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The Temple of Hephaestus at the Ancient Greek Agora in Athens, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

My family and I just recently visited Greece for the first time. We spent the first half of May 2023 traveling to several locations across southern Greece including Athens, the Island of Crete, and The Peloponnese. It was a really interesting trip with a lot of history, great food, delicious wine, beautiful landscapes, and some amazing birds! During our travels, several things struck me about birding in Greece and I wanted to put those down in writing. I also wanted to share the species that I saw, some species that I missed, and some of the picture I took. I hope you enjoy.

We landed in Athens and spent the first two days of the trip exploring the city and overcoming the jetlag that resulted form crossing 10 times zones. Right off the bat, the new birds started with Common Swifts circling over the city seen from the window of our Air BnB. We spent those first couple of days exploring the Ancient Greek Agora, the Ancient Roman Agora, and the surrounding city. The agoras both include green spaces. The Ancient Greek Agora, in particular, has a nice sized area of grounds surrounding the reconstructed Agora, the Temple of Hephaestus (which is spectacular!), and other temples and ruins. These green spaces attracts quite a few birds including Eurasian Magpie, Alpine Swift, House Martin, Common Blackbird, Hooded Crow, Eurasian Jay, Great Tit, Collared Flycatcher, Common Gull, Rose-ringed Parakeet (which are non-native to Greece), and most excitingly for me, Eurasian Hoopoe!

Eurasian Hoopoe at the National Botanical Gardens in Athens, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman
Indian Peafowl at the Palace of Knossos on Crete, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

After we got our travel legs under us, we took the overnight ferry from Athens to the island of Crete where we spent several days. Crete is amazing! Wonderful history, incredible food, some of the nicest people, good wine, and nature that is wild and beautiful and right at your doorstep. The biggest birding treat of Crete (and my favorite bird of the whole trip) were the flocks of European Bee-eaters that flew past on a daily basis. I never saw these birds land, but I would hear their odd vibrating blip-blip calls from quite a distance. The calls would get louder and louder and soon a flow of birds would stream into sight, fly overhead, and then disappear to parts unknown. Sometimes they would be very high, but other times they would be low enough for me to get great looks at these stunningly beautiful birds!

Great Tit in Epidavros, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

On Crete, I added Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Wood Pigeon, Common Buzzard, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Red-rumped Swallow, Golden Oriole, Western Jackdaw, Griffon Vulture, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Hobby, Common Redstart, Scops Owl, and more to the species list. On Crete, we also visited museums and aquariums, first played in the Mediterranean Sea, hiked down into a steep gorge where we found figures of beautiful women carved into the rock walls, and we wandered through local street markets. Unfortunately, one species that I did not get to add to the list was a Lammergeier. The Lammergeier, or Bearded Vulture, is a fairly rare species in Europe, but that has a breeding population on Crete. It has been one of my top bucket list species for a very long time, and I was hoping to see one during our visit. However, these birds generally stick to the high and rugged mountains of Crete, and we did not cross paths with one.

Heraklion Harbor on Crete at sunset as the ferry left to return us to Athens. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

Hooded Crow at the fountain in Corinth, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

We once again crossed the Sea of Crete to return to Athens by overnight ferry, but did not stay in the city. Instead, we rented a car and drove through Corinth to The Peloponnese which is the southwestern peninsula of Greece. We spent most of our time in the small town of Epidavros, but also drove on day trips to other parts of the peninsula. The Air BnB we rented was right on the water in a small and sheltered cove surrounded by orange groves. We swam in the Mediterranean every day seeing all sorts of sealife, visited the breathtaking theater of Asclepius, enjoyed shopping at a local market, collecting shells along the beaches. One of the day trips took us to a terrific wetland at a place called Nea Kios on the outskirts of the town of Napflion.

