Photo by Alicia Smith
Call Notes: Cynthia Hartley - Executive Director
With this newsletter we bring to a close our 2019-2020 VAS season. Needless to say, this year has been a roller coaster ride for our chapter, our members and community. After mid-March when stay at home restrictions were enacted, we ended up having to cancel our monthly chapter programs, birding field trips and our Annual Meeting in May where we gather to picnic together, elect our new board and celebrate another year of birds. We also canceled our biggest fund raiser of the year, the annual Bird-A-Thon.
Thank you to everyone who attended chapter programs, we miss seeing all of you! Since then a huge thank you to all of you who responded to action alerts, followed us on social media, read our newsletters, volunteered your time and donated to our chapter. We are so very grateful to those of you who contributed to Bird-A-Thon despite the cancellation of our April mailing! We could not do what we do without you. Through all of this, birds have been a constant. It was a delight and a relief to welcome all of our familiar nesting birds this spring. Spring also brought the return of snowy plover nesting season, which began on schedule despite the human drama. It is an affirmation of our chapter’s mission.
To recap our 2019-20 accomplishments, we began our year with the first new VAS president in 10 years. VAS had several important achievements in grant funding this year; we were 1) awarded an Endangered Species Act Section 6 (S6) grant for our Shorebird Recovery Program on Ormond and Hollywood beaches; 2) included as a partner organization on a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) grant to continue least bell’s vireo work on the Ventura River and 3) received an Audubon in Action grant to build the CSUCI Audubon Chapter which we helped launch 2 years ago. For the first time in our history we hired staff and created an executive director position. It was a big step for our chapter and it means we are entering a new world, and hopefully increasing our impact in our programs.
Soon after these big changes took place, we faced the challenges of a global pandemic which immediately stopped all group activities, cancelling all VAS activities for the rest of the year. On the heels of all this, we witnessed on national news the confrontation between one of our fellow birders who is also a board member of NYC Audubon. As he asked a woman to leash her loose dog in a location that requires leashed pets, which many of us have done before, their interaction morphed into a racial attack on him. That week began one of the most profound racial justice movements our nation has seen in generations. What a year of extremes!
Our chapter’s work slowed during all of this, but it did not stop. After the March closures, our board of directors and subcommittees met via Zoom. Snowy plover nesting season started on schedule, almost at the same time as the COVID shelter at home orders. We have continued our nest monitoring program, and even our volunteer program (although with modifications).
We close this year with changes to our board of directors. I would like to thank our out going board members Janice Susha, Jim Susha and Jackie Worden. Janice has been an active board member for 20 years, serving as secretary, program chair, and most recently our newsletter editor. Jim also has had a very long tenure and has worn many hats simultaneously, including web master, publicity, and managing the chapters incoming and outgoing Constant Contact emails to the membership. Jackie has led our least bell’s vireo recovery work and has been responsible for the acquisition of numerous grants to support that work, including two NFWF grants. Happily, Janice, Jim and Jackie will join our Advisory Committee and will continue to contribute to our chapter.
I would also like to say a special thank you to Betsy Bachman who is our outgoing Education Chair. She has been our go-to person for leading school field trips and has done many classroom presentations. Thank you, Betsy, for your years of service and the many children you have delighted by introducing them to the joy of birds.
At the same time, we are welcoming 3 new incoming board members; Rainey Barton, Cody Swanson and Alecia Smith. Each one brings a love of birds and special talents to our chapter. Watch for special articles on our board members in upcoming newsletters. Our season officially closes on June 30th and the new board starts on July 1st, starting our 2020-21 season. Next year will continue to be a year of change and adaptation. We have many opportunities for anyone who would like to make a difference in the lives of birds. Because this comes at a time when we must re-invent outreach, the possibilities are very open ended for how this will move forward.
Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be involved in any of the following areas:
Education Chair: Lead school field trips, grade school through high school.
Program Chair: Coordinate our monthly programs. With on going COVID concerns we will likely be conducting programs online.
Social Media: We need help monitoring our social media accounts and increasing our outreach impact on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Newsletter: With the retirement of our newsletter editor, we need help producing this important outreach tool. If a newsletter seems like a big commitment, we also would welcome anyone interested in writing articles, highlighting volunteers or about conservation topics.
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Celebrating Thirty Years of Partnering for Migratory Bird Conservation
Three decades ago, scientists realized that protecting birds across their full annual cycle required working with everyone along the way.
