By Ned MacKay
The welcome rains of March herald the start of a likely beautiful wildflower season in the regional parks and other open spaces. Unfortunately, the rains also signal the active season for those nasty little bugs, the ticks.
Ticks are always present in the outdoors, but they are most active during the wet months between December and June.
Adult ticks are about the size of this letter O, until they have sampled blood and become engorged. In the larval and nymph stages of their life cycle, ticks are even smaller and harder to spot – about the size of a poppy seed.
Ticks don’t fly or drop from trees. They climb to the tips of vegetation just a couple of feet off the ground, usually along animal trails or paths. There they wait for a passing animal or human to brush against them.
Then they crawl around on their unsuspecting host, bite and extract blood, then drop off.
Ticks can carry a variety of diseases. The best known is Lyme disease, which creates flu-like symptoms and can be serious. Fortunately, only a small percentage of ticks are infected, the variety called Ixodes pacificus.
Prevention is probably the best defense against ticks. When you visit the outdoors, stay on the official trails. Don’t cut cross-country through grasslands or chaparral. If you do pass through brushy country, check yourself afterwards.
For that reason it’s advisable to wear light-colored clothing so you can see the bugs more easily. Tuck your pants into socks or boots, and tuck your shirt into your pants. Ticks will crawl around for a while after transferring from vegetation to your clothing, so there’s time to find them and brush them off.
If a tick has attached to your skin, pull it straight out gently but firmly, preferably while wearing latex gloves. Apply antiseptic to the bite and wash your hands. Tick extraction kits, including special tweezers, are available at sporting goods stores.
Tick information is posted on the information panels at park district trailheads. You can also obtain more detailed information at the California Department of Public Health web site, www.cdph.ca.gov. Look up Lyme disease under Health Information.
On to more pleasant topics: Round Valley Regional Preserve south of Brentwood is home to eagles and other birds of prey. Naturalist Kevin Dixon will lead a hike in search of the raptors from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 26. The hike is for ages 10 and older.
Meet Kevin at the preserve’s staging area on Marsh Creek Road about a mile east of Deer Valley Road. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.
Bird eggs will be the focus of a program from 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 26 at Big Break Regional Shoreline in Oakley. The naturalist staff will show how to identify birds by their eggs and nests.
Big Break is at 69 Big Break Road off Oakley’s Main Street. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 3050.
Birds are the word, too, at a continuing series of Monday bird walks led by naturalist Anthony Fisher. There’s one from 9 a.m. to noon on March 28 at Point Pinole Regional Shoreline in Richmond. Meet Anthony at the park entrance on Giant Highway. For information, call 510-544-2233.
History buffs will enjoy a hike from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 27 at Wildcat Canyon Regional Park in Richmond, led by naturalist Trail Gail Broesder.
This one’s a nine-miler for ages 8 and older. Bring hiking shoes, water and a snack. Gail will talk about Wildcat Canyon’s interesting history, from Native American habitation to the present day.
Meet at the park’s Alvarado staging area on Park Avenue. For information, call 510-544-2233.