Kentish Plover at the Nea Kios Wetlands at Napflion, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

We spent about an hour exploring this coastal wetland and the beach at its edge, and that hour provided the highest rate of lifers per hour than I have experienced in a long time! Kentish Plovers and Little Stints greeted us right away, and these were quickly followed by Little Egret, White-winged Tern, Common Ringed Plover, Black-winged Stilt, a Greater Flamingo, and many more! After we left the wetland, we found our way to an amazing Mycenean bridge that is one of the oldest and best preserved structures in Greece! This was a really special spot with a very narrow, magical little road that led through the hills and green meadows surrounded by singing Sardinian Warblers and colorful wildflowers. At the bas of the bridge, my wife found the most amazing Preying Mantis that I have ever seen. We looked it up later and found it to a species called Empusa faciata. This amazing mantis had really long antenna which marked it to be a male which use those antennae to detect and trace the pheromones released by the females. In The Peloponnese, I also added European Serin, Cirl Bunting, Great Spotted Woodpecker, European Shag, and other species to the list.

Preying Mantis (Empusa faciata) found nest to the Mycenean Bridge near Napflion, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

When our stay in Epidavros was over, we drove back across The Peloponnese, stopped at the very commanding and dramatic Mycenean Citadel at Midea, and returned to Athens for the last few days of our trip. Unfortunately, on our first evening back in Athens, a thief stole my wife’s purse in which was her cell phone, driver’s license, bank card, and all of our passports. That put a damper on the next few days as we got documents organized and then waited until Monday for the US Embassy in Athens to open. We did visit the Acropolis which was pretty amazing and definitely worth making the time for , and the National Botanical Gardens where I added what ended up being the last new bird species of the trip, Monk Parakeets (also not native to Greece).

Eurasian Jay at the National Botanical Gardens in Athens, Greece. Aaron N.K. Haiman

When Monday morning rolled around, we got to he US Embassy bright and early. We were worried because Monday was scheduled to be our final day in Greece, and our flight out of Athens International Airport was at 3:50am on Tuesday, so that did not leave a lot of time to get new passports organized so that we could go home. But, every member of the State Department we interacted with at the Embassy was fantastic! Not only were they really well organized and impressively multilingual, they were also very reassuring and confident that we would have our new passports in plenty of time to get to our scheduled flight. They were correct, and after submitting documents to them and then waiting for a few hours in a very nice café with excellent pastries, we returned to the Embassy and picked up our new emergency passports! We had a final dinner in Athens which was delicious, headed to the airport, and flew back to the USA with no problems.

All in all, though the trip included some bumps and complications and stressors, it really was an amazing trip filled with extraordinary experiences. We saw things and touched things and tasted things and heard things that will stay with us for a lifetime.

Common Blackbird in Epidavros, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

One thing that surprised me about birding in Greece was how little attention the birding seemed to get. In preparation for this trip, I looked into the bird books and was surprised as how few there were. The best guide for birding in Greece was a bird book that covers all of Europe! There is a slim book on the Birds of Greece, but it is brief and only focuses on the most common species found in the country. And there seemed to be no bird books exclusively focusing on specific areas of Greece such as Crete, The Peloponnese, any of the other islands, etc. In North America, one can find numerous books discussing in detail the birds of the whole continent, the USA, each of the states on the USA, specific cities or counties, specific parks or nature areas, etc., etc. There was definitely nothing close to this level of detail that I was able to find relating to the birds of Greece. Social media is similarly bereft. Look through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. for things like “#BirdsOfNorthAmeria” or “#BirdsOfCalifornia” and the like, and you will find results numbing in the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions! A search for “BirdsOfGreece” or “GreekBirding” and the like will yield results in the hundreds or maybe thousands. And birding guides tell the same story. I searched for birding guides in Greece, and only found a few websites, and several of the organizations I did find were no longer active. This all leads me to suspect that Greece is a generally under-birded area which makes it exciting to visit as it feels like more of an unexplored frontier. However, I wonder what explains this lack of birding attention. Maybe it is just that the birders of Greece are not plugged into social media very much, so they are active, just not where I was looking. And maybe the guides work more by word of mouth, and do not need websites. However, this seems unlikely to me. Greeks are plenty tech-savvy, and so Greek birders would be just as likely to be active online as other birding populations. Maybe it is more that Greek is known for its history and amazing Mediterranean beaches and coasts, so the tourist attractions are mostly focused on these types of activities and not genuinely not on the birds and other wildlife.

