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Bay Area Bird Blog » 2008» July

Archive for July, 2008

28th 2008
Martinez Beaver Festival

Posted under day trips & local wildlife

Martinez beaver photo by Cheryl Reynolds[Photo: One of the famous Martinez Beavers, photographed by Cheryl Reynolds]

Next Saturday, August 2, there will be a festival from 3:30-6:30 PM in Martinez, California to celebrate the return of beavers to that town a couple of years ago, and their successful raising of some baby beavers.  This is a really easy trip from the East Bay, only 30 minutes by car from Berkeley or you could take Amtrak and sit in style while watching the beautiful scenery (the tracks follow the bay all the way around, unlike the freeway, so you see stuff you can’t see if you drive).  My wife and I have gone a couple of times, and I’ve even ridden my bike there from Berkeley (although I would not claim that it was easy).  Martinez is a great little town.  Once, we went to see the beavers early in the morning and then did some birdwatching at the slough farther downstream; another time, we took our bikes along and rode the really splendid bike route from Martinez to Crockett and back.  Have lunch or dinner in Martinez and tell ‘em you’re there for the beavers — honestly, that is the best way to help ensure that the beavers continue to have a home, because, believe it or not, there are some people there who want to get rid of the beavers!  So just by going to the festival and having a drink or some food at a local joint, it’s a bit like making a donation (as long as you mention that you came for the beavers).  Can’t beat that!

More about the beavers is at the “worth a dam” blog (which doesn’t prominently mention the festival because the information has been pushed down the page by recent entries, but these are the people organizing the festival).  There’s also an article on the Bay Nature website. Bay Nature is a Bay-Area-specific nature magazine (as you might, just might, have been able to guess from the title) that is really, really good — my wife and I have been getting it since it came out and it is really terrific. But I never before realized that they do stories on their website that they don’t have room for in the magazine, so even if you get the magazine you need to check out their website too.  I’ve added it to the blogroll. 


26th 2008
Cooper’s Hawks in North Berkeley

Posted under local birds

Cooper\'s Hawk photo by Larry Blakely[Cooper’s Hawk photo by Larry Blakeley, from Univ. Texas El Paso website]

Until last year, a pair of Cooper’s Hawks nested in Live Oak Park, two blocks from my house.  The tree where they made their nest died and was removed — no complaint, I understand the danger of having a big dead tree in a popular park — and everyone in the neighborhood was sad that the hawks didn’t just find some other nearby tree.  Well, apparently they actually did find some other nearby tree (though nobody seems to know exactly where): last week a neighbor reported two adult hawks and a very young one, flying about the neighborhood.  And today, my wife saw them checking out the neighborhood, passing over our house a few times as they seemed to be investigating the nearby blocks.  Yay!  I will report this to the Cooper’s Hawk project that I blogged about a few months ago.


24th 2008
GGNRA “big year” — how’s it going?

Posted under activism & endangered species

Way back in January, in one of the first posts on this blog, I posted about the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) “Big Year.”  The idea is to see as many of the GGNRA’s federally listed (”threatened” or “endangered”) species as possible, and to perform some action to protect or help the ones that you see.  As I mentioned in January,

GGNRA has more federally listed endangered species than any other mainland unit of the National Park Service.  Brent Plater [Big Year organizer] was flabbergasted (so am I).   More than Yellowstone, with its wolves and grizzlies?  Yep.  More than the big parks of the Pacific Northwest, with their spotted owls?  Yep.  The only U.S.  parks with more federally listed threatened or endangered species are on islands: Hawaii, and the Channel Islands of Southern California.  We’ve got 33 listed species here (”listed” means listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under the federal endangered species act).  This is not something to be proud of.  

Well, I’m sorry to admit that I haven’t done very much vis-a-vis the Big Year.  I did see the Western Snowy Plover, and I’ve done my share of lobbying to help protect endangered species in general…but as far as the Big Year itself, eh, I haven’t done so much.  If you’re in the same boat, there’s an opportunity for you this weekend to jump-start things on both the see-a-species front and the take-action front:

Sat, July 26, 3 p.m.: Celebrate the return of Western Snowy Plovers to the GGNRA by participating in a beach cleanup and outreach day at Ocean Beach! While there, complete your Big Year Action Item by asking dog owners to keep ‘em on a leash in Plover habitat! Location: Ocean Beach, Stairwell 17.

That’s this Saturday. Why not come lend a hand?

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19th 2008
We need to bill for water as if it is worth something, which it is.

