Tag Archives: migratory birds

Sebastopol woman transforms yard into a way station for feathered friends

Meg McConahey, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

See the article in the PD for more information about habitat and native plant gardening.

Almost as soon as Veronica Bowers bought her property in rural Sebastopol 18 years ago she began making over the backyard. She ripped out rose bushes, hydrangeas and other strictly people-pleasing ornamental plants and began transforming her two acres into a comfortable way station for songbirds.

It’s a pretty place, with masses of native plants and trees for forage and cover, fallen logs that will host tasty insects and their larvae, berry bushes to fuel up for long migrations, multiple nesting boxes for extended stays and a large pond for bathing. She has arbors covered with wild grapevines, which also provide seating areas to watch the entertaining show of birds as they come and go.

Not everyone, like Bowers, can create a Club Med-style resort for songbirds. But the former pastry chef and chocolatier, who eventually gave up baking to devote herself full-time to maintaining a hospital for sick and injured songbirds on her property, maintains that everyone can do at least something to create a little sanctuary space for songbirds. For many native species, habitat is dwindling and they are under assault from multiple forces, from free-roaming house cats, to climate change to light pollution that confuses migrating birds on their nighttime journeys.

Read more at: Sebastopol woman transforms yard into a way station for feathered friends | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Habitats, Sustainable Living, Wildlife

California flood protection starts giving rivers more room 

Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS

After more than a century of building levees higher to hold back its rivers, California took another step Friday toward a flood-control policy that aims to give raging rivers more room to spread out instead.

The plan, adopted by the flood-control board for the Central Valley, a 500-mile swathe from Mount Shasta to Bakersfield that includes the state’s two largest rivers and the United States’ richest agricultural region, emphasizes flood plains, wetlands and river bypasses as well as levees.

Backers say the changing strategy will better handle the rising seas and heavier rain of climate change, which is projected to send two-thirds more water thundering down the Central Valley’s San Joaquin River at times of flooding.

The idea: “Spread it out, slow it down, sink it in, give the river more room,” said Kris Tjernell, special assistant for water policy at California’s Natural Resources Agency.

Handled right, the effort will allow farmers and wildlife — including native species harmed by the decades of concrete-heavy flood-control projects — to make maximum use of the rivers and adjoining lands as well, supporters say.

They point to Northern California’s Yolo Bypass, which this winter again protected California’s capital, Sacramento, from near-record rains. Wetlands and flood plains in the area allow rice farmers, migratory birds and baby salmon all to thrive there.

For farmers, the plan offers help moving to crops more suitable to seasonally flooded lands along rivers, as well as payments for lending land to flood control and habitat support.

Read more at: California Flood Protection Starts Giving Rivers More Room | California News | US News

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Water

Winter is prime time for birdwatching in Northern California

Tracy Salcedo, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When winter strips the leaves from the Bay Area’s deciduous oaks, it does more than bring more light to a dark season. It also enables those enchanted by birds a better chance to see them, count them, and appreciate them.

This improved visibility is one of the reasons popular and productive citizens’ science birding events, such as the Christmas Bird Count (sponsored by the National Audubon Society) and the Great Backyard Bird Count (sponsored by Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology), are staged in winter. Those elusive little brown birds are easier to see and identify when they aren’t obscured by foliage, meaning counts are more accurate and provide a better gauge by which to measure the health of bird populations and the habitats that sustain them.

Birding, like wildflower blooms, newt migrations, butterfly and ladybug congregations, and displays of autumn foliage, offers walkers an opportunity to experience the Bay Area’s open lands in a new way. For the amateur, turning an eye to the sky opens the hiking experience to a higher plane. For safety’s sake, hikers focus on their feet, watching the trail so they don’t fall down. You’ve got to look up to find the birds, which means you must stop, and stopping results in discovery. The place may be old and familiar, but by pausing, looking up, and listening to the birdcall, you will see that place in a different way.

On the trails described below, amateur birders or those who are curious about birds are guaranteed to see a variety of species, from songbirds to shorebirds to raptors. These trails also offer opportunities for expert birders to check off another species on their life lists.

Read more at: Winter is prime time for birdwatching in Northern California | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Wildlife

History of Sonoma Baylands, the ‘big sky country’

Arthur Dawson,  THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Editor’s Note: To the south, Sonoma and Napa counties melt into San Pablo Bay, a coastline of many marshy miles. When healthy, those wetlands function like natural sponges, filtering toxins and absorbing water from tidal surges and rising sea levels. Since 1996, the Sonoma Land Trust has been working to restore portions of that marshland, often breaching levees built by farmers to keep the water out. Here, historical ecologist Arthur Dawson explains the land’s history and its valuable environmental attributes.

The Sonoma Baylands have been nicknamed “big sky country,” and they are. Standing by the edge of the bay, there is a delicious sense of solitude. Millions of people live nearby, but you may not see a single one of them, even though the horizon stretches all the way to Mount Diablo and Tamalpais.

It wasn’t always this way. Fifteen thousand years ago you would have seen a wide valley, greened by countless creeks and dotted with the villages of the First Peoples. Across that valley flowed an enormous river, carrying half the runoff of California. A tremendous roar filled the Golden Gate, as all that water poured over a steep cascade on its way to the ocean, which lay beyond the hills that would become the Farallon Islands.

As the last ice age ended, the sea slowly rose and that valley was transformed into San Francisco Bay. Vast tidal marshes formed as pickleweed, tules and other salt-tolerant plants colonized the water’s advancing edge. This rich habitat attracted myriads of fish and birds. By necessity, the First Peoples periodically moved their villages to higher ground, but stayed close to the marsh because it was such a good place to hunt and fish.