Chaffinch at the Palace of Knossos on Crete, Greece. Aaron N.K. Haiman

Overall, I saw a total of 48 bird species on this trip, 35 of which were lifers for me. These birds were beautiful and exciting. I loved finding each and every one, and the photos and memories that I returned with will stay with me and enrich me for a long time to come. If you ever get the chance to visit Greece (and Crete in particular), I highly recommend it!

I will be sharing more experiences, thoughts, photos, and information about Greece and the birds I saw there on my Instagram account and YouTube channel (links at the bottom of this post), so feel free to follow along if you are interested.

Theater at the Sanctuary of Asclepius, Epidavros, Greece. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

Bird Species List (+ indicates lifer):

Rock Dove

Eurasian Collard-Dove

Common Swift +

House Sparrow

Eurasian Magpie +

Collard Flycatcgher +

Eurasian Jay +

House Martin

Eurasian Hoopoe +

Rose-ringed Parakeet +

Barn Swallow

Common Gull +

Alpine Swift +

Common Blackbird +

Great Tit

Yellow-legged Gull +

Hooded Crow +

Sardinian Warbler +

Blue Tit


Indian Peafowl

Common Buzzard +

Wood Pigeon

Eurasian Hobby +

Common Kestrel +

Blackcap +

Western Jackdaw

Red-rumped Swallow +

Golden Oriole +

Griffon Vulture +

Common Redstart +

European Goldfinch

European Bee-eater +

Scope Owl +

European Shag +

Cirl Bunting +

Great Spotted Woodpecker +

Little Egret +

Grey Heron

Black-winged Stilt +

Common Ringed Plover +

Kentish Plover +

Little Stint +

Common Term

White-winged Tern +

Black-headed Gull +

Greater Flamingo +

European Serin +

Monk Parakeet +

Other Fun Species of Note:

Peloponnese Wall Lizard

Empusa faciata (a species of preying mantis)

Marbled White (a species of butterfly)

Marginated Tortoise

White Butterfly (yes, that is actually the accurate species name)

Violet Carpenter Bee

Mediterranean Damselfish

Rainbow Wrasse

Saddled Seabream

Atlantic Purple Urchin

Greek Poppy

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I posted my first blog post on this blog eleven years ago, today! In those years, I have written a total of 337 posts, and those posts have been collectively viewed a total of 97,518 times by 76,785 visitors who came from 180 countries all around the world, 103 of which decided to become followers of the blog! I am so grateful that each of you decided to spend some of your time with me here on this blog, and I hope you continue to find the information here to be valuable.

This past year saw me begin venturing into photography with the purchase of a Sony ZV-E10 mirrorless camera, and I hope you have enjoyed some of those images making their way into blog posts. This year also saw me experiment with a weekly tip installment called Green Thought Thursdays that didn’t really pan out, the growth of the connections between this blog and my Instagram account and YouTube channel (links below), and an increased focus on water and water-related issues in California that has paralleled by career’s focus on these topics. It has been a fun year for me, and I hope you have enjoyed it as well, and gained some interesting knowledge along the way.

The next year of A Birding Naturalist is going to be an exciting one. I will take you on trips to learn about birds and nature in many interesting places across California and also Greece! I am launching new projects, forming new partnerships, and leading more birding walks; and I will bring you along on all of it. And my commitment to sharing the knowledge of the natural world is as strong as ever! I hope you continue to join me on this journey.

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Rain falling outside my window. Photo by Aaron N.K. Haiman

I few days ago, my daughter and I were standing in our backyard when it rather suddenly started to rain!

The rain was not a tremendous downpour, so we decided to stay out and enjoy the weather. And it turned out we were not the only ones to make that choice.

