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Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

I filmed a video for my YouTube channel a couple of days ago on Peregrine Falcons (the link to my channel is below), how they are thriving and nesting on tall buildings, and how various people/groups have set up live-streaming cameras so that all of us can check in on the nests and see what is going on.

One of the major events that have allowed Peregrine Falcons to thrive was the banning of insecticides in the 1970s, and one big one was the banning of DDT in 1972. Once the chemical was banned in the USA, several groups of dedicated people including scientists and falconers worked incredibly hard to help bring the Peregrine Falcon population back up to a healthy level.

Well, the DDT story is not over. While active use of DDT no longer occurs in the USA, there is still DDT in this country. DDT can persist in the environment for a very long time, and so it can still be found in water and soil. Some of this contamination is from runoff from when DDT was used to control insects. But some of this contamination is coming from sites where chemicals such as DDT were intentionally dumped.

A discarded, leaking barrel sits 3,000 feet underwater near Catalina.
A partly corroded barrel sitting approximately 3,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean near Santa Catalina Island (Photo Credit: The LA Times).

One such dump site may have been found off the coast of southern California. As reported in the LA Times, researchers have found more than 25,000 barrels of chemicals sitting about 3,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean near Santa Catalina Island! This likely represents a dumpsite that was used for years to dispose of unwanted chemicals, and the full extent of site was not determined because the barrels extended beyond the edges of the survey area! These barrels are suspected of holding DDT and other chemicals. DDT has been detected in the waters around southern California, it has been found to accumulate in the tissues of dolphins, and has been linked to aggressive forms of cancer in California Sea Lions.

Cleaning these barrels up is going to be a major undertaking. Leaving them in place is not an option because of the lasting health impacts of that much DDT poses a serious threat to a wide range of species (including humans) over a wide geographic area. The barrels themselves are corroded and breaking them apart as they are lifted will be a real danger.

Dealing with sites like this are a stark reminder that we humans have made tremendous mistakes. Many of these mistakes have been in how we have dealt with the natural environment. These mistakes, like dumping barrels of chemicals in the ocean, have left a legacy that we are dealing with today. We must be ready to admit the mistakes of the past. We must be ready to take actions to fix those mistakes. We must be ready to commit the needed money to make these actions a reality. If we are able to do these things, we can experience more recoveries like that of the Peregrine Falcon where it went from almost extinct to almost common, and we will better preserve the vital biodiversity of this planet.

Thanks for visiting my blog. If you are interested in other ways to connect with me, here are a couple of options:

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Today is Earth Day!

A Look at the Earth from Space: NASA Raises Awareness about the SDGs
Image Credit: NASA

This year, I have been finding myself reading and listening to some voices I greatly value. Some are voices that I have listened to for decades and others are voices that are newer to me, but each offers deep wisdom about our earth, our universe, and the roles each of us do and might play. They offer some “cosmic perspective” to quote Neil deGrasse Tyson, and remind us that “a land ethic changes the role of Home sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it” to quote Aldo Leopold. This earth is the only home we, as a species, have ever known, and Earth Day is a fitting time to reflect on the implications of that fact.

Below are links to two videos that move and inspire me, and I hope they do the same for you. Happy Earth Day.

Earthrise by Amanda Gorman

Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan

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Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) are a species that is growing more and more numerous, and this is a problem.

Mute Swans are the “classic” swan from stories and art. They are large and showy and beautiful and these traits are exactly why they have been introduced to North America. Birds were brought from Europe in the 1800s and released in parks, gardens, etc. as ornamental additions (New York was the original release area). These birds have since reproduced and spread across the continent as far north as New Hampshire, as far south as Florida, and as far as west as California.

Adult male Mute Swan (Cygnus olor). Source: USFWS digital library.

They are becoming problematic for several reasons. One is that they are quite aggressive, and will chase and bite humans if that human trespasses on the swan’s territory. Another is that they consume quite a bit of food. They are big birds reaching up to 25 to 30 pounds, and that means they eat about eight pounds of aquatic vegetation every day. That is food which is then not available to native birds, and it disrupts habitat for native birds, mammals, fish, and other species. And a third reason is that the swans are directly aggressive to other species of bird driving them off nests, breaking eggs, and killing the chicks of other species, and so displacing those other species from areas where they would otherwise live. With habitats becoming ever smaller and more fragmented, this can mean the native species can be left with no where to go.

