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Posts Tagged ‘Outreach’

Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler 01

An adult male Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler

In my December article for Berkeley Hills Living, Montclair Living, and Piedmont Living magazines, I decided to focus on the Yellow-rumped Warbler and the idea that this one species may be split into several. Take a look!

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Phoebes 02

A Black Phoebe

I have been writing a monthly article for a set of three neighbor magazines for the past couple of years now. These magazines are distributed to a handful of east bay neighborhoods. I have shared one or two of the articles in previous posts, and am thinking of doing so more regularly, so here is the article on Phoebes that I wrote for the November issue of Berkeley Hills Living, Monclair Living, and Piedmont Living magazines.

Berkeley Hills Living – November 2019 Issue

Phoebes 01

A Say’s Phoebe

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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

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Sanderlings 2018 Team Photo

The 2018 Drake’s Beach Sanderlings.

 

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I spent the 4th of July weekend camping with my family at one of my favorite spots. Domingo Spring in Lassen National Forest. I first visited this site during my graduate school work where I was recording the calls of Evening Grosbeaks, and I have returned regularly ever since. The campground, set among jumbled piles of volcanic rocks and large conifer trees, is immediately beside a wet meadow that Domingo Creek runs through. Near the entrance of the campground is the source of Domingo Creek, and the campground’s namesake, Domingo Spring. This spring is one of the few places I know of where one can drink right out of the land. In my mind, that makes this a very special spot, indeed. We also drove to Willow Lake for part of one day which was lovely. Willow Lake has a floating sphagnum bog where a couple of native species of carnivorous plants grow wild.

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My brother birding Domingo Spring

The days we spent camping were filled with birds, a lake visit, walks throughout the surrounding meadows, lots of cooking over the fire, singing, talking politics, reading the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July, drawing, and so much more! One bird encounter that was really wonderful was our neighbors in the campground. A pair of Cassin’s Vireos had a nest about 25 feet up a ponderosa pine tree at the edge of our campsite where four nestlings eagerly gobbled down each of the insects their parents delivered. Many Western Tanagers, including a lot of newly fledged birds, were also around this year.

The full species list for birds included: Mallard, Common Nighthawk, Anna’s Hummingbird, Turkey Vulture, Great Horned Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, White-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Stellar’s Jay, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, House Wren, American Robin, Cassin’s Vireo, Evening Grosbeak, Purple Finch, Cassin’s Finch, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, MacGillivray’s Warbler, and Western Tanager.

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My daughter holding a Pacific Tree Frog

We also had some nice herpetological encounters. I caught a small Mountain Gartersnake, and my wife and daughter caught a Pacific Tree Frog. Oddly, we did not see any gartersnakes are Willow Lake. In the past we have often seen them swimming in the lake as they hunt for minnows in the water, sometimes around our feet. This year, the water was much more turbid that it usually is (a result of the fairly recent snow melt?), and maybe this made the water less appealing as hunting grounds for the snakes that are pretty visual predators.

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Mountain Gartersnake

Mammals we saw included Mule Deer, California Groundsquirrel, Golden-mantled Groundsquirrel, Douglas Squirrel, and Allen’s Chipmunk.

I very much look forward to the next time I return to Domingo Spring to enjoy the mountains and drink from the rocks.

 

 

 

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Homosexuality has been observed is just about every species it has been looked for. Transgender animals are not as widely known, but may just be a matter of looking for them.

There are certainly some animal examples that are various forms of transgender animals in nature. One is the California Sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher) which is a fish that is born female, and then can become male later in life. Another example is found in the Green Frog (Rana clamitans) that reverse sex in response to various external factors, and this has been observed in other amphibians as well. But both of these examples are in lineages of animals that are pretty distantly related to us humans.

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Photo of two lions one is male sex (left), one is female sex (right), but both display male characteristics.

Well, research published a couple of years ago in the African Journal of Ecology is an example much closer to us. In a paper by Gilfillan et al. from the University of Sussex, five lionesses in Botswana have been observed to grow manes, regularly roar and scent mark, mount other females, and display other very male-like behaviors such as killing the cubs of rival prides which females lions just about never do but is very common for male lions.

This is a mammal we are talking about.

Lions that are female in body, but male in behavior.

In the wild.

Still think being transgender is unnatural?

Transgender Flag

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The United Nations (UN) announced last Friday, the 10th of May, 2019, that almost every country on earth has agreed to a legally binding plastic waste pact. This agreement will mean that several thousand different types of plastic waste will be tracked. This means that countries will have to monitor and keep track of plastic waste within and beyond their boarders.

Related imageThis agreement sends a strong message to governments, industries, and consumers that the issue of plastic waste cannot be ignored. This is a good thing since plastics in the environment have become a huge problem. There are gigantic rafts of plastics floating in the oceans of the world (at least one is the size of the state of Texas). There is plastic scattered along every road, in every river, on every beach. A recent dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench (the deepest dive by a submarine ever) even found some pieces of either metal or plastic trash as the sub scanned to bottom.

