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Op-Ed: Do we care that birds are vanishing?

Michael Parr, AMERICAN BIRD CONSERVANCY

You probably see birds frequently — so much so that they may seem to be everywhere. The reality, of course, is that our subjective experience only goes so far. On Thursday, researchers released a large-scale study that shows that bird populations in North America are undergoing massive and unsustainable declines — even species that experts previously thought were adapting to human-modified landscapes.

Three billion is an unimaginably large number. But that’s the number of birds that have been lost from North America since 1970. It is more than a quarter of the total bird population of the continent. While some species have increased, those that are doing better are massively outweighed by the losers. Among the worst-hit bird groups are insect-eating birds such as swifts and swallows, grassland birds like meadowlarks and Savannah sparrows and the longest-distance migrants such as cerulean warblers and wood thrushes.

Birds are a critical part of the natural food chain, and this loss of birds represents a loss of ecological integrity that, along with climate change, suggests that nature as we know it is beginning to die.

This is a genuine crisis, yet there is still time to turn it around. We know what the problems are, and we know the actions needed to affect change. Alongside strong migratory bird, clean water and endangered species legislation, and critically important work to mitigate and adapt to climate impacts, maintaining habitat is paramount.

In fact, the single greatest cause of these bird declines has been the loss and degradation of high-quality habitat. Habitat loss can seem like “death by a thousand cuts,” but some cuts go deeper than others, and some are more easily healed. The condition of American public lands is based on a collective decision — and we as a nation must decide between an emphasis on exploitative and extractive uses or nature-based and recreational uses. By better managing public lands, we can do a lot to help birds, particularly grassland and sagebrush species such as the western meadowlark and greater sage-grouse, and birds found in fire-dependent forests in the West such as black-backed and white-headed woodpeckers. Policies benefiting these and other birds will help restore nature as a whole.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/10068896-181/parr-do-we-care-that

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

From Sonoma County to Antarctica, Point Blue studies climate change through birds

Jeanne Wirka, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Tucked behind a Petaluma office park overlooking Shollenberger wetlands, the headquarters of Point Blue Conservation Science can be difficult to find without a map.

Yet this 53-year-old, Petaluma-based organization is doing globally significant work from Alaska to Antarctica, and from the Sierra Nevada to the California coastline. Point Blue’s 160 scientists form a kind of “geek squad” for nature — unapologetically generating, interpreting and leading with data that document impacts of a changing climate and other threats to wildlife and ecosystems.

“We are driven by data,” said Point Blue’s chief scientist, Grant Ballard. “If the data don’t say anything, we don’t say anything.”

Since its 1965 origins as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, the organization’s scientists and their collaborators have recorded more than a billion observations of birds and other wildlife from field stations throughout California and in Antarctica. According to Ballard, it is precisely these long-term data sets, some of which dates 50 years, that set Point Blue apart.

“By taking the long view, we can speak with credibility about whether changes are happening or not.”

It comes as no surprise then that climate change has become the central focus of Point Blue’s research and that “climate-smart conservation” is now the cornerstone of its strategy.

The complexity of how and whether animals respond to changes in their environment is perhaps best illustrated by one of Point Blue’s most charismatic long-term research subjects, the Adélie (pronounced “uh-DELL-ee”) penguin, a tough little bird whose population in Antarctica’s Ross Sea has actually been increasing during the time Point Blue has been studying them.

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

Invasive species are a threat in Sonoma County parks

Steven Nett, SONOMA COUNTY REGIONAL PARKS BLOG

No, it’s not the zombie apocalypse. This threat is from invasive plant and animal species that have wormed their way into Sonoma County despite best efforts to stop them. Some are just as scary, gruesome and strange as fantasy creatures. But unlike the fictional walking dead, these invaders can do actual harm.

Take the brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater.) Cowbirds originally lived on the Great Plains, following bison that scared up a rich diet of insects. Because their food source was mobile, cowbirds, didn’t have the luxury of sitting on nests to raise their young. Instead, they developed the strategy of laying eggs in the nests of other birds, who then unwittingly feed and raise them. To ensure they do, cowbirds often remove the host bird’s own eggs.

When humans brought cattle to Sonoma County, the cowbirds followed. Today, two of California’s native birds, the least Bell’s vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus) and willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii), are listed as endangered because of brown-headed cowbirds.

This is just one case of the silent ongoing battles between natives and invasive species in Sonoma County.

Then there’s medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae.) Medusahead is a fast-spreading grass with a nasty survival skill: The plant incorporates exceptionally large amounts of fine silica (the raw material used to make glass) into its leaves, stems and spiky awns, the needle-like crowns (pictured below) that give medusahead its fearsome name.

Read more at https://parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Learn/Blog/Articles/Invasive-Plant-and-Animal-Species/?

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Petaluma Wetlands added to international conservation list

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

The Mekong River Delta, the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon Rain Forest, and now the Petaluma Wetlands, all share an important distinction. They are sites included in an international list of critical wetlands worth protecting.

Petaluma wildlife advocates received notice last month that the Petaluma Wetlands are included as Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance, a designation from the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature. The official designation means the Petaluma Wetlands are joining the 400,000-acre San Francisco Bay Estuary, which was awarded international status in 2013.

The Ramsar designation, named after the Iranian city that held the international Convention on Wetlands in 1971, doesn’t include additional funding, but is helpful in securing grants for wildlife conservation, said Susan Kirks, president of the Madrone Audubon Society.