I was somewhat surprised to see a Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) fly out of cover and up to the top of one of the trees near our yard. The reason form y surprise is that, most of the time, birds tend to seek shelter during wet weather. Exposure to wet weather generally means wet feathers, and wet feathers are cold making it harder for a bird to stay warm. A wet and cold bird then has to use more energy to maintain its internal body temperature, which means it will run out of energy faster. This in turn means that the bird will need to go out and find more food which is time-consuming, uses energy as well, and may expose a bird to predators. So, staying dry and warm seems like a good, general survival strategy.

A Northern Mockingbird fanning its tail in a similar way to the bird I watching in the rain. Photo by Aaron N.K. Haiman

However, this Northern Mockingbird had other ideas. It decided to ignore the many trees that could have provided the dense shelter of leaves or needles, and instead specifically choose a high and exposed branch with no leaves or shelter of any kind. In the rain, it started fanning its tail out and spreading its wings to catch the drops for a rain bath. It was wonderful to watch this bird enjoy the rainfall. And, as if to illustrate how much the bird really was enjoying its shower, it started singing! A bird singing in the rain!

This drove home a point that has been driven home for me many times, but still sometimes surprises me, and the point is this. Many birds are so well adapted to their environments that they often don’t need to guard and horde their energy reserves so jealously. They have the energy reserves to spend on getting a bit extra cold if it means getting some feather maintenance done. This birds was confident enough that it would be able to get warm, and get food, that it did not have to worry about the rain. It was even willing to get a bit extra wet and cold by taking some extra time to sing in the shower.

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California is a pretty amazing place for many reasons, and one is that we have a lot of different species and subspecies of salmon! The Sacramento River, for example, is the only major river in the world that has four distinct subspecies, or runs, of Chinook Salmon!

Salmon are such amazing creatures! They are so important to the ecosystems in which they live, and they have been so important to human societies for so long that they get a lot of attention, and rightly so. And, when their populations are not doing well, ecosystems and human societies feel the impacts.

Two adult Coho Salmon migrating up a river. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), sometimes called Silver Salmon, are one of the species found in California. They are a species that live in the ocean for most of their lives, but then migrate up rivers and streams along the north and central coast of California to breed and lay their eggs in gravel beds in the upper watersheds. In addition to being found in California, Coho Salmon are also found breeding in rivers and streams along the Pacific coast of North America all the way to Alaska, and the Pacific coast in northeastern Russia as far south as northern Japan.

When they do this epic migration, how long it takes, where they lay eggs, how long those eggs take to hatch, what the young salmon need to survive and for how long, when the young salmon migrate down river and into the ocean, and how long they live there before returning to the river of their birth are all important aspects of Coho Salmon biology that need to be understood if restoration efforts are to be successful.

The grant program I manage funds salmon recovery projects, so I am writing this blog post in part to help myself understand the life cycle of the Coho Salmon so that I can make the best decisions I can when deciding what projects to fund. So, with no further adieu…

The Coho Salmon life cycle in California:

In January, adult female Coho Salmon will lay between 1,500 and 3,000 eggs each in a gravel nest, called a redd, in a stream in the upper watershed of a river system. After mating and laying eggs, the adult Coho die (more on this later).

Many of the eggs are eaten by other aquatic animals, but generally between 200 and 300 hatch. This takes between 50 and 70 days depending on water temperature.

A stream in the upper Navarro River watershed in California where young Coho Salmon spend a bit over a year feeding and growing. Photo: A Birding Naturalist.

Once they hatch, these young Coho Salmon spend approximately a year living in shallow areas of streams where they can hide amounts rocks and large woody debris and prey on smaller fish and aquatic insects.

After about 14 months living and growing in these shallow streams, the 50 to 100 surviving young salmon, that are now called smolts, begin to migrate down stream in spring. Their color changes. They loose the bars and spots that helped them to camouflage in the upper watershed streams and turn onto a bright silver color. Internal changes also occur with their gills and kidneys transitioning to be able to survive in salt water.

