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Bay Area Bird Blog » 2008» September

Archive for September, 2008

29th 2008
Farewell, Martinez Beavers, we hardly knew you.

Posted under government & local wildlife

It looks like curtains for the Martinez Beavers as we’ve known them (type “Beavers” in the search box to see more blog entries about these wonderful animals): the City is planning to remove their lodge in order to do creek bank stabilization (which means, in this case, putting more concrete and rocks into the east bank of the creek).  It’s an all too typical story, stretching back a few decades in this case: first, property owners hem in a creek by building closer and closer to it on each side.  Then, the creek floods, and the property owners and/or the city build retaining walls to contain the creek.  During non-flood years, the walls give the property owners the sense of security they need to justify building even closer to the creek; eventually they’re right on top of it.  Then, something happens — a high water year, or some beavers that build dams and a lodge, or just aging of the infrastructure — that threatens the retaining walls.  The property owners sue the city, the city caves, and public money is spent to mitigate the problem.  We’ve seen it in New Orleans and Galveston on a large scale, and we’re seeing it in Martinez on a small scale.

Personally, I can’t say one way or the other whether the beaver lodge is actually undermining the retaining wall next to the creek.  I can say that I think it’s ridiculous that people were allowed to build a building four feet from the creek bank, as they did. A better solution than trying to maintain a permanent wall there would be to add some meander to the creek to take it away from that wall.  Apparently that isn’t even being considered, I’m not sure why.

There’s no plan to kill the beavers, just to wreck their home so they have to move elsewhere.  I hope they move somewhere else where they are more welcome; although they have had many great, great fans and helpers in Martinez, the city as a whole has treated them badly right from the start.  It’s sad.



22nd 2008
Tired of bad news? Tough.

Posted under birds (general) & endangered species & science

Read the whole article at BBC Online, but here’s the gist of it:

The populations of the world’s common birds are declining as a result of continued habitat loss, a global assessment has warned.

The survey by BirdLife International found that 45% of Europe’s common birds had seen numbers fall, as had more than 80% of Australia’s wading species. 

The study’s authors said governments were failing to fund their promises to halt biodiversity loss by 2010.


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19th 2008
Little Green Places contest; send a photo

Posted under Uncategorized

The famous Cornell Ornithology Lab is sponsoring a fun contest:

We want to see photos, drawings, or videos of Little Green Spaces that are good for birds because they provide shelter, food, or water. It could be an ivy-covered wall, flowers next to the stoop, a window box, a container garden on a rooftop or balcony, school garden, or potted plants by a library entryway.

We’re asking participants to send a photo, drawing, or link to their video to . We’ll send the first 50 entries a copy of the new “Celebrate Little Green Places” poster and there will be other great prizes.The deadline is October 31.

Information about the Little Green Places contest can be found on our web site:

Sounds fun. If I can get a photo of a hummingbird at our feeder, or a bird bathing in our birdbath, I’ll send it in.

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15th 2008
Finally, some good news: Red Kites in Scotland are on the rise

Posted under birds (general)

According to BBC News, “There are now 122 breeding pairs in Scotland and 1,200 pairs across the UK.  Red kites were once common all over the British Isles, before widespread killings in Victorian times led to just a few pairs surviving in mid-Wales.”


I was pretty pleased to read about that!  But then I made the mistake of reading the rest of the story: “Red kites are almost entirely confined to Europe, and the species is faring badly in many other countries, with population declines recorded in the main breeding areas of Germany, France and Spain. The species is now classified as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), due to its population declines in Europe.”

So, OK, it’s good news in Scotland, bad news everywhere else.  Allow me to focus on the good news for once, it’s depressing to just look at the losses everywhere.  Hooray for the Scottish kites!

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11th 2008
Extinction on the way: from 10 million to 5000, and falling fast.

Posted under birds (general) & endangered species & science

Asian Vulture photo by Munir Virani

Back in January, I blogged about how and why the south Asian white-backed vulture is on its way to extinction: a medicine called diclofenac, given to cows in India, is so toxic to vultures that a few bites from a dead cow will kill the vulture.  In just a few years, vultures have gone from ubiquitous to nearly extinct.  Some scientists have started captive breeding programs to save the species, in the hope of releasing them to the wild in the future. (Diclofenac is officially banned but is still being made and used).  

Unfortunately, a new study, reported in ScienceDaily, says the genetic diversity in the captive birds may not be enough.  They need to catch more birds. 

The Science Daily article says:

While the death of an unattractive bird that scavenges for a living may not sound like a great loss, vultures have important cultural and religious significance in south Asia. The ancient Parsi religion holds earth, fire and water sacred, and to avoid contaminating them, the Parsis dispose of their dead by placing them on “Towers of Silence,” where vultures consume the remains. In addition, the vulture saint Jatayu is an important figure in Hindu religion. The absence of vultures poses a direct threat to public health as well, as uneaten livestock carcasses provide breeding grounds for bacteria and attract feral dogs, which may spread rabies and other diseases.


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9th 2008
Creek Restoration in San Francisco Presidio

Posted under local birds

The SF Chronicle has an article entitled “Presidio’s creeks will spring back to life” that describes a plan to restore the El Polin Spring watershed: “Starting Monday, 58 non-native eucalyptus, cypress and pine trees will be removed from around the springs. Community volunteers will replant the site with native California buckeye, wax myrtle, toyon, willow and grasses grown in the Presidio Native Plant Nursery starting Nov. 22.” 

You can go and take a look: “A guided walk to El Polin Spring covering the Tennessee Hollow environmental restoration project will be conducted for the public from 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday at El Polin Springs in the Presidio. For directions and to RSVP, call (415) 561-5357 or e-mail jnichols@”

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5th 2008
A parrot that says “Exterminate! Exterminate!”

Posted under bird behavior & humor

The BBC has a nice video of a parrot running through part of its repertoire of sounds.  My favorite is when it says “Exterminate! Exterminate!” like the Daleks on the old “Doctor Who” TV show.  It also does a great little snippet of the Mission Impossible theme.  I can’t figure out how to insert the video on my page, but you can see it here. 




4th 2008
Evolution of flightless birds

Posted under birds (general) & science

ScienceDaily reports: “Large flightless birds of the southern continents – African ostriches, Australian emus and cassowaries, South American rheas and the New Zealand kiwi – do not share a common flightless ancestor as once believed.  Instead, each species individually lost its flight after diverging from ancestors that did have the ability to fly, according to new research conducted in part by University of Florida zoology professor Edward Braun.”

I’m surprised that they’re surprised!  Well, OK, they’re maybe not “surprised,” I guess the data are ambiguous and now the evidence leans the other way from what they previously thought.  

Whatever.  At any rate it looks like the similarities of these birds are due to “convergent evolution” rather than the geographic distribution of a single type of bird. 

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