Image result for plastic in the oceanWe humans need to stop flinging our trash all over the world. The wide-spread agreement on this need as evidenced by the wide-spread by-in to the plastic waste pact is encouraging. Unfortunately, one of the few countries that did not agree to the pact was the USA. I very much hope that my country will turn around on this stance.

 

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A news story has been circulating a fair bit in the past couple of weeks. This story has been picked up by numerous news and science outlets. How it is being reported and explained is just plain misleading and inaccurate.

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The Aldabra Rail is a subspecies of the White-throated Rail.

Here are a few titles that show how the subject is being covered.

Science Magazine – Evolution Brings Extinct Island Bird Back into Existence

Smithsonian Magazine – How Evolution Brought a Flightless Bird Back from Extinction

CBS News – An Extinct Bird Species Has Evolved Back into Existence, Study Says

From these titles, and from the bodies of the articles themselves, readers would think that the same species of bird existed at some point in the past, went extinct (as in died out completely), and then re-evolved!

That does not happen.

Here is what actually did occur.

The small atoll of Aldabra is a pretty spectacular spot. It is very remote. It is quite beautiful. It is home to a bunch of unique animals found no where else on earth. It has one of the longest fossil records on any island in the Indian Ocean.

That fossil record includes a lot of the animals that have called the atoll home over the past few million years. One of those animals was the Aldabra Rail. This rail was a small flightless bird that was probably found hunting through reed beds along the edges of water. The Aldabra Rail went extinct about 136,000 years ago at about the same time that global sea level was rising and submerging oceanic islands like Aldabra. After a few thousand years, sea level dropped and Aldabra became an exposed island once more. Not long after that fossils of a rail on Aldabra start showing up again.

There are a couple of possible explanations. One is that some remnant population of the Aldabra Rail hung on, some how, and did not die. These were flightless birds, so it is not clear how this might have happened, but perhaps a small population managed to survive on a floating raft of vegetation long enough to reach an exposed bit of land. This seems like a very long shot. It is much more likely that the Aldabra Rail simply died out completely. It went extinct.

The other possible explanation is much more likely and widely understood and accepted, and it is this: the Aldabra Rail went extinct when the atoll went under water. Then after it re-emerged, a group of birds likely from the same parent stock of the original Aldabra Rail re-colonized the atoll (quite probably from Madagascar). This new group of colonizers eventually became flightless and filled the same, or very similar, ecological niche as the original Aldabra Rail.

This is a process called iterative evolution and it is pretty rare. The definition of iterative evolution is: the evolution of similar or parallel structures in the development of the same main line.

But iterative evolution does not produce the same species twice. It may produce similar species, but to produce the same species twice would require starting with the same gene pool twice. The group of birds that first colonized Aldabra, and became the Aldabra Rail 1.0, had a unique combination of genes to work with. The group of birds that later colonized Aldabra, and became the Aldabra Rail 2.0, had a unique combination of genes to work with. Those two combinations of genes may have been similar, but they were not the same. Therefore the decedents of those two groups would not be the same.

I really think that the implications of how this story is being reported is really misleading and possible even damaging.

Misleading because they imply that a species can evolve twice. To go back to the definition of  iterative evolution, it the evolution of “similar or parallel structures…” Similar or parallel structures are not the same as identical species. Two rails that evolved at different times in the same place and that are both flightless, are not the same species.

Damaging because there is weight to the idea of extinction. Extinction is forever. It means that an entire evolutionary lineage has ended, and any potential future that that lineage may have had is gone. If the idea of extinction becomes an impermanent one, it looses its urgency and tragedy. People may well not worry about extinction as that species can just re-evolve. No harm, no foul.

Again, no species can ever occur twice. Once a species goes extinct, that is it for that evolutionary lineage. Even if some other lineage emerges that is close, it will not be the same and will not have the same evolutionary trajectory or potential.

When reporting on science, I feel strongly that the ideas behind the science should be accurately represented. I think it is especially distressing when the sources of the misrepresentations are otherwise reputable sources for science.

I hope the current Aldabra Rail has a long future filled with descendants, and I mourn the loss of the previous rail of Aldabra and the lineage it might have left behind, but never will.

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A view of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has produced a video called Restoring California’s Great Estuary that explains the EcoRestore initiative which is one of the big, state-wide efforts that is aiming at restoring some fairly significant amounts of habitat to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Being that I work for a State agency called the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, this is something that I pay a lot of attention to. But there are a lot of reasons that everyone who lives in California, and many people who live outside the state, should also be interested in this video. A large portion of the people, farms, ranches, and industries in California rely, at least in part, on water from the Delta. That fact alone should make efforts like

Also, I work with many of the people featured in this video including my boss, Campbell Ingram. Seeing talented people that I know talking about an issue that I care about makes this video that much more appealing to me, but that probably won’t have much impact on you.

Enjoy!

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