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Bay Area Bird Blog » 2008» June

Archive for June, 2008

25th 2008
Fantastic news from Florida; let’s do more of this

Posted under government & wildlife (general)

Sixteen years ago, some friends gave me a copy of Al Gore’s book, “Earth in the Balance.”   I don’t remember it very well, but I do remember Gore’s insistence that he was never going to vote for sugar subsidies again: the sugar industry, he said, was ruining the environment of the Everglades, treating its employees terribly, and just generally screwing up the whole state of Florida.  

So let’s all celebrate a very big deal: the state of Florida is about to buy out U.S. Sugar: for $1.75 Billion, the State gets 187,000 acres — almost 300 square miles — that will basically connect Lake Okeechobee to Everglades National Park.  This is way, way more than just land acquisition that will allow diverse plants to replace sugar cane (although it is that too), the real significance is the implications for water management.  An article in the International Herald Tribune says that if the deal goes through (likely but not definite) then:

The impact on the Everglades could be substantial. The natural flow of water would be restored, and the expanse would add about a million acre-feet of water storage. That amount of water could soak the southern Everglades during the dry season, protecting wildlife, preventing fires and allowing for a redrawing of the $8 billion Everglades restoration plan approved in 2000.

It sucks to reward a bad company with so much money — according to the article, “some former company executives have suggested that the state is overpaying, bailing out a company burdened with debt, a new sugar mill and a lawsuit by former employees who said they were bilked out of retirement money.”  But “the best” is the enemy of “the good”, and this is a very good deal.  The monetary cost is substantial, but the direct monetary savings will be substantial too (in reduced firefighting costs, fire damage, and flood damage, among several other items)…and the environmental benefits will be huge, allowing for the famous “river of grass” that used to define the Everglades, rather than the channels meandering among dry areas that has been the situation for past decades. 

Now, let’s (as a country) get to work on a corridor connecting Yellowstone to Glacier National Park and on up into Canada.  And let’s start buying up prairie, too, in huge, huge chunks.  If everybody in the country were willing to pay $2 per day — the cost of a cup of coffee, for a lot of people — we could do something of this magnitude twice a week, week after week after week.  

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24th 2008
Berkeley’s OTHER Kite festival!

Posted under day trips & endangered species & local birds

[Ron Wolf photo of a white-tailed kite]

Birder extraordinaire Rusty Scalf sent this write-up to Diablo Audubon recently, and Corinne Paff passed it along to me:

This morning, Corinne Greenberg, Charlie Paffenberger  and I took a walk throught the ‘Berkeley Meadow’ and around Cesar Chavez Park. Highlights:

Two White-tailed Kite youngsters, obviously siblings, perched together on a Coyote Bush; Beautiful with chestnut breasts and marbled graphite gray backs.

A Northern Harrier food exchange and nest visit: The male flew from Cesar Chavez Park towards the Meadow carrying a vole and the female flew in to meet him. There was a mid-air exchange, much calling, then the female descended to the ground in a couple of big loops ending with perhaps a 10 ft vertical drop into dense vegetation.

We saw an adult and a young Barn Owl in the northeast-most box on the Cesar Chavez loop trail.

The Pelagic Cormorants are at their nest on the concrete wall on the north side of the Marina. One bird was incubating.

Harriers and kites are “species of special concern,” so it’s especially neat to be able to see them so close to the city.  And for me it’s especially great that these are very distinctive birds: even _I_ can identify them, and that’s really saying something.

If you haven’t visited the Berkeley Meadow yet, definitely stop by. (It’s just north of University Avenue, just west of the freeway).  Here’s a suggestion: start at Aquatic Park and bird there (it’s worth doing the full circuit); then cross the freeway via the pedestrian bridge to the Berkeley Meadow (stop off at the crab shack for fortification first, it’s right on the way) and look for the kites and harriers and such.  Continue with the loop around Cesar Chavez Park, then head back to the bridge via the other route through the meadow.  Finish up by walking over to fourth street, or to the fabulous Vik’s Indian place.  That, my friends, is a terrific way to spend three or four hours.  


23rd 2008
Check out the Birds of the Bay blog

Posted under local birds

The “blogroll” — the list of links at the right side of this web page — has links to a bunch of sites that I recommend.  I don’t check these out myself as often as I should.  Today I caught up on some of the posts on Birds of the Bay and I hereby resolve to check it out more often.  

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21st 2008
New backyard bird: some kind of flycatcher

Posted under local birds

Willow flycatcher photo by \"Muskrat\"

[This photo of a Willow Flycatcher is from someone online who calls himself “Muskrat”]

I swear I don’t know how people identify flycatchers.  I get a quick glimpse of a bird flitting through the trees, I go to my bird book and it looks like any of about 5 different flycatchers.  Another glimpse, another look at the book, no help.  And again.  And again.  So all I can say is, we have SOME kind of flycatcher visiting our yard regularly.  That’s a new one for us!  Very exciting.  I only wish I knew what the little fella was. (If I had to guess, I’d guess Hammond’s, but I wouldn’t bet heavily on it!).


19th 2008
Birds sing “I’m a dad! I’m a dad!”