Once they reach the ocean in summer, the smolts spend about a year-and-a-half feeding and growing into adult salmon. Adult Coho commonly grow to about 18 lbs in weigh and 24 to 30 inches in length.

Beginning in December, the now three year old Coho Salmon begin their migration back up the rivers and streams. This first involves a transition period to allow their gills and kidneys to transition back to tolerating freshwater. The adult Coho also start to become more and more red in color as they migrate up the rivers. Once the adults are accustomed to freshwater, they begin swimming upstream, guided by scent and triggered by stream flow volumes, back to the upper watershed streams where they hatched.

Then in January, the one to four adults that have survived all the way to this point from all those eggs that were originally laid find a partner, mate, the females lay between 1,500 and 3,000 eggs each in a gravel nest, called a redd, and then the adults die. Unlike some other salmon species, Coho Salmon breed one time and then die. No adult Coho preform a return migration to the sea.

While the completion of the life-cycle of a Coho Salmon with the laying of eggs and death is the end of the individual salmon’s life, it is just the beginning of the lives of many other organisms and has effects that ripple out across the ecosystem. The dead adult salmon are important food sources for aquatic animals (such as crayfish, caddisflies, and rainbow trout) and terrestrial animals (such as bear, river otters, raccoons, and eagles). The decomposing adult salmon bring nutrients from the ocean in the form of their own tissues, and deposit those nutrients in mountain streams and rivers. In this way, they serve as an important source of nutrients, basically fertilizing the soils of the forests of the upper watersheds.

Coho Salmon are amazing animals with an amazing life story. I am very happy to be doing work that will help to provide the habitats and water they need to allow them to continue it to the next chapter.

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This week, I am attending the Localizing California Waters conference that is being held just outside Yosemite National Park and is organized by a group called Watershed Progressive. It is a great event and I have been learning a lot and meeting some really passionate people in the water world of California.

One of the talks I attended was about beavers and their role in ecosystems and habitat restoration (which is huge!). But one part of that talk was a particularly crazy story that I wanted to share. It is about parachuting beavers! And yes, this is a true story!

As humans expanded into new areas in the 1940s they began to run into beaver conflicts. One growing community in Idaho had a problem with a particular community of beavers that were routinely damaging houses and other property. These humans complained about this beaver community, and eventually it came to the attention of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Beavers are native to the western USA, but they had been largely hunted out during the 1700s and 1800s for their fur. Therefore, there were large areas of the Idaho wilderness that had been beaver habitat, but had no beavers. This gave the Idaho Department of Fish and Game an idea for a solution to the human-beaver conflict. Take the beavers, and move them into some remote wilderness areas. But, this raised a problem: how were they going to get beavers into these remote areas? The answer? Drop them out of planes!

Crates, each containing a single beaver, dropped with parachutes into the Idaho Wilderness. Photo: Boise State Public Radio.

That’s right, in 1948, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game constructed a bunch of specially designed crates that would hold a beaver and protect it as it dropped through the air, and then would break open when they hit the ground. The crates also had parachutes attached to them.

A beaver emerging from its opened crate after a parachute-assisted landing. Photo: KTVB 7.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game then safely trapped the beavers that were causing problem for those humans. The result was a total of 76 captured beavers. These beavers were loaded into the specially designed crates, the crates were loaded on to planes, the planes were flown out over remote areas of the Idaho wilderness, and then the crates with their beaver passengers were dropped out of the planes and allowed to float down to the ground below! The first beaver to be dropped in such a manner was named Geronimo, and he and the rest of his beaver companions all but one survived their skydiving experience, and, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, went on to live their beaver-y lives.

I found this story to be so hilarious and absurd! Such a huge amount of effort to protect the property of a small group of humans that had moved into an area where the beavers were already living!

I am glad that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game decided to move the beavers instead of kill them, and I will say that the beavers probably ended up in a pretty good place, far from humans and in areas that were likely to make for good beaver homes. Since the beaver had been so decimated by over hunting, these beavers may have helped recolonize some of their former range.