Posted under government

In an unsurprising court decision, a judge has just ruled that taking millions of gallons of water out of rivers is harmful to the fish that live in them. According to the SF Chronicle, “it was the latest in a string of rulings ordering state and federal regulators to fix a water system that supplies millions of Californians with water but is all but dysfunctional when it comes to protecting fisheries and the environment.”  That’s good, but now the question is, what are we gonna do about it.  The biggest problem here isn’t the wasteful water use of city suburbanites with their big lawns, nor the water-wasting personal habits of just about everyone, it’s the wasteful use in agriculture.  California farmers grow water-intensive crops in the desert, use extremely inefficient irrigation practices, and just generally treat water as if it is abundant in a state where it isn’t.  Farmers pay very little for water, which is provided via a highly subsidized water system (and the groundwater they pump isn’t even measured, much less billed) so they have almost no economic incentive to conserve.

As with carbon dioxide emissions, the best approach to resolving the problem includes simply charging more: we need a tax for water that “internalizes” the cost of environmental harm, just like we need a gas tax for the same reason.  In either case, this needn’t increase the total tax burden: in the case of agricultural water, they could charge each farmer for the water he uses, and then refund all of the money by sending every farmer a check proportional to the number of acres of crops. This would transfer money from farmers who use a lot of water to those who don’t, and provide a powerful incentive to use less water.  The fee could start small and gradually ramp up over five or six years, to give farmers a chance to install new irrigation systems and switch to less water-intensive crops.  I’m dreaming, though: the agriculture lobby is way too strong for this to fly.


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18th 2008
How does that bird smell? Pretty good!

Posted under birds (general) & science

Science Daily reports on a recently published study that says that some birds have a good sense of smell.  You know, I’ve never really thought about this, not sure why not.  As I might have guessed if I had thought about it, birds that feed on fruit at night have a better sense of smell than birds that feed on seeds during the day. (Or at least, some birds meet these descriptions, they haven’t checked all that many).  All well and good, but the real reason I chose this particular item to blog about is the photo of the Kakopo.  Is that a cool-looking bird, or what?

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16th 2008
Are East Coast bird songs more complicated than ours?

Posted under bird behavior

I was on the island of North Haven, Maine for the past two weeks.  Great birding there — see my post last week for a very brief write-up.  One thing that struck me was how incredibly complicated some of the warbler songs are (and maybe not just warblers, there were lots of singers I couldn’t see).  Instead of a little whee-whee-trilll-whee or something, there would be these long, elaborate arias with trills and “widget-widget” sounds and runs of whistles and all kinds of things, just on and on.  Do our birds out here just not have songs that are this elaborate, or some of them do but not the ones I encounter, or perhaps I’m just rarely in a place that is as absolutely quiet as North Haven so other sounds mask the songs?  Or are East Coast birds just better singers for some reason?


15th 2008
Farewell, Dona Spring

Posted under Uncategorized & government

Very sad news yesterday, Berkeley councilwoman Dona Spring died.  She was a great champion of environmental protection, in spite of the fact that her severe disability — she was wheelchair-bound and often in pain — made it very difficult for her to travel at all, so she really never saw wilderness and rarely was out of the urban environment.  (In an article a few months ago about wheelchair-accessible vans that are available for rental, she was quoted as saying that she had a lifelong dream of visiting Point Reyes.  My wife and I had decided to arrange a trip for her in the fall. Very sad that she’ll never make it).  I was Dona’s appointee to the Berkeley Parks and Recreation Commission for a couple of years, and also encountered her in other political settings.  I really liked her, and I’m very sorry that we’ve lost her. 

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7th 2008
Osprey, eagles, kingfishers, sharp-shinned hawks…

Posted under birds (general) & travel

Those few of you who are regular readers will have noticed that I haven’t posted in the past ten days or so. I’ve been on vacation on North Haven, Maine, an island off the coast. My wife and I are renting a cottage on a tidal inlet, and every afternoon we sit outside and watch the osprey come by, kiting every now and then as they peer down into the water looking for fish. The family of four kingfishers across the way chatters away every now and then…I love kingfishers.

And we’ve twice seen different pairs of downy woodpeckers (at least we assume it’s different pairs, we saw them a couple of miles apart), with one of them feeding the other. I don’t quite understand it, but it’s the smaller one feeding the bigger one…and the bigger one doesn’t have the red fleck on its head that indicates that it’s a juvenile.

The most dramatic thing we’ve seen is a battle, or at least a kerfuffle, between a bald eagle and two osprey. We were out for a row up the estuary, and we saw the osprey first, moving very fast, not the usual casual cruising for prey…and then we saw that they were heading for a bald eagle. One of the osprey would dive at the eagle, and just at the last second before contact the eagle would roll over, upside-down, and stick its claws up at the oncoming osprey. This happened several times, very cool, before the eagle moved on and the osprey headed back for their nest.

Other nice sightings have included a juvenlie sharp-shinned hawk, several common yellowthroats and some other unidentified warblers — I swear, I don’t know how people tell warblers apart.

Anyway, I’ll resume Bay-Area postings soon. For now, I’m having a great time in Maine.

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