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Dear Reader,

I am posting this to ask for your support of the longest running youth bird-a-thon team, and the team that I lead, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings. The Point Blue Conservation Science Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon is currently underway, and the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings are looking forward to participating again this year!

This year, the team will be meeting up in-person on October 1st! We will crisscross Marin County in a fast-paced day rocketing from site to site and habitat to habitat in search of as many species as we can possibly find!

The 2021 Drake’s Beach Sanderlings members. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

This event, and the Drake’s Beach Sanderling’s wild day, is a fundraiser for Point Blue Conservation Science. As such, I ask that if you have the means to please donate and support this amazing team of young birders (the longest running youth team that I know of!), and Point Blue.

By donating to this cause, you will be supporting the amazing work that Point Blue Conservation Science does around the world from climate research to habitat conservation to the effects of urbanizations on birds. Your donation will also support and encourage this group of young birders who represent a hope for the future of our planet that is badly needed. You can donate by following this link (also added at the end of this letter) and clicking the ‘donate’ button just to the right of the team photos.

My heart-felt thanks goes out to each person who contributes in support of this amazing cause.

Sanderlings Donation Page: https://pointblue.securesweet.com/teampage.asp?fundid=937#.Yyih2nbMI2w

#richstallcup #birdathon #countingforconservation

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Once a week, I am offering up a tip or action or idea that we can all engage with to help reduce waste, use less materials and energy, help conserve species or habitats, and/or generally work towards living in ways that allow for more health and wellbeing for all aspects of the planet.

This week the green thought is about windows and the danger they pose to birds. Birds often have a hard time seeing windows. When birds can see through an area, they think they can fly through that area. Especially if the window if reflecting the surrounding sky and vegetation, or if there is another window across the room making a passage through seem possible, birds may attempt to fly through and can collide with the window pane quite hard. Collisions with windows kill almost 1 billion birds a year just in the USA, so this is definitely a very big problem.

This diamond pattern of lines can help to prevent birds colliding with this window. Photo: Alexandra Smith

A bunch of solutions are out there. Window decals can work. These are basically stickers that are placed on a window pane so that birds will notice that a window is solid. However, to be effective, decals must be placed 2 to 4 inches apart. If they are spaced more widely, birds ma try and fly through the gaps. Patterns of lines or dots can be just as effective as other shapes such as bird or leaf silhouettes. Other solutions are to put screens in front of windows or to close curtains or blinds behind windows. Placing bird feeders near, or even attached to, windows also helps because the birds are more likely to see the window when it is close, and also will not be able to build up speed if they do fly into it.

What do you think of these thoughts and the solutions? Do you have any other solution ideas?

Thank you for visiting my blog! Please check back in next week for another Green Thought Thursday!

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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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The Point Blue Conservation Science Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon is back, as are the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings! Well, in some ways we never went away, but in 2020 the whole event was transformed into a virtual bird-a-thon with teams going out birding, but the team members birding in different locations due the inability to gather in groups because of COVID-19. Sanderlings members did participate in the event, and birded various sites in the bay area and West Sacramento.

But now that is over (hopefully). Teams will be able to meet again and head out to bird and raise funds for Point Blue Conservation Science.

As a member of the Bird-a-thon Steering Committee, I helped to organize the bird-a-thon and helped to choose the mascot bird this year: the Pine Siskin. We choose this species to highlight for a few reasons. One is that it is a generally underappreciated species. As you can see in the image above, the Pine Siskin is not an obviously flashy bird. But, to quote the new Hansen’s Field Guide to the Birds of the Sierra Nevada when noting that the perched bird can be on the drab side, “Taking flight, however, it changes from somber to eye-catching.” This striking change is due to the yellow patches in wing and tail that are generally concealed when at rest, but which flash dramatically when in flight. A second reason to highlight the Pine Siskin is that this species was hit hard by the salmonella outbreak in California that occurred in the winter and spring of 2021. This disease killed individuals of several finch species, but siskins seemed particularly susceptible. A third reason are the fires burning across California. The Pine Siskin is a finch that breeds in the conifer forests of North America. As such, they have lost a lot of breeding habitat in California this summer with so many fires burning through the conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada.

The Drake's Beach Sanderlings
The 2019 Drake’s Beach Sanderlings team standing on Drake’s Beach in Marin County.

So, in support of the Pine Siskin and the work of Point Blue Conservation Science, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings are once again asking for your support when we head into the field to race across Marin County to find as many species as we possibly can in one day (September 26, this year). As usual, this will be a face-paced day of blazing from site to site to visit as many habitats as we can and find lots and lots of birds!

This event is a fundraiser for Point Blue, and as such, I ask that if you have the means please donate and support this amazing team of young birders (the longest running youth team that I have ever heard of!), and Point Blue. By donating this cause, you will be supporting climate research that is badly needed, and also supporting and encouraging young birders who represent a hope for the future of our planet that is also badly needed. You can donate by following this link and clicking the ‘donate’ button just to the right of the team photos.

