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Posts Tagged ‘birds’

Two piliated woodpeckers on tree

Pileated woodpeckers on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed (Photo by Ian Austin)

The Marin Wildlife Discovery Day will be an opportunity to learn about and celebrate the rich diversity of wildlife in Marin. There are over 150 species of birds that live and breed in Marin, our creeks support some of the best coho salmon populations in northern California, and our hills are home to California’s top predator, the mountain lion. Come enjoy hands-on science learning for the entire family!

The event will be Saturday, October 25, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. on “Children’s Island” in the lagoon at the Marin Civic Center. Parking will be available at the Marin Fairgrounds. Admission is free.

The Discovery Day will be hosted by many of the groups and organizations that work to preserve, understand, and protect Marin’s amazing wildlife. The event is organized by Marin County Parks with partners Marin Municipal Water District, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, River Otter Ecology Project, Felidae, Pepperwood Preserve, Project Coyote, Friends of Corte Madera Creek, College of Marin, Redwood High School-Next Generation, Manor School Green Team, and more.

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by Charlene Burgi

I would have missed the celebration if not for the headlines seen on an internet nursery promotion this morning! It’s National Wildflower Week! Ironically, I’d been thinking about bees, butterflies, and birds for this week’s blog topic. After all, it seemed like a perfect follow up to the spiders and snakes blog that we posted last month. But, how could I not address National Wildflower Week with this newfound knowledge?

California poppies

California poppies

It didn’t take long to consider that native flowers would tie in perfectly with bees, butterflies, and birds. Native plants go hand-in-hand with supporting our wildlife. To further confirm and validate my choice of blog topic, a swallowtail butterfly found itself trapped in our greenhouse, and the first poppies emerged in the same garden area this week. Is this a coincidence?

A force greater than me was pushing me to discuss the timing of nature! Isn’t it amazing that the very needs of bees, butterflies, and birds coincide with food and shelter sources for migrating patterns, the awakening of winter dormancy, and emerging pupation of butterflies? Simultaneously, bees and butterflies are popping up everywhere along with wildflowers.

The chirps of baby birds are now heard when entering the barn. Robins along with various species of birds not commonly seen flock to the birdfeeders or are viewed pecking the juiciest worms from the earth. Sandhill cranes, bald eagles, hawks, geese, and ducks fly overhead and delight us in their aerial show during the spring like no other time of the year.

Phlox

Phlox

To provide sustenance for migrating and emerging wildlife, early spring produces sprays of lavender-blue lupine, brilliant orange poppies, and soft pink, creeping phlox highlighting the roadsides and nearby hills. Phlox is a favorite for swallowtails, and it is little wonder that one surprised us when we entered the recently watered greenhouse!

Wildflowers can also be found in our trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals. Western dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) are now peaking through the thicket of the forest with their showy white flowers and giving away their understory cover. It doesn’t take long for the bees, butterflies, and birds to seek out this treasure for its nectar. Redbud (Cercis occidentalis) and Ceanothus (wild lilac) are wild-flowering shrubs that have an attractant that helps sustain these garden visitors during the spring months. The perennial yarrow is pushing out multi-floral, flat-landing petals that bees and butterflies find so easy to perch upon. Douglas iris are found in profusion throughout grassy slopes and woodland areas. Their flowers are beacons to honey and native bees, as are Salvia spathacea (Hummingbird sage) and Clarkia.

While I barely touched on meadow type wildflowers, it is important to remember that many bees, butterflies, and birds depend on the shelter of trees and shrubs for nesting and protection. In addition to shelter, butterflies require food sources to complete their lifecycle and find these by foraging on favorite plants in the garden.

Even though early May is dedicated to celebrating National Wildflower Week, may I suggest a strategy to keep the bees, butterflies, and birds around for a longer period of time? Provide shelter by planting tall native shrubs. Create a shallow muddy area where bees and butterflies can drink. Set out baths for birds to drink and clean their feathers (be sure to clean your bird baths weekly to control the spread of disease), and leave areas of loose soil, which are ideal for quail to dust themselves. Find summer blooming flowers that will provide nectar to keep birds close by. And situate feeders in trees for added protection from overhead hawks.