March 10, 2020
In 1990, Ice Baby topped the charts, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, East and West Germany reunited and people were talking about the decline of Neotropical migrant birds. (Neotropical migrants are birds that spend most of their lives in the tropics but migrate north for the nesting season.) In the previous year, John Terborgh had published his book Where Have All the Birds Gone? in which he argued that action needed to be taken sooner rather than later to address these declines. However, as the title of his book implied, there were questions among conservationists about how best to address these declines.
The same year Terborgh’s book was published, a meeting of ornithologists concluded that there was no clear consensus on whether declines of migrants were driven by changes on the breeding grounds or wintering grounds. What was clear was that addressing these declines would require many organizations and agencies to working together across the western hemisphere.
It was in this context that Partners in Flight was formed in 1990 with the mission of “keeping common birds common and helping species at risk through voluntary partnerships.” Representatives from state and federal agencies, industry, and non-profit conservation organizations signed the original memorandum of understanding. Shortly after that, the group received funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to hire a coordinator and other staff.
For the last 30 years, Partners in Flight has brought together these diverse stakeholders to lead science efforts to better understand bird ecology and factors that limit bird populations, as well as design and implement conservation plans to halt and reverse bird population declines.
“Partners in Flight has played a critical role in bringing together the bird conservation community and developing the resources and plans that allow everyone to work together to protect migratory birds,” says Jill Deppe, senior director of Audubon’s Migratory Bird Initiative.
The broad array of participants, including federal and state agencies, the military and various industries, “had the effect of greatly increasing the resources directed to bird conservation, and expanded our understanding of the status of and concerns about bird populations,” said Stan Senner, Audubon’s vice president of conservation.
Today, Partners in Flight is a dynamic and welcoming network of more than 150 partner organizations throughout the western hemisphere engaged in all aspects of landbird conservation.
“Partners is Flight is a true grassroots initiative that has been the catalyst for ground breaking strategies for three decades. We’ve opened new opportunities for bird conservation that have included a species vulnerability assessment that incorporates keeping our common birds common,” said Bob Ford, Partners in Flight US national coordinator.
And the work is more important than ever. Although the declines of many Neotropical migrants have continued, with coordinated action we know the recovery of these populations is possible.
“There’s still much to be done, especially in view of the recent study on the loss of three billion birds in North America and the current and future impacts of climate change,” said Senner. As it was 30 years ago, keeping common birds common is an urgent call to action.
Audubon’s Migratory Bird Initiative aims to continue and grow the mission of Partners in Flight in a similar spirit using the latest in migration tracking technology. By collaborating with researchers and partners in bird conservation organizations across the hemisphere, the Migratory Bird Initiative will develop a first-of-its-kind platform to track the migratory journeys of 520 species, identify and address conservation threats along the full annual cycle, and engage the public in the joy of migration to protect birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow.
Shorebird Recovery Program Report June 2020
Nest Monitoring update
Snowy plovers and least terns were unaware this spring of COVID stay at home orders, so they have been nesting right on track, oblivious to our human drama. Fortunately, their habitat is open beach and we have been able to be right there with them with plenty of social distancing while we continue to do our work monitoring their progress. We have conducted our nest monitoring program on Ormond and Hollywood Beaches throughout the spring.
Nesting Status, June 30 2020:
Hollywood Beach: This is one of Ventura County’s busiest urban beaches, located in the unincorporated area adjacent to the busy Channel Islands Harbor. It is a little over 1 mile in length and our monitoring area is about 100 acres. We fence between 1 to 4 acres of nesting habitat during nesting season. We also place wire “exclosures” on snowy plover nests to protect them from predators.
Hollywood Beach Challenges and Successes: Due to the constant presence of dogs, heavy recreational use by humans, and predation by crows, chicks that hatch have poor survival rates on this beach. Despite this it is an important wintering beach for snowy plovers and we often see in excess of 100 snowy plovers in the fall. It is also a crucial “back up” beach when other nesting beaches fail. As it happens, this year is such a year, with nesting of least terns down on their normal beaches and up on Hollywood Beach. This year is the first time in 5 years least terns have nested at Hollywood Beach! The first tern nest since 2014 hatched on June 19th. More nests will probably have hatched by the time this newsletter is published.