The story gets crazier because in the 1950s, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife decided to emulate Idaho and also air dropped beavers into remote areas of wilderness. In California, the reason for parachuting beavers into the wilderness had nothing to do with beaver-human conflicts, but instead was to help reintroduce beavers to their historic range

So, all in all, a good story. But still a hilarious and absurd one as well.

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A Douglas’s Squirrel sitting on a branch. Photo: National Park Service

In his “Wilderness Essays,” John Muir said that the Douglas’s Squirrel “…is the most influential of the Sierra animals, quick mountain vigor and valor condensed, purely wild…”

And a couple of weeks ago, while my family and I camped in Kings Canyon National Park, I got to see how some of this influence is wielded.

In the early morning, I spent a bit of time wandering through the forest around the campground. As I was exploring, and watching Mountain Chickadees and Brown Creepers and Williamson’s Sapsuckers and White-headed Woodpeckers, I heard a thud of something hitting the ground close to me. I paused and then heard another thud. I looked up and high above my head I saw a Douglas’s Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) moving through the branches of a pine tree.

The forests of Kings Canyon National Park are filled with Douglas’s Squirrels! Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

The squirrel was moving from branch to branch checking the various cones. It would climb out to the tips of the branches where the cones grow and carefully and quickly assess each cone to come to a decision on whether or not it was ready to be harvested. If it was ripe enough, the squirrel nibbled away any pine needles blocking the base of the cone, and would then chew through the stem of the cone.

Once it had the cone off the branch, the cone would fall from the squirrel’s mouth and plummet to the ground. At first, I thought that the squirrel had accidently dropped the cone. However, after watching this process repeat a couple of times, I realized the squirrel was intentionally dropping the cones, and attentively watching where they fell. After observing the fall of a cone, the squirrel would scamper to the next cone.

I watched this process repeat again and again for over forty-five minutes. The squirrel was very strategic in how it went about its harvest. It was clearly working its way down the tree from highest branch to lowest. It would run out a branch to check the cones on it, harvest the cones that it wanted, then run back towards the trunk. Then it would jump to the next lowest branch and repeat the check-and-harvest process. In this way, it systematically checked every branch on the tree.

In the time I spent watching it, this squirrel must have harvested and dropped at least twenty cones. In that time, it also took a break for a few minutes to stretch out on a branch and rest, it took a few shorter breaks to groom its fur, and it spent a bit of time calling out into the forest. I figured that once the squirrel had enough food down on the ground, it would come down and feast, but it never did. I had to carry on with my day, so I left the Douglas’s Squirrel to it’s.

When I returned home, I read up a bit on this harvesting behavior, and it turns out that my assumption that the squirrel would eat the fallen cones was wrong. Douglas’s Squirrels do harvest large numbers of cones, but they are for winter storage! Once the squirrel I was watching was done harvesting cones, it was probably going to come down to ground level and begin hiding all those cones away in various locations so that the squirrel can come back and dig them out once the snow is covering the ground and other food sources are scare.

Forests filled with, and shaped by, Douglas’s Squirrels. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

And this is where a big chunk of that influence comes in because the squirrels never make it back to eat every cone that they stash. These uneaten cones, and the seeds they contain, are where new trees sprout, so by hiding cones and then leaving them, these squirrels are shaping the forest of the future! That is some serious influence!

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An adult Spotted Lanternfly. Photo: Wikipedia.

Are you a fan of apples, beer, maple wood furniture, or peaches? The plants that produce these products, and many more species, are at risk from a threat that is spreading across North America. What is this threat? It is a rather beautiful insect call a Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula).

The Spotted Lanternfly was first detected in North America in 2014 when a few were spotted in Pennsylvania. Between 2014 and today, they have spread to 11 more states and are now also found in Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.

This insect, which is not actually a fly but rather a species of planthopper, is native to China, but has spread to Japan, South Korea, and the USA and is becoming a significant agricultural pest in these other countries.

