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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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Parasitic JaegerDear Friend,

The Bird-a-Thon: Rogue Year has happened! And what a terrific day it was. This year the team consisted of Jonah Benningfield, Max Benningfield, Oscar Moss, Eddie Monson, and Connor Cochrane with Catherine Berner, Ellen Blustein and Aaron Haiman as organizers.    The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings was the first, and is the longest running youth bird-a-thon team supported by Point Blue Conservation Science. Over the past 15+ years, this extraordinary team has helped to foster passion for wildlife and conservation in young people. These young people have then carried that passion and knowledge into the world with them as they have spread into a wide range of endeavors across the globe!

Starting at 5:30 am at the Bear Valley Visitor Center, we heard several owls including a Northern Saw-Whet Owl! From there we began our zigzagging across the county. We found a Swamp Sparrow and a Herring Gull along Bolinas Lagoon; Whimbrel, Parasitic Jaegers, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows at Stinson Beach; found a Blackpole Warbler, a Townsend’s Solitaire, and a Ferruginous Hawk at some of the ranches on the Outer Point, a Horned Grebe and a flock of Sanderlings on Drake’s Beach (yes the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings team watched Sanderlings on Drake’s Beach); a Wilson’s Snipe at Stafford Lake; and we ended with several very cooperative Ridgeway’s Rails calling as we got out of the car; and many, many more. All in all this year, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings birded for over 14 hours and saw 139 species of bird!

Additional species that we saw included lots of mammals such as Mule Deer, Grey Fox, Coyote, Harbor Porpoise, and Northern Elephant Seal; and insects such as Black Saddlebags, Seven-spotted Skimmer, and lots and lots of Monarchs.

Since Point Blue Conservation Science was not able to organize the bird-a-thon this year, we went out on our own: The Rogue Year! Without support from Point Blue we have had no assistance getting the word out about our event, so we need all the help we can get. And you can still donate to the Sanderlings! By donating a fixed amount (such as $15.00) or an amount per species (such as $0.25/species), you encourage young people to go out and engage with birds, the natural world, and to work for a better future.

Donating is easy! Just mail a check, made out to Point Blue Conservation Science, to me at: 203 Touchstone Pl, West Sacramento, CA 95691 I will collect the donations and send them to Point Blue.

We very much appreciate your support for the Sanderlings Bird-a-thon: Rogue Year. If you have any questions about The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings, the Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon, or our any other aspect of this event please e-mail or call me at aaron.haiman@deltaconservancy.ca.gov or 510-289-7239.

Sincerely,

Aaron N.K. Haiman

Drake’s Beach Sanderlings Team Co-Leader

Sanderlings Team 2017

The 2017 Drake’s Beach Sanderlings

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Parasitic Jaeger

Parasitic Jeager. One of the early names that the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings tried out was The Jeagers.

Dear Friend,

For more than 15 years, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings have participated in the Point Blue Conservation Science Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon. During that time, dozens of young birders have had the opportunity to learn about birds, bird conservation, and ecosystem stewardship.

The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings was the first youth bird-a-thon team supported by Point Blue Conservation Science. Over the years, this extraordinary team has helped to foster a deep seated passion for wildlife and conservation in young people. These young people have then carried that passion and knowledge into the world with them as they have spread into a wide range of endeavors.

Last year, in 2016, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings birded for over 14 hours, covered over 100 miles zig-zagging across Marin County, saw a total of 131 species of bird, and raised over $3,000!

This year is going to be the same in some ways, and very different in others. Some of the similarities are that the Sanderlings are going out again, this year on the 23rd of September, to crisscross Marin County. We will be visiting all our favorite spots, and probably a few new ones, to find as many species of bird as we possibly can. One of the biggest differences is going to be that this is not an official Point Blue bird-a-thon! Due to staffing issues, among other things, Point Blue Conservation Science will not be able to support and run the Bird-a-thon. This is only a temporary situation, and Point Blue is fully planning on reinvigorating the bird-a-thon in 2018. However, it means that those of us who are still committed to the bird-a-thon cause are going rogue this year. It also means that we really need your help! With no support from Point Blue, we are on our own conducting outreach, and generating enthusiasm and dollars, for bird research and conservation!

Sanderlings Team 1

The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings birding Drake’s Beach during the 2016 bird-a-thon.

With the help of sponsors like you, we have helped to raise tens of thousands of dollars for environmental stewardship and conservation of the ecosystems on which we all depend. Your support of the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings encourages young people to go out and engage with birds and the natural world, and work for a better future.

So join us and donate a fixed amount (like $15.00) or an amount per species (like $0.25/species). Your support provides opportunities for young and old to engage in environmental stewardship, experience the rewards of connecting with their environment, and make a real difference in their communities and the world.

And donating is easy! Just mail a check, made out to Point Blue Conservation Science, to me at: 203 Touchstone Pl, West Sacramento, CA 95691

We very much appreciate your support for the Sanderlings Bird-a-thon: The Rogue Year. If you have any questions about The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings, the Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon, or our any other aspect of this event please e-mail or call me at aaron.haiman@deltaconservancy.ca.gov or 510-289-7239.