Ormond Beach: This beach is much larger and more remote than Hollywood Beach. The northern end of Ormond is adjacent to Hueneme Beach, and it extends south for 2 miles to the Pt Mugu boundary. Backing Ormond Beach is the Halaco EPA superfund site, a power plant and agricultural fields. Currently there are homeless encampments on the Halaco slag heap. We monitor about 200 acres of sand, and we fence over 100 acres of nesting habitat year-round. Over 100 signs inform the public about nesting habitat restrictions. This is a very labor- intensive beach! We also use predator exclosures on snowy plover nests and monitor at least half of the snowy plover nests at any given time with trail cameras.
Ormond Beach Challenges and Successes: This year we have had problems with a group of off roaders who cut the habitat fences (at least 6 times) and have ridden motorcycles and quads inside the nesting habitat. We have also had individuals tampering with nests, by moving predator exclosures off of nests, taking eggs and removing our markers from nests. Despite the problems we have been having at Ormond, we are reaching near record numbers for snowy plover nests this year. So far at least half of our snowy plover nests have hatched, and we have already fledged many chicks. These birds have a high probability of returning in future years to raise their own families. Our numbers of least tern nests are low compared to past years, but we have had several nests hatch and chicks are already a week old and looking really good. We are seeing new pairs of least terns courting in the habitat so we expect to have some late nesting.
Thank you to our dedicated nest monitors who work tirelessly to track, protect and advocate for our endangered shorebirds!
What can you do?
If you visit one of these beaches, please respect the fencing. Please share your knowledge about nesting habitat and fence closures with others.
If you take your dog to the beach, do not go to Ormond Beach which has a year-round dog ban. If you go to Hollywood Beach, do not go between the hours of 9am-5pm. Before 9am and after 5pm, be sure to keep your dog on a leash.
Attend Volunteer Naturalist training to learn more about snowy plovers and least terns. After taking training please become an ambassador for these amazing birds. There is still one more Volunteer Naturalist training this year, July 9th! We have updated our training materials, so even if you have already taken Docent or Volunteer Naturalist training in the past, we recommend you consider taking a refresher. If you are interested, please email email@example.com to sign up, or to request information.
Volunteer to help our Shorebird Recovery Program:
We need help with social media, video processing, and “boots on the ground” to help patrol the beach and watch for trouble makers in the nesting habitat.
Do you have skill with animation? We have plans to create an animation short to communicate our message to a new audience and we are looking for an animator.
We also have plans to create a series of Public Service Announcement (PSA) style short videos to post to our YouTube channel. If you like to act, direct or edit video please contact us!
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to inquire about volunteering or training
Ormond Beach Report November 2019
President - Cynthia Hartley
We are fortunate in Ventura County to have two globally Important Bird Areas (IBA’s); the Santa Clara River Valley and the Ormond remnant salt marsh which is part of the Pt. Mugu IBA. These are rare places with intact habitat that supports a large number of global migrants, locally nesting birds and a variety of rare and endangered species. Included in this are the western snowy plover (WSP) and California least tern (CLT), which nest in both Ventura County global IBA’s. Both species rely on the sandy beaches that humans favor for summer recreation and prime beach real estate, as such these species have been teetering towards extinction for the past few decades.
The Ventura Audubon chapter has made these species a conservation priority. Ormond Beach is one of the locations in our county that does not have a single entity responsible for a species management plan, despite the presence of nesting WSP and CLT. Since 2015 we have developed a Shorebird Recovery Program to seek funding and implement recovery work for nest monitoring, habitat protection and public outreach for these species.
Ormond Beach Report - Cynthia Hartley - November 2019
This month we report on the Ormond Beach nesting outcomes. The 2019 nesting season at Ormond Beach has been an exercise in extremes, with both very good and some very troubling outcomes to report.
First the good news. Both species of nesting shorebirds had record numbers of nests. Greater than any year since we began tracking nest numbers in 2003. In particular the WSP had a banner year. Not only did we have a total of 55 nests (compared to an average of 24 nests/year since 2003), but we had a very high hatching rate. In a good year we may only have 50-60% of nests hatch, but this year we had 43 nests hatch, which is 78%. WSP laid 162 eggs this year, and 119 eggs hatched.
We attribute this success rate to a combination of nests being placed almost exclusively inside of the habitat fences the use of predator exclosures which protects nests from egg thieves like ravens and the adjacency of the Pt Mugu that has an active predator management program. In addition, the Ormond Beach ordinance has successfully curtailed a large amount of the dog and horse traffic on the beach. This may also account for the increase in the amount of nesting birds, since nesting plovers will avoid beaches with high levels of disturbance and canines trigger instinctive fear in nesting WSP.