These problems have all contributed to Mute Swans being added to California’s restricted species list in 2008. This listing means the birds cannot be imported, transported, or possessed in the state without a permit. This has not completely prevented the swans from beginning to become established in California. Small populations can be found in Petaluma and the Suisun Marsh. I suggest that removing this species while the population is still small is the best course of action. There is every reason to suspect that the population will grow, and as it does so, the problems listed above will become more and more apparent. However, control will become more and more difficult.

One interesting thing about Mute Swans in North America is that they do not migrate very much. There are certainly some, relatively short, seasonal movements that occur in some parts of the continent, but not much. Certainly nothing compared to the long migrations that Mute Swans in Europe engage in. The evolution of this behavior in a novel environment illustrates how different geographic regions can cause a species to adapt and change. This behavioral evolution could then lead to the evolution of a new species, if it persists and becomes dramatic enough.

So, what can you do to help native birds and habitats, and prevent Mute Swans from taking over? If you spot a Mute Swan in California, contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife – Invasive Species Program by sending an email to: invasives@wildlife.ca.gov or calling 886-440-9530. Together, we can act as citizen scientists to gather data that tracks where these birds are and how they move around. This data will help us all make the best and most informed decisions we can about this species.

Thanks for visiting my blog. If you are interested in other ways to connect with me, here are a couple of options:

YouTube – A Birding Naturalist

Instagram – abirdingnaturalist

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Bee populations have been having a hard time for a while now. Species of bee all around the world have experienced significant population declines that have persisted for decades. But it has been difficult to get a sense of the full magnitude of the issue since so many of the bee population studies focused on a single species, or a relatively small geographic area.

In 2020, researchers at the National University of Comahue in Argentina took a more global look at the loss of bee diversity. These researchers published a paper used data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility which is a platform where researchers and citizen scientists can record sightings of bee species, and that is available to the public.

By examining observations of bees around the world they found that the number of bee species observed from 2006 to 2015 was only about 75% of the number of species observed before 1990. That is not a very long period of time, and these declines were despite the fact that more and more observers are adding more and more observations to the platform each year. To clarify, this does not mean that 25% of the world bee species have gone extinct, but it does mean that they have become so rare that people are not encountering them. Although, becoming extinct is one potential reason for no longer being observed.

One of the bee species, in particular, that has declined rapidly is the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis) which was once found across much of the mid-western and northern USA. This species has declined by nearly 80% since the late 1990s. This decline lead the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species as federally endangered in 2017. This was the first species of wild bee in the continental USA to ever be federally listed and so gain the protection of the Endangered Species List (several species of bee native to Hawaii have been given this status prior to the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee).

Rusty-patched bumble bee on culver’s root at University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum. Photo: Susan Day/UW–Madison Arboretum.

The listing of the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee and the research on the dramatic and sustained reduction in abundance of global bee biodiversity both serve to highlight the loss of bees and other insects. This is an often overlooked section of lost biodiversity. The extinction of a rhino species is much more eye-catching than the extinction of a bee species. But loosing bees and other insects is having, and will continue to have, profound impacts on the natural world around us, and so should not go unnoticed!

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This video is from a recent visit my family and I made to Staten Island in the central Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Staten Island is a 9,200 acre reserve owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy specifically to provide foraging and roosting habitat for Sandhill Cranes (Antigone canadensis) and also waterfowl, shorebirds, and many other species.

If you enjoy the videos I am creating, two ways to stay informed would be to subscribe to the channel and/or follow this blog.