Posted under bird behavior & birds (general)

Reported in Science Daily: Researchers at Oregon State University, Wellesley College, Queen’s College, and Kent University recently published a study that reports that some birds change their songs when their chicks hatch, and that other birds of the same species are more likely to nest nearby — presumably the “success” song tells them that this is a good neighborhood to raise kids. 

“Finding the right habitat in which to breed is a matter of life and death for most birds,” said Matthew Betts, an OSU assistant professor of forest science and expert on avian ecology. “They don’t live a long time and they need to get it right the first time.”

“The common wisdom is that these birds select sites solely on vegetation structure,” Betts said. “If a bird selects a site for its nest that doesn’t have the appropriate cover and food supply, it most likely won’t be able to successfully breed. But now we know that young birds can listen to the songs of more experienced and successful birds and use this to help decide where they will nest the next year.”


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17th 2008
Custom bird guide, cool idea

Posted under Uncategorized

I’m a bit reluctant to blog about this, since I’m basically giving free advertising to a for-profit company…so, OK, there’s your fair warning, if you don’t like the idea then don’t read any further.  I recently came across a company,, that sells custom bird guides: you select a bunch of birds from a list, and you get a guide with just those birds. (It turns out I had mentioned the main page of this website before, since they have bird identification page: you input information about the color, size, etc., of a bird, and it gives you a list of matching birds — great idea, but the execution is poor.  For some reason they don’t mention the custom bird guides on the main page).

Why would you want a custom bird guide?  Same question I asked myself — I already have the excellent Sibley guide, plus an Audubon photo guide as backup, why would I want to make my own guide with just 10 or 20 or 50 species?  But the more I think about it, the more the idea grows on me.  For one thing, I could use a guide that just shows the 60 or so species that I’ve seen in my yard in the past ten years. What with my famously bad memory for birds, I have to look up some of these repeatedly. It would also make a fun gift for the neighbors: “Birds of Glen Avenue.”  Why not?  But I haven’t done this yet, so I can’t vouch for the quality — don’t blame me if you get one and it sucks!


13th 2008
Tell EBMUD we want to conserve water

Posted under activism

The East Bay Muncipal Utilities District (EBMUD) is working on their long-term plan: how are they going to provide “enough” water for the East Bay over the next fifteen years.  What they don’t want to do is any of that wild, crazy stuff like they’re doing in LA: installing “graywater” recycling systems, capturing roof runoff, discouraging wasteful practices like water-intensive lawns and such.  No, no, we wouldn’t want to do that!  We want to drain our rivers and streams dry, and build bigger dams to flood more wildlife habitat.  Anything to avoid “conservation.”  And if we DO have to have brief periods of conservation, we want to do what we’re doing now: let people use more water during a drought if they have been using more water before the drought, thus discouraging people from reducing their normal water usage.  Sure, that’s what we want.  

If you agree, come out to a meeting at 6:30 PM on Tuesday, June 17, at the EBMUD offices in Oakland: 375 11th street.  Speak up in favor of eliminating the last of our salmon and trout populations, and drowning habitat!  Oppose measures such as capturing roof runoff, and recycling shower water!  Drain the rivers! Drown the habitat!  Let’s all get together on this, people! 

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10th 2008
Plants for your California yard

Posted under local birds

When my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I moved in together, into a house in North Berkeley, she immediately went to work on the garden.  The back yard was more than she could handle for starters, but she tore out all of the Himalayan Blackberry in our small, relatively sunny (compared to the back) front and side yards, and started planting.  I confess to being a little skeptical — did it really make sense to put all this work into a place we didn’t even own and would probably vacate in a couple of years?  Well, first, the answer was Yes, the garden immediately made the place a nicer place to live: some colorful flowers, a nice look, and lots of butterflies and bees that made it interesting.  And then, a couple of years later, we ended up buying the house, so we got the long-term benefit after all!  

Why am I mentioning all of this now?  Because I was at the Berkeley Farmer’s Market on Saturday, and some people (sorry, I forget which organization so I can’t give credit) were promoting drought-tolerant gardening.  I picked up a nice little pamphlet called “Outstanding Plants for Alameda County”, put out by the University of California Cooperative Extension, that lists 18 plants that need no watering or very little watering.  About half of the plants are native to California, but even the non-natives would be fine around here…except for one, the Peruvian Lily, which it says “can become invasive.”  Why would you recommend an invasive non-native plant, for god’s sake?  Please don’t plant that one.  But all of the others are great.  Recommendations include California Fuchsia, Hummingbird Sage, Ceanothus (which they call “California Lilac”, I didn’t know it was called that); Coffeeberry, Monkey Flower, California Fescue, and more. I have all of these in my yard.  You could have a really great garden just from the plants on this list, they all attract birds or butterflies or bees.  Three things:  (1) wait until just before the rainy season to plant, (2) in spite of the drought-tolerance of these plants, you may have to do a little supplemental watering during the first summer, and (3) all of the California natives are deer-resistant to some degree (even the coffeeberry — I might have said especially the coffeeberry! — which they oddly say is not), but any young plant appeals to deer, so you might have to keep the deer away for a few months or even a year. 


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