Sincerely,

Aaron N.K. Haiman

Drake’s Beach Sanderlings Team Co-Leader

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Dear Friends,

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Wrentit (2015 PBCS Bird-a-thon mascot)

Over fifteen years ago, I was one of the founding youth members of a youth bird-a-thon team. The team was organized and lead by birding greats Rich Stallcup and Ellen Blustein as the first youth team for what was then, the Point Reyes Bird Observatory and what is now Point Blue Conservation Science (PBCS). It was an amazing experience, and has turned into a recurring amazing experience every year since. We are now preparing for the youth bird-a-thon, again, and this year is looking like another spectacular one.

Over the past 15+ years, this team has taken to the field alongside so many amazing birds as they get restless and begin to move on their fall migration. For the birds, fall migration has been happening almost exactly the same way for millions of years, and it is still a feat that boggles the human imagination. For our bird-a-thon team, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings, fall migration has come to include this exhilarating day to witnesses the birds as they move through central California.

Each year many bird-a-thon teams ready themselves for the fall. These teams pick a day in mid-fall and go in search of the avian wanderers as they pass by; keeping tallies of who stops to visit. On September 24th 2016, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings will be doing just that, and we are lining up another great group of youths (in age and spirit) to find all those birds!

As in past years, this is not only an opportunity to see beautiful birds, learn as much about migration patterns and identification as possible, and spend time in great company. It is also a time to give. The PBCS is a recognized leader in conservation of avian biodiversity, the ecosystems that they, and we, depend upon, and climate change science. To continue to be such an influential leader requires money. It takes money to keep the banding stations running as they monitor avian population trends. It takes money to assess the loss of habitat that urban development causes. It takes money to set aside critical habitat and so insure that future fall migrations will continue this millions-of-years tradition. Funding is often hard to come by, and so we ask you, birders, environmentalists, friends, to become sponsors of our team and PBCS. Now, don’t think we won’t work for those donations. You can pledge a fixed sum, or you can tell us that you will give a small amount for every species we see. That way we will have a large incentive indeed to try our hardest to find every last species we can. In the past we have seen around 150 species, so a pledge of $0.20 per species will mean a total donation of around $30. Any amount that you can give will be valuable and tremendously appreciated, and donating is easy. Just go to: http://birdathon.kintera.org/faf/search/searchTeamPart.asp?ievent=1164352&lis=0&kntae1164352=3E274B2B05C54EDE984F8053552EF68D&team=6822398

and click on the ‘Donate Now’ button on the right side of the page. In this time of epic drought in California, the conservation of habitat and bird populations is all the more challenging and critical. Your donation will aid the cause of bird conservation throughout the western hemisphere, and you will join a long tradition of helping to inspire the birding leaders of tomorrow!

Thank you for your support,

The members of the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings

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MASCOT-2016-Wrentit

Wrentit (the 2015 Bird-a-thon mascot)

Dear Friends,

For over 15 years, The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings have participated in the Point Blue Conservation Science Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon, and in so doing provided dozens of young birders the opportunity learn about birds, bird conservation, and ecosystem stewardship.

Planning for the 2016 Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon is underway now and your help is needed for this event’s continued success! Sponsor support has provided thousands of dollars towards environmental stewardship and conservation of the ecosystems on which we all depend. Further, your support of the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings encourages young people to go out and engage with birds, the birding community, and the natural world as a whole.

We can meet the challenges that the future is presenting, but it will only be possible with the generous contributions of our sponsors.

The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings take pride in their tradition of providing education and stewardship for young and old. Participants learn how to protect the environment and the avian creatures we love so much. We also visit a wide range of locations and habitats and so gain a better understanding of the range of biodiversity that exists in Marin County.

PBCS logoThe Drake’s Beach Sanderlings was the first youth bird-a-thon team supported by Point Blue Conservation Science. Over the years, the extraordinary efforts conducted by members of this team have helped to foster a deep seated passion for wildlife and conservation in young people. These young people have then carried that passion and knowledge into the world with them as they have expanded and spread to a wide range of endeavors.

I am excited to report that in the 2015 Bird-a-thon, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings:

  • Birded for over 14 hours, beginning at 5:30am.
  • Covered over 100 miles, zig-zagging across Marin County.
  • Saw a total of 142 species of bird.

As we prepare for the 2016 Drake’s Beach Sanderlings Bird-a-thon, we know the time and support of our team members is priceless, but the financial support from you and others like you is what makes it possible for the bird-a-thon and Point Blue to grow and improve year after year.

So stand out as a leader! Donate $15.00 or whatever you can as a sponsor of the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings. Your support provides opportunities for young and old to demonstrate environmental stewardship, experience the rewards of connecting with their environment, and make a real difference in their communities and the world. And donating is easy! Just go to our team website: http://birdathon.kintera.org/faf/search/searchTeamPart.asp?ievent=1164352&lis=0&kntae1164352=3E274B2B05C54EDE984F8053552EF68D&team=6822398 and click on the “Donate” button.

