Posts Tagged ‘birds’

by Elise Hinman

This post is the first in a year-long series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act.

Protecting, maintaining and stewarding the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed are daunting responsibilities, especially for a new seasonal watershed aide like me. Starting in the chill of winter, even walking outside sometimes presents a challenge, let alone the duty of keeping a watchful eye on the reservoirs and trails. Luckily for me, in my time of perceived helplessness and inferiority, I am not alone.

At this point in the post, you may be expecting an ode to my accommodating coworkers and supervisors, or a sonnet about the unshakeable, vibrant volunteers I met at my first Trail Crew day. While they are certainly deserving of recognition, do not jump to conclusions so easily. The warden of whom I speak weighs less than 15 pounds, but its wingspan reaches eight feet. Can you guess this creature’s name?

Did your thoughts soar to the majestic bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)? You’d be right! In wintertime, visitors and staff sometimes spot bald eagles using Bon Tempe and Kent lakes as fish foraging habitat. This noble bird commonly appears in Native American legends as a courageous, powerful guardian associated with spirituality and balance. I wouldn’t mind channeling some of those qualities during my months on the watershed.

Bald eagles

Bald eagle nest on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed

These stately birds are also international travelers. Many spend their summers in Canada and Alaska, migrating down to the balmier states and northern Mexico during the winter months. In the late winter and springtime, bald eagles return to the vicinity where they were born to build a nest and procreate. Though predominantly solitary raptors, bald eagles mate for life, reconnecting with their significant other each breeding season. Mating pairs will also rediscover their nest from the previous year, adding to its size and stability. The largest bald eagle nest on record weighed over 2 tons!*

Loyal, well-traveled, independent and brave—admirable traits we can all spot in the bald eagle. Had it not been recognized as an icon of freedom and power in the United States (as would have been Benjamin Franklin’s wish—he pushed for the turkey, instead!), the bald eagle might have gone extinct decades ago. The extensive use of DDT as a pesticide in the mid-1900s caused the bioaccumulation of poisonous chemicals in bald eagles and other raptors, and had devastating consequences on the species’ reproductive health. Because of the bald eagle’s importance as a national symbol, the United States took great strides to save the species from extinction. Congress listed the bald eagle as an endangered species in 1967, and in 1972 banned the use of DDT in the United States. Bald eagle numbers soared in the years following this legislation, and in July 1995 the bald eagle was delisted from endangered to threatened. In August 2007, it was removed from the threatened species list—a success story!

So begins our string of monthly blogs dedicated to threatened, endangered and species-of-special-concern flora and fauna using the watershed and its surrounding habitats to cling to survival. Keep your eyes open in February for another scintillating story, but for now, just take some tips from the bald eagle: Always remember to be reliable, self-sufficient and vigilant; it just might lead to achievement.

*“Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus.” National Geographic Animals. National Geographic.

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by Elisa Ignatius

mallard with ducklings

Mallard with ducklings

Though I wasn’t sure what I’d encounter on a Wild Sound Safari on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, I was intrigued by the idea. Our guide, Gina Farr from Wild Sound Stories, volunteered to lead a hike for MMWD’s centennial celebration on the watershed on June 23. Her version of a safari is to tune into the sounds around you—in front of you, to the side of you, overhead, near and far. I usually walk around Lake Lagunitas chatting with a friend and occasionally stop to appreciate the scenery. But in addition to the sights, Gina opened our awareness to the sounds, pointing out that your vision is limited to what’s in front of you or in your peripheral vision, but that your hearing spans 360 degrees around you.

Our group of about ten walked the circumference of the lake mostly in silence with occasional whispers to point out the source of a bird call (brown creepers, a moorhen) or the crunching of leaves off trail (a deer near a creek). A special treat of the outing was a mallard and her ducklings swimming within arm’s reach of the shore, something we might not have heard or seen had we not been so quiet and attentive.

For Gina, sound has shape and some sounds interact with their environment, such as the wind, which is silent until it passes another object. The sound of the wind through the trees is both pleasant and melancholic to me, and I imagined the wind shaped like soft ribbons flowing through the bay laurels, oaks and redwoods around the lake.

At the end of our safari, we sat near the edge of Collier Spring, an iconic babbling brook that flows into Lake Lagunitas. Gina led us through a 10-minute meditation guiding our imaginations from a drop of rain floating gently down from the sky, meeting with a leaf and falling together into the creek where they continue their journey to the lake. My tensions and worries of the day floated away in that beautiful setting of sight and sound.

Visit Gina Farr’s Wild Sound Stories website: wildsoundstories.com.

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MMWD is hosting an all-day, free program of guided nature walks and workshops on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed on Saturday, June 23, in celebration of our 100-year anniversary. Here’s just a small sampling of what we have scheduled. Come see who’s taking flight over Mt. Tam at these family-friendly events.

Butterflies of Mt.Tamalpais (9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.) Join Wendy Dreskin of the North American Butterfly Association for a look at commonly seen species and an introduction to citizen science counts. Meet at Sky Oaks Watershed Headquarters.

PRBO Conservation Science logoBeginning Birding (10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.) Alicia Young and Pablo Herrera from PRBO Conservation Science will guide us on an avian-focused walk along the shores of Lake Lagunitas. Whether you’re an experienced birdwatcher or just learning, there will be something for everyone to enjoy on this walk; it’s the time of year when the osprey and bald eagles put on a mighty fine show. Meet at Lake Lagunitas.

Dragonflies and Damselflies of Lake Lagunitas (12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.)  Did you know that some Odanata species complete long-distance migrations each year while others never disperse beyond the Bay Area? Tania Pollak from San Francisco State University will be out studying the changing distribution patterns of a Bay Area endemic damselfly. Tag along to observe a scientist in action and maybe help out.

Drop-ins are welcome. Day-use parking passes are $8. Check out the full schedule of events and plan to join us for this special, once-in-a-hundred-years program!

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Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Biologists from PRBO Conservation Science just published a report of fifteen years of song bird monitoring on the Mt Tamalpais Watershed. The news is good, with most bird species stable or increasing, indicating that the 21,000-plus acres of land managed by MMWD continue to provide important wildlife habitat.

Compared to population trends estimated for California from breeding bird surveys, more bird species on the watershed had stable populations than elsewhere in the state and many species that are declining elsewhere are stable.

“We’re pleased to know that our bird populations are stable,” says MMWD Natural Resources Program Manager Janet Klein. “The stewardship of our natural resources is an important part of what we do, and bird monitoring is one of the ways we keep track of how we’re doing.”

Of the 42 species monitored since 1996, 86 percent showed no change in population size; two species (Anna’s Hummingbird and Olive-sided Flycatcher) increased in abundance; and four species decreased in abundance (Steller’s Jay, Western Scrub-Jay, Spotted Towhee and California Towhee).

The declines in the jay populations may be due to two factors. Jays are susceptible to West Nile virus and their primary food source of acorns has been compromised by Sudden Oak Death Syndrome (SODS). The other species showing declines and increases may also be responding positively or negatively to habitat change by SODS, changes in food availability, climate, or a combination of these factors.

The results of the study highlight the importance of MMWD lands for birds, and the importance of monitoring populations to detect changes early.

Click here to view the full report.

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