My heart-felt thanks goes out to each person who contributes in support of this amazing cause.

#richstallcup #birdathon #birds #conservation

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Sometimes three nights spent in the woods are more restorative and satisfying than even I expect them to be.

And that is exactly the experience I had camping at the Silver Fork Campground on the banks of the Silver Fork of the American River in the El Dorado National Forest. I have camped in this area before, but never at this specific campground, and it was lovely. The campground was quiet and clean. The river was close and beautiful. The forest was impressive. And the birds were thrilling!

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And the river itself was wonderful as well. The water was the perfect temperature for wading and swimming which was so refreshing in the heat of the afternoon. Not only were there dippers and the merganser to watch, but there were lots of different butterfly species coming down to drink and get some salts from the sandy shore, and also a huge variety of macroinvertebrates in the water. There were so many stonefly larva crawling around on the bottom with their carefully constructed tiny hard tubes made from tiny sticks and stones.

With the beauty of the forests, the amazing wildlife to see, cooking over the fire, and sharing the whole experience with family and friends, this was a wonderful trip. I was aware that I really missed camping in 2020, but in a lot of ways I am fully realizing just how much I missed it now that I am camping once again! Being in the woods, getting to see and smell and hear the natural world around me, and getting to share it with you both here and on my YouTube channel (there will be a couple of videos coming out in the next few weeks) made me happier and more tranquil and excited than I have been for a while! I can’t wait until my next trip!

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List of Bird Species Observed:

Common Merganser

Common Nighthawk

Anna’s Hummingbird

Turkey Vulture

Belted Kingfisher

White-headed Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Black Phoebe

Steller’s Jay

Common Raven

Mountain Chickadee

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Red-breasted Nutchatch

Brown Creeper

American Dipper

Townsend’s Solitaire

American Robin

American Goldfinch

Dark-eyed Junco

Spotted Towhee

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Hermit Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Western Tanager

List of Other Species Observed (incomplete):

Western Tiger Swallowtail

Pale Tiger Swallowtail

Blue Copper

Lorquin’s Admeral

Sierra Nevada Checkerspot

Stonefly

Cadis Fly

Yellowjacket

Pacific Clubtail

Kibramoa madrona

Western Fence Lizard

Rainbow Trout

Douglas’s Squirrel

California Groundsquirrel

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I spent last weekend in the wonderful little town of Bolinas, CA. This special spot on the California Coast a relatively short drive north of San Francisco is a quite and quirky and very laid back. It is also right on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and Bolinas Lagoon and as such it provides access to a bunch of coastal and aquatic habitats, and I took advantage of this positioning to do a lot of birding!

Wildlife photographer captures osprey carrying shark, carrying fish in  'one-in-a-trillion photograph' | Fox News
Osprey carrying a fish. Photo Credit: Fox News

One morning, I went out to the beach to see what coastal and ocean birds I might spot and to do a bit of beach combing while I was at it. The sky was gray over the ocean, but not foggy. The tide was low and it was fun to spend a little time looking at washed up kelp, finding Sand Crabs as the waves broke on the shore, and looking out to sea at the rolling ocean. I was also enjoying watching the Western Grebes and Clark’s Grebes fishing off shore, the Double-crested Cormorants flying back and forth, and the Brown Pelicans cruising above the waves when I heard a bit of a commotion overhead. I looked up to see three birds chasing each other around in a mid-air tangle. One bird was an Osprey with a fish in its talons. The second bird was an adult Western Gull trying to steal that fish. The third bird was an adult Bald Eagle also trying to rob the Osprey! All three birds were engaged in some fancy flying over the waves as they attempted to secure their breakfast as the sun rose above the tree topped hills.

Sound Library - Bald Eagle - Yellowstone National Park (U.S. National Park  Service)
Adult Bald Eagle. Photo Credit: National Park Service

The tangle of birds did not last long. The Osprey was ultimately successful at defending its catch from the two would-be thieves and flew off to enjoy its meal. The gull quickly disappeared to forage elsewhere, but the eagle stuck around for a little while. It circled out over the Pacific for a couple of minutes, and watching for so long was a real treat for me. It then turned toward shore, dropped altitude, and flew along the beach. As it spread its huge wings about 50 feet over the sand, it flew slowly over beach goers and surfers. None of whom noticed at all! The humans were all absorbed in their own activities and did not realize that an enormous, not to mention iconic, bird was cursing right over their heads. I suppose that I should not have been surprised by this lack notice, and to a certain extent I wasn’t, but it was definitely amusing.

The Bald Eagle continued flying smoothly down the beach until it followed the bending line of the sand around a bluff and out of sight, and I continued my morning of beach exploration. It was a lovely morning that I enjoyed very much, and I hope you get out for some time on the coast as well.

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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.

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