“This is a significant recognition for the sensitive wetlands habitat, birds and wildlife of the Petaluma Wetlands,” she said.

The Petaluma Wetlands include Alman Marsh Tidal Wetlands, Shollenberger Park Wetlands, Ellis Creek Wetlands, Gray’s Marsh Wetland and Hill Property Tidal Marsh, all environmentally sensitive spots along the Petaluma River that are home to a diversity of species, including the salt marsh harvest mouse, river otter and an array of birds.

Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8191606-181/petaluma-wetlands-added-to-international

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sustainable Living, WildlifeTags , , , ,

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 –

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags , , ,

First case of West Nile virus this year found in Sonoma County

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County’s first case of West Nile virus this year was detected recently in a dead bird found in northeast Santa Rosa near Trione-Annadel State Park, regional health officials announced Friday.
The dead American crow was collected near Timber Springs Drive and Timber Springs Court, according to the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District. That puts Sonoma County among 33 California counties to report the presence of the virus this year.
West Nile virus generally spreads through mosquitoes who feed on infected birds and then bite humans. Most people never show any symptoms of the disease, but about one in five will show mild symptoms including fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting and rash. Less than 1 percent of people will develop severe neurological symptoms, including possible death. Nizza Sequeira, a spokesperson for the regional mosquito and vector control district, said in a written statement that preventing and controlling mosquitoes and vector-borne disease “is a responsibility we all share,” encouraging residents to take steps to reduce the production of mosquitoes on their properties and report problems to health officials.
Source: First case of West Nile virus this year found in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , ,

Sonoma Clean Power adds wind to energy sourcing

Staff Report, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
Sonoma Clean Power broke ground today on a project that will update an existing wind power facility and bring more wind power in-state. The Golden Hills North Wind Facility, in the western central valley community of Tracy, will remove 283 30-year-old wind turbines and replace them with 20 2.3-megawatt GE turbines, capable of generating more power with twice the efficiency of the previous wind project.
Sonoma Clean Power is a a community choice aggregation, or CCA, organization, created under state policy that allow local governments to pool their electricity load so they can provide alternative energy sources. Currently, most wind energy in SCP”s portfolio comes from Oregon. The Golden Hills facility is forecasted to cover 6 percent of SCP’s load starting in 2018. The contract term is 20 years from full commercial operation date.
“Repowered wind facilities carry multiple benefits,” said Geof Syphers, SCP’s CEO. “One modern wind turbine replaces 21 of the old-style turbines, producing more energy. This is low-cost, clean electricity that will serve our customers of Sonoma and Mendocino counties.”
SCP is partnering with wholesale electric power generator NextEra Energy Resources. An affiliate of that company owns and will operate the wind project.
The wind project will have a generating capacity of 46 megawatts, enough to power more than 13,500 homes.SCP’s announcement stated the project will also create hundreds of union jobs during the construction phase, beginning this month, and will provide full-time employment opportunities once the project is operational at the end of 2017. The project will provide more than $10 million in property tax benefits over its projected 30-year operational life.
Fewer wind turbines will also significantly reduces bird strikes.
Source: Sonoma Clean Power adds wind to energy sourcing | The North Bay Business Journal

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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

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land UseTags , , , ,

New hiking trail opens up along San Pablo Bay 

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County’s newest hiking trail officially opened Sunday just a few hundred yards from the often backed up and typically frustrating Highway 37.
The Eliot Trail, located at the edge of tidal wetlands near where Lakeville Highway meets Highway 37, gives travelers an experience opposite to the nearby roadway.
The two-and-a-half mile trail offers walkers, joggers and cyclists a tranquil view of Mount Tamalpais and the skyscrapers of San Francisco as they traverse the flank of the new northern border of San Pablo Bay.
“It is such nice place to take a run,” said Julian Meisler, the Baylands program manager for Sonoma Land Trust. “For Sonoma County, this is one of the best access points we have to the bay.”
Jim Jackson of Sonoma said he was impressed with the extremely flat trail after doing the round-trip five-mile hike with his wife, Sharon.
“You get great views of the entire bay. It’s extremely peaceful and quiet out there. You can hear the water lapping by you,” Jackson said. “You realize how quickly you are away from 37.”
Read more at: New Sonoma County hiking trail opens up along San Pablo Bay | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Local Organizations, WildlifeTags , ,

Betty Burridge, Sonoma County champion of bird conservation, dies at 84 

Chris Smith, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Betty Burridge loved birds. One of the region’s leading, longest-tenured advocates of wildlife conservation, Burridge counted and chronicled and studied and traveled the world to seek out and savor every possible species.
A physical therapist by profession, Burridge was for decades a stalwart of the regional Audubon Society and a leader of its winter bird counts. She spent years compiling a Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas that has been invaluable when questions arise as to how a proposed construction project might impact nesting birds.
“In these times of rapid growth and development within Sonoma County, wildlife habitat is disappearing every day,” Burridge said 30 years ago, in comments that still seem timely. “Each of us can recall fields where hawks used to soar, that now are shopping centers; farm ponds where ducks and shorebirds lingered, that since have been drained.”
Passionate to the end about preserving ecosystems that support birds and other animals, Burridge died March 24 in Santa Rosa. She was 84.
For many years, she and fellow Madrone Audubon Society members Ernestine “Ernie” Smith and Martha Bentley towered as giants in regional conservation efforts. Smith died just last August, Bentley in 2008.
Read more at: Betty Burridge, Sonoma County champion of bird conservation, dies at 84 | The Press Democrat