Sandhill Cranes (Photo courtesy of the USFWS – John Magera)

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So, 2020 has been quite a year. Dominated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year has been a hard one by just about any standard, and COVID-19 was not the only major environmental issue of the year by any means. Here is an article on some of the major environmental news stories of 2020. These stories highlight some major challenges and disasters that took place in 2020, but also some of the tremendous accomplishments that have occurred this year, not the least of which was the inspiring work done to understand and respond to the same COVID-19 virus. This work resulted in a triumph of medical science with multiple vaccines being developed in record time and beginning to be distributed and administered around the world as I am writing this!

In case you are looking for some reading material, and because I am book lover, here are two lists of some of the top nature/science/environment/conservation books published in 2020. The first is an article from Mongabay.com on 11 interesting books that have been published this year. The second is the top voted books from goodreads.com. These two lists will definitely impact my 2021 TBR (to be read) list.

And 2021 holds huge possibilities! Here is an article on some of the frontiers of science in 2021 that will be the type of research that expands our understanding of the universe, this planet, and the living creatures upon it including ourselves.

Happy New Year! Thank you for being a part of ABirdingNaturalist! Your support and time are tremendously appreciated.

Will 2021 be a good year for the environment? Here are our top 10  predictions - Environmental Defence

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I have been working at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy (Delta Conservancy) for about five years, now. In that time, one of the major projects I have been working on is our Proposition 1 Grant Program. Proposition 1 was a water bond passed by voters in 2014. Among many other things, it allocated $50 million dollars for the Delta Conservancy to give out to fund projects that would restore habitat, improve water quality, and/or support sustainable agriculture within the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A large part of my role here has been to help form the competitive process by which organizations can apply for this funding, and then to manage the grants that fund the selected projects.

One such project is the Dutch Slough Tidal Habitat Restoration Project. This is a project being organized by a team including staff from the Department of Water Resources (DWR), the local reclamation district (RD 2137), and several consulting firms.

This project is a huge one! About 1,160 acres in size, this project represents one of the larger habitat restoration projects occurring in the Delta. And it is restoring extensive amounts of tidal habitat, which makes it an even bigger deal since tidal restoration is difficult from both technical and political standpoints. These difficulties help to explain why it has taken about 15 years for this project to go from concept to implementation. Since it is so large, funding has come from several different sources with funds from the Delta Conservancy awarded to cover the costs of the revegetation phase.

Partly as a result of how high profile a project this is, DWR has created some great materials for telling people about the project. One of the best is a short video about what the project is, how it came to be, and what the hopes for the project’s future include. I highly recommend giving this video a watch. Another amazing way to explore the project is their YouTube channel. This channel has dozens of videos. They are drone flights over the project taken over the past three years. Going and watching some of the earlier videos and comparing those with more recent videos is pretty breathtaking. These before and after videos provide a wonderful example of how dramatically, and relatively quickly, habitat restoration projects can change a landscape and create habitat.

I hope you enjoy the virtual exploration. The project will have trails that are open to the public when it is completed (likely next year), and I encourage you to head out to the site in person when that happens.

Image taken from one of the drone flight videos from 2020

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Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon 2019 logoPoint Blue Conservation Science has a blog called Science for a Blue Planet that highlights the great work done by this organization. The blog post reporting on the 2019 Bird-a-thon features the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings!  It is really wonderful to get this kind of acknowledgement, and exciting that the Sanderlings might be the high species total winner this year!

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Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon 2019 logo

What a day! What a day! What a day! The Drakes’ Beach Sanderlings participated again in the Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon on October 5th. The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings, which is Point Blue Conservation Science’s longest running youth bird-a-thon team, was a bird finding machine! Thanks to our amazing donors, our team raised over $2,500 this year! To each of our sponsors, thank you so much for your support!

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The 2019 Drake’s Beach Sanderlings birding on Drake’s Beach (from left to right: Susie, Max L., Oscar, Max B., Eddie, Connor, Lucas, and Aaron)

As usual, our day began very early. At 5:15am, and in the 39°F chill of the pre-dawn morning, we met at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. The sky was spectacularly clear which made for beautiful star-gazing but did not bode well for finding migrants later in the day. As soon as we got out of our cars, we realized we were surrounded by Great Horned Owls, and after a bit of listening, we added Spotted Owl to our list for the day! A good start!