In its native China, this species is not a major issue because its population is generally kept in check by several species of parasitic wasp that feed on the Spotted Lanternfly. However, these wasps are not present in the new areas the lanternfly has spread to which has resulted in their population increasing and spreading rapidly.

Spotted Lanternfly egg mass. Photo: Rutgers University.

Spotted Lanternflies do not fly long distances on their own, so adults do not disperse very far. However, the species is very effective at dispersing via their eggs. Adult Spotted Lanternflies lay their egg masses on all sorts of objects from trees to houses to vehicles. They can even end up getting scrapped off of these structures and stuck to shoes and clothing. in this way, egg masses can be transported long distances and so introduce the species into new areas rapidly.

Luckily, the Spotted Lanternfly poses no direct threat to humans or animals. However, they suck the fluids from many species of plant which can weaken an kill them. Many of these plant species are of significant economic value, and many more create extensive and important habitat for countless other animals, plants, fungi, etc. The list of plant species that are susceptible to Spotted Lanternfly infestations includes: Almonds, Apples, Apricots, Cherries, Grapes, Hops, Maple Trees, Nectarines, Oak Trees, Peaches, Pine Trees, Plums, Poplar Trees, Sycamore Trees, Walnut Trees, and Willow Trees.

Spotted Lanternfly life cycle stages. Photo: spottedlanternflykillers.com

Control efforts are underway, and extensive help from all of us will be needed to stop the spread of this insect. The state of Pennsylvania has even step up a hotline number to call and report sightings which is 1-888-4BADFLY. Control efforts include taking extra care to clean objects that could have egg masses attached to them. This is particularly important for anything passing through areas of known Spotted Lanternfly infestations. We should all make sure to clean our cars, boats, trailers, tents, clothing, shoes, and other materials if we are moving them from or through any of the above states. Without serious control efforts, the Spotted Lanternfly is predicted to continue to spread and is likely to reach California around 2033.

If you do find adult Spotted Lanternflies it is recommended that they be killed. They are fast, so we will all have to work on our reflexes. If an egg mass is found, scrape it off and put it into a sealed plastic bag with hand sanitizer (good thing we all have this around so much these days!).

So, keep your eyes open for this insect, help control their population and spread, and report any sightings! In this way we can all help to protect our forests and farms.

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Growing up in California, and often driving up to the Sierra Nevada mountains around Tahoe, I came across a valley and ski resort with a very particular name. Sq— Valley. This valley is by no means the only geographic landscape feature to have been given this name. Sq— Harbor, Sq— Gap, Sq— Mountain, are all places to be found in one state or another.

And this is a problem because this term has been used as a racist and sexist slur for a very long time, particularly aimed at Native American women. It has been used primarily by Europeans to denigrate and dehumanize indigenous women for hundreds of years.

Having this term be so common really speaks to how ubiquitous racist language is on our society. It is all around us. It is in every state. It is on maps. It is in tour guides. It is in our conversations as we talk about these places.

Secretary Deb Haaland. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior.

It is so common to encounter racist language, and the term sq— in particular, that U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, issued Secretary Order 3405 in November of 2021 which established the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force. This order recognized the term sq— as offensive. It instructed the Task Force to find all uses of the word on federal lands, and to recommend alternative names that would replace the term. A press release from Secretary Haaland that accompanied the order stated, in part: “Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands.”

The Task Force has just recently released their report on the use of this term. They found that this name has been applied to over 660 different features of federal land! The Task Force will be making their recommendations in September of 2022.

I am glad that this term is going to be removed from Federal lands. I am hopeful that Secretary Haaland will expand this anti-racist work to catalog and remove additional derogatory terms applied on Federal lands such as “redskin”, “negro”, “dead indian”, “jim crow”, and many more that are currently in use.

Sign bearing the new name of this famous ski resort in California. Photo: Palisades Tahoe.

In response to comments from many members of the Washoe Tribe, other individuals, and some historical digging by the resort themselves into the use of the term, the ski resort officially changed its name in 2020. The resort have had been called “Sq— Valley Alpine Meadows” is now “Palisades Tahoe.” I look forward to the valley itself getting a new name in the near future that better suits its beauty.