Let me challenge you to do something this week to honor the natural beauty surrounding us. I found one website (wildflower.org) that suggested 20 ways to celebrate National Wildflower WeekBay Nature’s Gardening for Wildlife with Native Plants is a great resource. If you’re nearby the district’s Corte Madera office, there are free copies in the lobby.

The weather is going to be beautiful. Seize the day with a packet of poppy seeds in hand!

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by Charlene Burgi

As the sun peeked over the hills this morning to cast its golden rays on the frost-covered ground, the momentary illusion of reverential quiet was shattered by the chatter of multitudes of various birds flitting about the garden.

Gold finch on nyjer sock

Gold finch

I am always delighted to awaken to the dozens of red and gold finches clinging to their nyjer seed socks. Below the socks, warblers are found sipping from the pond. The robins seem to brave the cold as they splash about in their morning shower. The birdfeeders placed in the trees away from the house sway under the weight of Steller’s and gray-breasted jays. The covey of quail that live in a well-placed brush pile nearby always benefit from the actions of the reckless jays above as they peck at the fallen seeds. The house windows sport attached birdfeeders that attract smaller birds such as pine siskin, nuthatch, bushtits, black-capped chickadees and titmouse. The installation of window feeders reduced the hazard of birds inadvertently thinking they could fly through the windows.

A garden without birds would be a terrible loss. Not only are they beautiful to watch, but they provide diverse benefits to the health of our gardens. Many birds, such as swallows, devour insects that are harmful to the garden. Nectar-seeking birds, like hummingbirds, are actually helping the bees pollinate for better fruit production. Our efforts to attract birds can have multiple benefits, too. For example, planting native shrubs and perennials not only provides tasty treats that are healthy for our feathered friends, but it also helps reduce our need for irrigation water.

Birds are also great at easing garden chores. For example, weed seeds are graciously consumed by towhees and sparrows, which equates to reduced germination and less weeding for us. I love to see the mass migration of bluebirds that comes through every winter and manages to clear the juniper trees of berries, thus reducing the mess that would otherwise fall to the ground. Of course, birds show little regard when it comes to their fruit selection. Peaches, apples, plums as well as raspberries and blueberries are also fair game. If I don’t want to share the fruit with the birds, nets must be thrown over the crowns of the trees and bushes, adding to my to-do list. Still, it is a worthwhile tradeoff.

california quail in the snow

Quail heading home after morning feed on the back deck

With attracting birds comes a responsibility. Various seed assortments are used to attract multiple species of birds, but it is important that they contain a balance of nutritious seeds and not empty fillers. Suet is used in abundance during the winter months when the birds require a high calorie intake to survive. Keep the feeders full as well as clean. Seed blocks work wonders for long-term feeding if you are going away for extended periods of time. Cleanliness is important, as dirty feeders can spread diseases. Danger lurks in other places, too. Pesticides, insecticides and herbicides in the garden could be deadly. Here in Lassen, hawks and eagles are commonly seen soaring through the skies. Thus a first consideration for me is feeding in areas that protect the smaller species of birds and hoping the birds of prey will find the prairie dogs, field mice and rabbits a better choice for their dining pleasure.

You could say that my garden is for the birds. And that is a good thing in my book!

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by Matthew Warner

This post is the ninth in a year-long series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Read the previous post here.

For decades San Francisco Bay’s marshlands were viewed as a waste of space, so they were drained and filled in for development. However, we’ve come to learn that our tidal marshlands serve a number of important functions: They help prevent flooding by their ability to adapt to the rise and fall of water. They help keep our waterways clean by filtering pollutants. And they provide critical habitat for a number of critters.

If you are ever in the neighborhood of Larkspur and have time to take a stroll by Corte Madera Creek, you just might hear or see a clapper … no, not the part of a bell or the sound-activated switch as seen on TV (“Clap on, clap off”), but the California clapper rail (Rallus longirostris obsoletus).

