Guest post by Samantha Arthur, Tricolored Blackbird Conservation Program Manager
Last week while surveying in the Central Valley, I saw several flocks of Tricolored Blackbirds searching for nesting sites. In order to set up their massive colonies, they need a specific type of flooded wetland. Sadly, I am not seeing a lot of that habitat this breeding season.
I am desperate to help the Tricolored Blackbirds because they cannot afford another unsuccessful season. Over just the last six years, the Tricolored Blackbird population has decreased by 64%!
With the support of the Five Dollars/Five Birds campaign, we’re creating new Tricolored habitat at Merced National Wildlife Refuge. We’ve planted triticale that may attract nesting Tricolored Blackbirds. Fields are also being prepared to provide alfalfa for foraging next to the wheat that provides nesting habitat. While we’ve done great work here, this is just one refuge. In order to save this species from extinction, we need to do more.
January welcomed the New Year with thick layers of fog that crept through agricultural fields, stretched over glassy wetland waters, and clouded the busy highways of the Central Valley. Under a sky washed out with textured gray that stubbornly masked the sun, three determined Audubon California staff set out from Sacramento—with warm coffee and a camera—to capture the many stories and voices of the San Joaquin River. This project was undertaken to publicize how a healthy and flowing river positively impacts whole communities, and has the intention to compel others to advocate and speak up for the future restoration, protection, and appreciation of the San Joaquin River. The resulting conversations recall a sense of community, mutual respect, and a fascination with the natural world.
Audubon California Staff Meghan Hertel and Desiree Loggins with Eric Caine.
Audubon Staff Daniela Ogden, and Meghan Hertel with Glenn Anderson and his farm dogs
Caitlin Jetter and Cameron Coronado
The storytelling begins nearly three hours from home, where Eric Caine, of Stanislaus Audubon, sat among pictures of smiling family and hard bound books on the birds of North America. When he is asked about his favorite part of the river, he replies knowingly, “. . . Each part of the river has its own charm, and each time of year its special moments. The River is hard to break into parts; the whole experience makes it what it is.”
Further south, Glenn Anderson cracks a wild almond from his farm whose fruit that tastes like black liquorish as his three dogs pout for attention around the kitchen table. Glenn, who runs an organic almond farm in Hilmar, takes his interview under a bare lemon tree and points down the road, “I was born a quarter mile from where I am standing . . . . So I would say that my relationship to the San Joaquin River is an intimate one.”
Mid-day comes quickly but the fog has only thickened and the falling sun slowly takes back whatever warmth it had previously given. The team is losing light, but not spirit. The journey continues as interviewers and interviewees ride smiling along a dirt road with San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust Executive Director Dave Koehler. This will be the first good look at the San Joaquin River all day. A Stellar’s Jay calls from an oak tree as Caitlin Jetter, Cameron Coronado, and Dave curiously wait to hear what each other have to say. The river flows and babbles peacefully in the background as Caitlin, a Fresno native and member of the Watershed Stewards Program, describes wrangling salmon and the perseverance of the river ecosystem despite degradation.
The last interview was conducted as the sun set on a lookout point at the scenic San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust headquarters. Steve Thao, Trout Unlimited’s Outreach Director, vividly described a recent trip canoe fishing on the San Joaquin as transformative, “If I put people on that canoe trip everyone would support the river.”
Documented in this series are a charismatic and diverse group of old friends, partners, fishermen, farmers, and the newest generation of environmental conservationists. In agreeing to brave the sometimes chilly temperatures brought by the iconic Central Valley fog, they were able to share with us that they are indeed for the river. And not only that, but how lucky we all are to have access to a place that is a source of happy memories, natural history, and community.
Check out this cool video of a female American Kestrel preparing her nest and laying her first egg in a box at the Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary in Orange County. If you want to know what’s happening right now, check out the Ranch’s live video feed. You can still see the egg in the top middle of the screen. Our understanding is that this female will lay several more eggs, every day or so, and then incubate when she’s closer to having all of her eggs in the nest. It’s not clear if she will lay all of her eggs before incubating, or just most of them. We’ll have to watch to find out.
Here’s another video of the kestrel moving around the nest, with the egg in the background.
Despite opposition from Audubon California and other conservation groups, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors yesterday approved an extension for a wind company to continue using older generation wind turbines at Altamont Pass that are predicted to kill a number of protected bird species, including Golden Eagles. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the California Attorney General’s Office also opposed the extension.
“For decades, wind turbines at Altamont killed thousands of Golden Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks and other raptors,” said Audubon California Policy Director Mike Lynes. “This company should be required to play by the same rules as the other wind companies at Altamont Pass.”