The team stopped by Olema Marsh which irrupted in a cacophony of Virginia Rails as soon as we clapped for them! We then sped off to Five Brooks Pond where we tried to find more owls while it was still dark. As dawn approached, we were treated to a terrific mixed flock of Bushtits, both species of Kinglet, and lots and lots of Townsends Warblers. We then drove past Bolinas Lagoon and birded Stinson Beach.

Leaving Stinson Beach we broke into the Oreos and headed for the Outer Point! It was still early, and a quick overview of the species list showed that we had already found over 100 species by the time we reached the Outer Point! This put us ahead of schedule on both time and species.

Confirming our concerns from the morning, the clear skies the night before resulted in there being no vagrant birds anywhere on the Outer Point, though there were tons of Red-breasted Nuthatches. It was somewhat frustrating to find no unusual birds at Chimney Rock or Drake’s Beach, but we did not get too attached to birding the area and left to head east. We did stop at an overlook near Chimney Rock to find Black Oystercatchers and got to watch a pod of Humpbacked Whales feeding off the coast.

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Drake’s Beach Sanderlings team members Max L., Oscar, Max B., and Connor searching for Black Oystercatchers near Chimney Rock.

The team then started zig-zagging across the east half of the county picking up more bird species all along the way. We certainly had some ups and downs. We made some targeted stops for particular species that mostly worked in our favor. The ponds at the Las Gallinas Water Treatment Plant were the emptiest I have ever seen them, but a quick change of course to the Hamilton Wetlands was gangbusters! As usual, we ended at our customary final stop at an east San Rafael marsh where the Ridgeway’s Rails were calling before we even got out of the car!

Over the course of the day, the team moved incredibly efficiently. When a site was not producing the species we were hoping for, we quickly made decisions to abandon those stops and to go look elsewhere. The knowledge of all the team members came together to produce a cornucopia of species even though we did not find a single species that would be considered noteworthy for Marin County. The list we ended up with included 162 species as a group, and 2 more that were only seen by a single team member and so don’t quite count! The full list is on the next page. We all had an amazing day. We enjoyed every bird, ate a lot of cookies, and shared a lot of stories and knowledge. All the things that make the Sanderlings great!

I want to thank all those who supported this team. The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings is a very special group that I am honored to lead, and passionate to see continue. With the support of our sponsors, we all help promote bird conservation and climate science, and also something more. We help to show the role that young people can play. Bringing in funding in an event like this reminds the world, and the birding community in particular, that dedicated young birders can and do make significant contributions to the cause of protecting our world. I hope that all our sponsors return next year to support us again, and all those who did not sponsor us this year will consider joining the cause next year. I can’t wait!

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Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon 2019 logo

Dear Sponsor,

The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings was the first, and is the longest running, youth Bird-a-thon team that the Point Reyes Bird Observatory has ever organized. I was one of the founding youth members and am now the team leader.

Since its beginning, the Sanderlings have established a very successful tradition of crisscrossing Marin County every fall, finding as many bird species as possible in twenty-four hours, and raising money for bird research and conservation. During the 2018 bird-a-thon, the Sanderlings were particularly successful when we found more bird species than any other team that year! Over the years our team members have changed as our youths get older, move away, or enter college. Wherever they have spread, Sanderlings members carry a passion for birds and nature with them that was, in part, nurtured by our team.

We are now preparing for our 2019 bird-a-thon! To support this team, I would like to invite you to become a sponsor of the Sanderlings. Your support sends a powerful message to the birding community that a team of young people can make an important contribution to bird conservation. This year, the Sanderlings bird-a-thon will be on October 5th. When you become a sponsor, I will be sure to let you know how the day goes.

Becoming a sponsor is easy! Just go to: https://pointblue.securesweet.com/contribute_paymentspring.asp?userid=1&fundid=832 and enter your info, or follow the QR code, below. I hope you are able to support this wonderful team. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.

 

Sincerely,

Aaron

Drake’s Beach Sanderlings Team Leader

QR Code - blog

Sanderlings 2018 Team Photo

The 2018 Drake’s Beach Sanderlings.

 

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