California clapper rail

California clapper rail (Photo by Don Roberson/Public Domain)

The California clapper rail is listed as an endangered species. One reason their numbers are in sharp decline is the loss of habitat due to the diking that converted low-lying marshland into urban development. Another factor leading to their sharp decline is the predation of eggs by non-native foxes and rats. As adults, they have to keep a sharp eye on the sky as they are hunted by red-tailed hawks, northern harriers and peregrine falcons. It would have been “Clapp off” for the clapper rail if it wasn’t for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which made a recovery plan in 1984 and is aiding in the recovery of the bird’s population.

Clapper rails nest close to the water’s edge and enjoy feasting on spiders, yellow and striped shore crabs, amphipods and the introduced non-native horse mussel. When you are out walking the creek you can thank the California clapper rail for taking out the horse mussel from our waterways! Feel free to watch and take pictures, but remember to keep a reasonable distance away from the birds so as not to disturb them.

The California clapper rail is yet another reason among many for us to support efforts to keep our salt waterways clean and to restore our tidal marshlands, which help prevent flooding and purify our water. Happy observing and “Clapp on” for the California clapper rail!

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Speeding to Recovery

by Andrea Williams

This post is the eighth in a year-long series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Read the previous post here.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon (Photo courtesy of Mike Baird)

Fastest animal alive, and thanks to the Endangered Species Act it’s still around. I’m talking, of course, about the American peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum) and its mind-boggling 200 mph killing dives. In the 1950s and 1960s, peregrine populations themselves were in a dive—from organophosphate (mainly DDT) pesticide use after World War II and also egg collection for falconry. By 1973, when the Endangered Species Act was passed, there were only a few hundred birds in the United States; peregrines were gone from the East Coast and down to fewer than five breeding pairs in California. The ban on DDT in the early 1970s, combined with a strong captive breeding and release program, has helped the U.S. population climb to over 3,000 birds and the American peregrine falcon was de-listed in 1999.

Sometimes my mind tries to make riddles out of how humans have changed the landscape, and how other animals have changed along with that. So instead of asking “How is a raven like a writing desk?”* I ask “How is a skyscraper like a cliff face?” And peregrines have answered the latter question with “I can lay an egg on it.”

During their rebound in the 1980s, peregrine falcons not only returned to their historic breeding sites in rocky spots such as Pinnacles National Monument and steadily increased at Point Reyes National Seashore, but started showing up in cities—nesting on the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge, as well as on tall buildings and smokestacks nationwide. But it can be dangerous raising young in an urban environment. While there are fewer predators (great horned owls and golden eagles, e.g.) and lots of pigeons, falling out of a nest that’s on a building or a bridge is much more deadly than one on a cliff, and first flights in a city can involve cars and buildings. Reintroduction (augmenting the existing population) stopped in California in 1992 but wild hatchling relocation continued until this year by groups such as the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group (SCPBRG) for those reasons. Nest productivity for both urban and wildland pairs appears similar in our area.

Generally, if I want to see a peregrine falcon I head to the coast. That’s where I saw my first one in the mid-90s, slicing through the air over the bluffs, and that’s where I most reliably see them today. But starting in February, you can see them anywhere you have an internet connection: numerous nest-cams exist, and the SCPBRG maintains a camera on a nest site at the PG&E building in San Francisco.

*The higher the fewer. Also, inky quills.

Additional resources:
www.sfnps.org/peregrine_falcons
www2.ucsc.edu/scpbrg/index.htm

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by Andrea Williams

When I first heard the phrase “fossorial mammals” and how important they were to grassland ecology, I thought of giant ground sloths (Megatherium) and saber-tooth tigers (Smilodon). Sadly, I was wrong. “Fossorial” just means “ground-dwelling,” like “arboreal” means “tree-dwelling.” Although the days of giant sloths and pygmy mammoths have passed, our grasslands are ruled still by fossorial mammals: pocket gophers (Thomomys).

great blue heron eating a gopher

Great blue heron eating a gopher. Herons usually dip the gophers in water (either to drown them or make them go down easier). Photo courtesy of National Park Service/Andrea Williams.