Thanks to the efforts of Bay Area Audubon chapters, most Altamont wind companies are now replacing their old, deadly turbines with newer models that are less harmful to birds. But one company, Altamont Winds Inc., requested this delay until 2018, even though it already received an extension in 2013. Scientists estimate that an additional eleven to sixteen Golden Eagles will die over the next three years, along with countless other raptors.
Today is the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, at the time the worst human-caused environmental disaster in U.S. history (now eclipsed by the Deepwater Horizon spill). Twenty-six years later, oil still lingers in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Drilling in the Arctic Ocean would be even riskier!
Senator Mark Leno, San Francisco Baykeeper, and Audubon California today announced legislation that would protect wildlife in the event of a marine spill involving a non-petroleum based substance. The legislation was inspired by the recent discovery of a mysterious sticky gray substance, dubbed in press reports as “mystery goo,” in the San Francisco Bay that killed more than 200 birds and threatened many more. Senate Bill 718, which is jointly authored by Senator Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, fixes a gap in existing law by creating a funding mechanism for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation during such rare events.
“California has a sophisticated oil spill response system, but in the unique event when a pollutant is unidentified, there is no clear funding mechanism for the cleanup,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “This legislation clarifies that the state’s top priority during a spill of any kind is to immediately protect waterways and wildlife, regardless of what type of substance caused the problem.” [Read more →]
The California State Water Board held a special workshop on the Salton Sea last week, and Audubon California’s Mike Lynes was there to outline the importance of the Salton Sea for birds, and outline the many environmental challenges the area faces. As water deliveries to the Salton Sea are expected to dramatically fall in the next few years, the habitat value of lake is expected to decline rapidly.
Audubon California’s Garry George was recognized last night for his efforts to protect birds and habitat, and in particular his “efforts to ensure more rational use of alternative energy sources such and wind and solar power.” As renewable energy director, George advocates for proper siting of projects to minimize impacts on birds and habitat. George is also Audubon California’s chapter network director. Way to go, Garry.
It took the Army Corps of Engineers all of about two days to reject opposition and move forward with its plan to kill 11,000 cormorants and destroy 26,000 nests on East Sand Island in Oregon. The Audubon Society of Portland has already threatened to sue. We’ll be tracking this story closely in the next few days, as there are likely to be a lot of developments.
Nearly 40 groups from conservation, animal protection, environmental justice, and public health today sent a letter opposing a new bill that would reverse legislation passed in 2013 that will require the use of non-lead ammunition for all hunting in California. Audubon California partnered with the Humane Society of the United State and Defenders of Wildlife to successfully sponsor Assembly Bill 711 in 2013 because of the documented threats that toxic lead in the environment pose for birds, other wildlife, and people. Today’s letter was signed by those three groups as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club California, ASPCA, and others. It was addressed to Assemblymember James Gallagher, who authored the legislation seeking to overturn AB 711.
The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board on Monday denied the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) a water quality permit for its Tesoro Extension project. The Board voted unanimously to adopt findings that reinforced its decision of June 2013, when the Regional Board rejected the requested Waste Discharge Requirements permit because the full project impacts of the entire road were not disclosed to it. Audubon California has been vehemently opposed to the project because of the impacts it will have on local wildlife like the Least Bell’s Vireo.
“The Regional Board’s decision is a major victory for the Least Bell’s Vireo,” said Pete DeSimone, manager of Starr Ranch.
The Least Bell’s Vireo is a federally protected subspecies. There are reportedly only several hundred mating pairs in existence.
A big thank you also goes to Sea and Sage Audubon Society for testifying at the hearing.
California can power itself three to five times over without embracing industrial-scale renewable energy that wrecks natural habitat, according to a new study by Stanford researchers. Researchers made this determination after reviewing the possibility of a built-out system of distributed generation (such as rooftop solar) and larger projects on already disturbed land, such as former farmland or industrial property.
As our spotters are looking for Tricolored Blackbird nesting colonies in the southern part of the Central Valley, one of our staff members captured this mixed flock of blackbirds on a ranch in Yolo County. She estimated that maybe 70 percent of the birds here are Tricolored Blackbirds. Tricolored Blackbirds tend to breed in the southern part of the valley in spring and early summer, then come up to the northern part to make a second attempt. Time will tell if these birds will stay put or head south. The landowner in this case is looking to install some habitat for the birds adjacent to a pond, a move we wholeheartedly applaud.
“These newly expanded sanctuaries will work in tandem with California’s network of state marine reserves to make our coast and ocean the world’s most protected marine environment,” said Michael Sutton, the National Audubon Society’s vice president for the Pacific Flyway. He said the expansion “will help protect some of California’s most spectacular coastline and valuable marine resources.”