We very much appreciate your support. If you have any questions about The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings, the Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon, or our any other aspect of this event please e-mail or call me at aaron.haiman@deltaconservancy.ca.gov or 510-289-7239.

Sincerely,

Aaron N.K. Haiman

Drake’s Beach Sanderlings Team Co-Leader

 

 

 

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As part of my current job with the California Department of Water Resources, I assist in collecting data for a study that is monitoring predators in the Clifton Court Forebay (CCF). The CCF is where water is collected and then pumped into the California Aqueduct for transport to southern California. One of the challenges to providing water to southern California is that there are several threatened or endangered species that live in the delta. Fish that get sucked into the pumps of the aqueduct do not survive, so keeping state and federally list species out of the system is important. The study I have been working on the past four months is examining threats to the listed species. One component of that study is to catch predatory fish such as Stripped Bass (Morone saxatilis), Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides), and several species of Catfish (Ictalurus spp. or Ameiurus spp.). Once captured, these fish are tagged with little transmitters that send out signals that can be detected by underwater microphones, called hydrophones, that are setup throughout the area. By tracking when and where these predatory fish go, we hope to be able to figure out a way to reduce the number that come into CCF and eat the listed species.

Fall-run Chinook Salmon

Fall-run Chinook Salmon

One of the listed species we are concerned with are Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), and I got an up close and personal look at one just a few days ago. As the team I was a part of was fishing in CCF, I got a hit on the lure I was using. It felt like a brick had been dropped on my line as the fish swam away from me and the boat. As I worked to real the fish in, everyone on the boat was getting curious to see what species I had hooked, just how big it was going to end up being. When I had finally pulled the fish to the surface, we were all really surprised to see that it was a Chinook! We are not supposed to catch salmon, and generally they do not attack the lures we use, additionally salmon at this time of year are not really eating but are instead focused on finding a mate and spawning. So this really was a surprise! When we got it on board to get the hook out of its mouth we quickly measured it (61 cm), weighted it (6.55 lbs), and got it back in the water so that it could go on its way.

Getting to see this fish, the largest fish I have ever caught, to hold it and then to watch it return to the water got me thinking a lot about Chinook Salmon. I am starting a new job on Monday which will focus on restoring many areas of the delta, and listed species will be a large part of those projects, so I figured that learning a bit more about salmon would be a good idea.

It turns out that there are four different runs of salmon that move through the California Delta. The different runs are defined according to when the different populations enter freshwater as they travel up from the Ocean and San Francisco Bay through the Delta and up the various rivers of California. The four runs are the Central Valley Fall-run, the Central Valley Late Fall-run, the Sacramento River Winter-run, and the Central Valley Spring-run. Each of these runs are considered to be evolutionarily significant units and so are monitored and managed for their specific needs.

Central Valley Fall-run Chinook, like the one I caught, are the most abundant of the four runs. They move through the area from July to December and spawn from early October through December. There is a fair bit of variability from stream to stream. Fall-run Chinook are an important economic factor due to the large numbers that are caught by both commercial and recreational fisheries in the ocean and by recreational anglers  once they reach freshwater. Even so, due to concerns about population size and the influence of hatchery-raised Chinook, this run is listed as a species of concern under the federal endangered species act.

Central Valley Late Fall-run Chinook migrate into the river systems from mid-October through December and spawn from January through mid-April. Again, due to concerns about population size and the influence of hatchery-raised Chinook, this run is listed as a species of concern under the federal endangered species act.

Sacramento River Winter-run Chinook pass through the Golden Gate from November through May and then move into the Sacramento River from December all the way through early August. They then swim up the mainstem of the Sacramento River to spawn from mid-April through August. These salmon used to go farther up the Sacramento River watershed and spawn in the McCloud River, the Pit River, and the Little Sacramento River. However, the construction of several dams have not blocked access to these historical spawning grounds. Despite these dams, the population of Sacramento River Winter-run Chinook was able to maintain a fairly healthy level until the 1970s when they began to decline. By the early 1990s only about 200 spawning salmon were observed. In 1989 this run was listed as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act and they were then listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1994.

Central Valley Spring-run Chinook begin moving up the Sacramento River from March through September. They generally the find areas of cold water to wait out the summer and then spawn from mid-August through October. This run used to be the largest in central California however, only small remnant populations are left in small creeks that make up some of the tributaries of the Sacramento River. Some Spring-run Chinook still occur in the mainstem of the Sacramento and Feather Rivers, but they sometimes hybridize with Fall-run Chinook. The reduced spawning areas, small population size, and hybridization threat lead the Central Valley Spring-run Chinook to be listed as threatened under both the federal and California Endangered Species Acts in 1999.

So, there you have them, the four Chinook Salmon runs of the California Delta. There are many other runs in other parts of the state, all with their own unique stories and histories. It will be interesting to see how I will be interacting with these runs in the habitat restoration work I will be doing. I will keep you informed!

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