Walking back to my car with a bit of glow in my heart and a smile on my lips from my successful photographic encounter with the Blue-winged Teal pair, I spied a hooded figure moving rapidly inside the Meadow, weaving among the bushes and trees, carrying a tank and a wand. With my brain’s native paranoia sharpened by the toxic political environment of our days, I immediately suspected foul play. Spraying Roundup? Poisoning ground squirrels? Incinerating the homeless? I snapped pictures from my side of the fence and sped up to keep pace. Shortly the ominous figure approached an unmarked gate in the fence, and I summoned up my Courageous Whistleblower persona to approach and ask, with authority, “What’s the program here?”
That’s how I met Sarah, a full-time staff member of the Alameda County Mosquito Abatement District. Her ominous hood turned out to be a practical broad-brimmed sun hat with a neck nape. With a cheerful smile, Sarah explained that the tank strapped on her back contained a specialized kind of bacteriological agent that targets mosquito larvae and arrests their development. Wetlands like those in the Meadow attract not only ducks, rails, swallows, stilts, and other avians, but also as many as twenty species of mosquitoes. Some of these bugs, Sarah explained, are capable of flying ten miles. Some of them may carry the West Nile Virus, although none of those have been found locally. Yet.
The county Mosquito Abatement District, Sarah explained, is an independent agency having a board composed of one representative appointed by each city in the county (except Albany) plus one at-large county member appointed by the County Board of Supervisors. Its funds come from an assessment on the property tax. It has a full time staff that, among other things, delivers free mosquito fish to anyone who has bodies of standing water such as neglected pools, animal water troughs, ponds, and the like. It conducts education — this happens to be California Mosquito Awareness Week — and responds to public complaints about mosquito sources, bites, and insects that resemble mosquitoes. It monitors mosquito populations using sampling, traps, and sentinel chicken flocks. And more.
Sarah showed me a glass jar containing mosquito larvae and pupae that she had netted during her rounds in the Meadow. They will be analyzed for disease vectors. The threat is definitely present. However, the preventive measures that Sarah was taking appeared to be effective. Even though the afternoon was warm enough for all sorts of other insects to come out and forage, during my slow walk through the Meadow I had no encounters whatsoever of the mosquito kind.
Sarah also explained that a number of other insects resemble mosquitoes, notably midges. They are about the same size and look similar to the untrained eye, but don’t bite and don’t carry diseases. When they are abundant, they’re an important food source for the birds of the Meadow. Sarah gave me a pamphlet of General Information about the District and its work. I’m attaching a page from that pamphlet here, about some of the local mosquito species. The District’s website is http://mosquitoes.org.
P.S. For a current New York Times story on the growing mosquito menace, due to climate change, check out this link from the Magazine dated April 20, 2017.