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A flock of Mallards lifting off of a pond. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Each spring since 1948 staff from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have conducted a survey of central and northeastern California to count the numbers of ducks and geese that are breeding in those areas. These counts are conducted by biologists flying in fixed-wing aircraft over the central and northern parts of California, and they form the basis of the California Breeding Waterfowl Survey. This long term data set is hugely powerful when scientists are looking at long term trends in populations and examining the effects of habitat loss, climate change, human population growth, pollution, and other factors.

Fixed-wing plane used during a breeding waterfowl survey over the Klamath River Basin. Photo: Keith Stein

The 2022 California Breeding Waterfowl Survey was just released and it’s not great. The total number of waterfowl breeding in California has declined 19% since 2019. All species were found to be in decline to some extent. Canada Goose were the least impacted with declines of 5% since 2019. Cinnamon Teal were hit the hardest with declines 54% since 2019. That means that there are only about half as many Cinnamon Teal breeding in California today as there were just four years ago! Mallard (the most common species of duck that breeds in California) and Gadwall were also hit hard with declines of 25% and 31%, respectively, since 2019.

These declines are in large part likely due to poor breeding habitat conditions. Ducks and geese need water to breed. The 2021-22 winter in California had below average precipitation across California, and the snow pack water content in California’s mountains is also below average. Such continued and serious drought conditions are resulting in less water for both natural and managed wetlands, and so to the poor breeding habitats and reducing waterfowl populations found in the survey.

Hopefully more water will fall in the state this coming winter. In the mean time, save water any way you can! The less water we all use, the more will remain in rivers, streams, reservoirs, etc. that can benefit the birds, fish, and other wildlife of California!

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About a year ago, we had a bit of an invasion in our yard. Rats, in ever growing numbers, were eating the birdseed from the feeders in our backyard (and also eating just about everything else they could find). So, to make the area less hospitable, we decided to take down the bird feeders and so remove the birdseed as a food source. Let me me tell you, I really missed having birds frequenting the yard to eat!

But it worked! We removed all the food sources we could find and trapped the rats like crazy for quite a while, and we have not seen a rat in a couple of months. So we, tentatively, refilled the bird feeders and rehung them in the yard.

Once the feeders were rehung, I was curious to see how long it would take for them to be rediscovered, and which species would be the first to notice and take advantage of this food source. For the first two days the feeders went ignored, but on the third day a flash of feathers dropped onto the pole that the feeders hang from.

It was an Oak Titmouse!

Oak Titmouse (Photo by Aaron N.K. Haiman)

The titmouse looked the feeders over from its perch on the top of the pole, and then flew off without dropping down to actually take a seed; its exit just and sudden and purposeful as its arrival. Just a few minutes later the flash of feathers appeared again, and once again there was an Oak Titmouse on the top of the pole. This time the titmouse did drop down to one of the feeders, grabbed a sunflower seed, and rapidly departed. A few minutes after that, the flash of feathers occurred once again, and again there was a titmouse on the pole. This time, it only paused there a moment before going for a seed, and while it did so, a different flash of feathers appeared! A second Oak Titmouse joined the first on the feeder, each bird took a sunflower seed, and both flew off. The two birds, very likely a mated pair, visited the feeder numerous more times that afternoon and evening.

Watching these birds appear to drop out of nowhere so suddenly is such fun! They are so filled with character and curiosity that watching them investigate the bird feeders and the rest of the surroundings is a constant source of entertainment, and they fly in so fast and with so little warning, and then leave so abruptly, that each flight coming or going is a surprise and gives me a thrill of excitement.

The Oak Titmouse pair has continued to be frequent visitors to the feeders. They have been joined, so far, by a handful of House Finches, a California Scrub-Jay, a pair of Mourning Doves, and a pair of Lesser Goldfinches.

It is hard to put into word just how happy I am to have birds back in the yard! I just hope the rats stay away.

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