the brain.

A quick killdeer field sketch.

A quick search of the opposite side of the road explained the killdeer’s behavior. There were four very camouflaged eggs among the rocks on the side of the road in a rocky scape that is a killdeer’s “nest”. We were way too close for the killdeer so we promptly headed back to the car and hightailed it out of there.

Just like the two black terns!