If you have a lawn, you probably know how much earth a gopher moves in a very short time. They’re major engineers in grassland ecosystems, putting up impressive numbers: estimates have 1-3 mounds per day, 70 mounds per month, as much as 2.25 tons of earth moved in a year (or an average of just under 50 tons for a population of 50 gophers). In many grasslands, there are 20-30 gophers in a single acre turning over a quarter of the soil. While this may seem like a nuisance in your yard, it’s enormously important to many wildflowers and plants that need the bare mineral earth to establish; and the burrows are used by dozens of other animals. Plus have you ever seen a coyote, bobcat or great blue heron eating a gopher? Very cool. We generally consider ourselves lucky to still see grassland mammals—the aforementioned coyote and bobcat, plus badgers and meadow mice and ground squirrels—but not the poor unappreciated gopher or mole. Moles, they can smell in stereo, and know which nostril is picking up a particular scent. And although they may make your yard lumpy and eat your favorite plants, gophers (and to a smaller extent, moles) are foundations of a healthy grassland ecosystem, creating space for numerous other plants and animals to live.

http://www.sonoma.edu/preserves/prairie/prairie_desc/animals.shtml#thbo
http://news.discovery.com/animals/the-mole-smells-in-stereo-130205.htm

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by Jen Stern

This post is the seventh in a year-long series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Read the previous post here.

Northern spotted owl

Northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina). Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

This past year, my grandparents attached an owl box to a tall fence post on their property in rural Petaluma. They were delighted to see two owls using the box this last spring. My grandparents took turns sitting with binoculars and watching in awe as these beautiful creatures tended to their young. One day they invited me over to “owl watch.” It was an amazing experience to see these majestic creatures swoop silently through the air and disappear into a tiny box, only to emerge again and take off with the slightest effort.

The fact that these owls moved right in was a nice surprise, but also a tell-tale sign that owl habitat is limited. The northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) lives right here in Marin on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed. These owls reside high up in the canopy of second-growth conifer and hardwood forests in Marin County. The population of northern spotted owls here is the densest in California—not unlike the population of people in the Bay Area. Thanks to favorable conditions in Marin, the owls here nest just a half- to three-quarters of a mile apart. In the Pacific Northwest, nests are typically one-and-a-half miles apart. With limited space, our owls make do with what they have, living closely and sharing food and shelter.

While the northern spotted owl population is doing well in Marin County, the northern spotted owl is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, with only 560 known pairs remaining in northern California.

So why should we care about these owls? As a top predator, they help to keep the populations of rodents and other animals from growing too large for the resources. If the rodent population were to explode one year, we may see decimated grass populations and a spike in rodent-borne diseases, such as hantavirus. The northern spotted owl not only plays a key role in the food chain, it is also an “indicator species” for forests, meaning scientists study this species to get a larger picture of the health of the ecosystem in which it lives.

While you may not see this elusive owl when you’re out hiking on the watershed, you may hear their call in the evening hours. The call most often heard is a four- or five-note, barking call of whoooo…oowho,oowhooo. Their call is high in pitch and has a short series of notes. If you are lucky enough to see this owl, you can recognize it by its size—the northern spotted owl ranks among the largest in North America. This owl is dark- to chestnut-brown in color and sports round or oval white spots on its head, neck, back and under parts. Its flight feathers are also dark brown and barred with light brown or white.

Northern spotted owl fledgling

Northern spotted owl fledgling. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

For more information about research results on spotted owls in Marin County, visit www.prbo.org/cms/586. The Point Reyes Bird Observatory has conducted research on spotted owls in Marin County to seek to understand the biology of a secretive species living in close proximity to an urban center, where noise and human traffic can threaten the owl.

I encourage all of you to “owl watch” whenever you have the chance. It is an amazing experience. You may even want to install your own owl box at your home! If you are interested in bird watching in general, there is plenty to enjoy on a hike or picnic by one of the lakes on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed. You may even see an owl!

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