With such abundant resources, the Bay Area was more densely populated than almost anywhere else in the Americas when the Spanish arrived in the 18th century. Groups along the marsh edge soon began losing their people to the missions. Some were taken forcibly, others chose to leave. Introduced diseases, against which they had no immunity, also took a heavy toll.

Read more at: Sonoma Baylands, the ‘big sky country’

Filed under Habitats, Land Use, Wildlife

Laguna de Santa Rosa docents dedicated to waterway

Ariana Reguzzoni, PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation’s mission is to “restore, conserve and inspire,” but people involved in it say it does much more than that. The 22-mile waterway is the main artery in a 254-square-mile watershed that starts in Cotati and extends to Forestville and the Russian River. While some people in Sonoma County are just discovering the reach and value of the Laguna, there is a dedicated band of volunteers who return year after year to steward the important ecosystem.

“There are so many reasons to love the Laguna: the plants, wildlife, birds, but I find so often that I am fulfilled by the connections to the people who care about the land,” said Christine Fontaine, director of education programs for the Laguna Foundation. “It’s the people coming together that keeps sustaining me in my work.”

Longtime Sonoma County residents Steve and Suzanne Abrams are two members of what Fontaine refers to as the “Laguna people.” The retired parole agent and teacher, respectively, moved to Santa Rosa over 40 years ago, but didn’t really know about the Laguna until recently. In 2012, they decided to volunteer as Laguna guides, inspired in part by the death of a friend who had led hikes through the area. The couple said they love learning about the Laguna’s cultural and natural history but, echoing Fontaine’s sentiments, meeting and educating the community stands out most for them — especially the people who are born and raised nearby.

“Surprisingly, a lot of people who are from this area have no knowledge of the Laguna,” said Steve Abrams. “It flabbergasted me!”

Read more at: Laguna de Santa Rosa docents dedicated to waterway | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Local Organizations, Water, Wildlife

SF Bay: Bird populations doubled since 2003 in vast salt pond restoration area

Paul Rogers, CONTRA COSTA TIMES

In a clear sign that the largest wetlands restoration project on the West Coast is already improving the health of San Francisco Bay, bird populations have doubled over the past 13 years on thousands acres of former industrial salt-evaporation ponds that ring the bay’s southern shoreline, scientists reported Thursday.

The overall population of ducks and shorebirds in that area, which is about the size of Manhattan, has increased from roughly 100,000 in 2002 to 200,000 today, researchers doing detailed counts every winter found.

“It shows that what’s been done so far appears to be working. It’s really great,” said Susan De La Cruz, a wildlife biologist in Vallejo with the U.S. Geological Survey who has conducted much of the research.

In a landmark deal in 2003, Minneapolis-based Cargill Salt sold 15,100 acres of its bayfront salt ponds, which stretch from Hayward to San Jose to Redwood City, to state and federal agencies for $100 million. That sale also included an additional 1,400 acres near Napa.

The idea was to take the ponds — used for a century to harvest salt for food, medicine and road de-icing — and restore them back to natural conditions over 50 years, bringing back birds, fish, harbor seals, leopard sharks and dozens of other species that have struggled in the bay because of development and a burgeoning human population.

San Francisco Bay has shrunk by a third since the Gold Rush of 1849 due to diking, filling and development. Most of that stopped in the 1980s with the advent of the federal Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws.

Now, scientists, environmental groups and many political leaders are trying to turn back the clock and expand the bay out again, bringing back wetlands, along with the wildlife, public trails and natural flood control that come with expanded marshes.

 

Filed under Land Use, Water, Wildlife

State adds funds to Petaluma River Bridge project to protect birds

Matt Brown, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Caltrans will spend an additional $5.5 million to keep federally protected birds away from its construction site on the Highway 101 bridge over the Petaluma River.

The California Transportation Commission last week approved the amount, acknowledging for the first time the extent of the project’s budget overrun because of measures taken to date — and those that will be needed going forward — to assure birds are not harmed by construction.

The allocation comes as construction crews are busy preparing to demolish a part of the old highway bridge before the migratory cliff swallows return next month from their winter grounds in South America.

The birds for years have made their conical mud nests under the Petaluma River Bridge, which consists of two 907-foot parallel spans. When Caltrans in 2013 embarked on a $130 million project to replace the structure with a wider, six-lane bridge, workers installed nets under the two existing spans to keep the birds from nesting. The nets actually trapped and killed dozens of birds, prompting a lawsuit from a coalition of wildlife advocates.

As part of a settlement agreement, Caltrans took down the nets during the 2014 nesting season and replaced them with hard plastic siding that discourages nesting under the bridge. Caltrans also agreed to pay for biologists to monitor the work site and ensure bird safety, and agreed to demolish the old bridge outside of nesting season, which runs from Feb. 15 to Aug. 15.

The additional expenditures for bird monitoring, legal fees and staff time dealing with the bird issue, including public outreach, raised some eyebrows with the Transportation Commission.

Read more via State adds $5 million to Petaluma River Bridge | The Press Democrat.

Filed under Transportation, Wildlife

Ducks Unlimited aids Petaluma bird life

Lori A. Carter, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Standing amid the marshes of Petaluma’s Shollenberger Park, Jeff McCreary points out the Northern shoveler ducks, the gadwalls, the cinnamon teals and the Canada geese.

And he’s confident that his organization, Ducks Unlimited, has had a positive influence on the waterfowl’s apparently contented existence in the wetlands, tucked between the Petaluma River and office parks.

McCreary, a Penngrove native who grew up in and around Petaluma, is the director of conservation programs for the nonprofit group that has helped conserve almost 5 million acres of land in the United States for waterfowl habitat.

via Conservation group aids Petaluma bird life | The Press Democrat.

Filed under Water, Wildlife