Consistent with nesting numbers, we documented higher than normal number of WSP chicks that made it to flight age. We sighted 20 young fledglings, normal is 5-10. Although higher this year, it still underscores that chicks have a hard time making it to adulthood. This only represents about 1 in 10 eggs that managed to hatch and the chicks survive to reach an age when they can fly. On another good note, we rescued 3 eggs from a nest that was abandoned after a wind event. The eggs were hatched out at the Santa Barbara Zoo and all 3 chicks were fostered and finally released at Coal Oil Point in late July.
Now for the less good news. We did have a record number of 92 CLT nests (up from 84 in 2018, 24 in 2017, and 18 in 2016). But the success rate was only 34%, with just 31 nests that hatched. The reason for such a low hatch rate was an increase in predators. Coyotes, squirrels and ravens destroyed over 50 nests in one weekend at the end of June. Only 13 CLT hatchlings survived to reach fledgling age and join their parents on their first migration. This in fact partially accounts for the high number of nests, since several of the CLT pairs that lost nests in late June made a second nesting attempt a couple weeks later, just further down the beach.
So finally, the worst news is the problems we had this year with beach encampments belonging to the local homeless population on the far north end of Ormond Beach. We have never in our 17 years of nest monitoring had so many encampments so close to the nesting colony. Fortunately for the birds, it was only the far north end of Ormond Beach that was impacted. Nonetheless, all season we had problems with individuals from these encampments crossing through the north nesting habitat with dogs and bikes. Three CLT nests were run over by bikes and the eggs and young crushed, predator exclosures protecting WSP nests were kicked off and eggs from 2 WSP nests were taken. We struggled to re-sight nests because our nest markers were regularly vandalized and, in some cases, thrown entirely outside of the nesting area. We also had 2 trail cameras stolen.
Our habitat fences were taken apart by the encampment inhabitants and re-purposed to enclose their own encampments in a surreal mirroring of nesting habitat protection. We reported all of these issues to authorities, including the Oxnard Police Dept, CDFW and USFWS. Although we don’t know for sure, the increase in coyotes, squirrels and ravens that destroyed most of the CLT nests in a single weekend could be due to the large amount of trash and human activity in these nearby encampments.
We recognize that this is a socially complex problem. Many cities are struggling with the same issue, and we are not the first to encounter problems with homelessness. Although it is more unusual to hear about homeless encampments amongst nesting endangered birds in designated critical habitat. To that end, we are committed to protecting this rare and critical nesting habitat and we believe that birds matter too.
We are currently part of a working group involving the Oxnard Police, Housing and Planning Departments, and the Ormond Beach land owners (The Nature Conservancy and the California Coastal Conservancy) to address this problem before the start of the next nesting season.
Next month look for the nesting report from San Buenaventura, McGrath and Mandalay State Beaches. If you missed our Hollywood Beach report, be sure to look up our October newsletter which can be downloaded from our website here.
Hollywood Beach Report - Debra Barringer - October 2019
Hollywood Beach is one of the most urban beaches in Ventura County, with the Channel Islands Harbor on one end, a hotel complex on the other end, and in between beach facing homes and development. We monitor this beach even though nesting numbers are typically quite low. Birds are very aware of habitat and will shift nesting between beaches based on changes to habitat and the presence of predators. We had one incredible year at Hollywood Beach when the sand stacked up because the dredging usually done to supply Port Hueneme beaches was delayed. The birds noticed and the nesting numbers at Hollywood Beach went from 0 to 200 CLT nests and 0 to 45 WSP nests for that one season. The beach was later dredged and we now have the following numbers.
There were 5 Western Snowy Plover (WSP) nest attempts on Hollywood Beach in 2019, the same number as in 2018. Monitors protected nest areas with 4-ft mesh fencing, which has proven very effective, symbolic ropes and also stakes when nests were placed outside fences. We used 3x3-ft wire predator exclosures over nests that keep hatching rates high. A total of 15 eggs were laid, 8 hatched, 4 were abandoned, and 3 eggs were depredated before the nest could be protected with an exclosure. The latter was an unfortunate incident that was preventable. Monitors were advised on how to prevent this in the future.
WSP chicks were observed on very few occasions, one at 13 days after hatch, but no fledglings were confirmed. American crows were observed daily and are once again suspected as the primary predators. Crows are clever and predate chicks when humans, off-leash dogs, golf carts, and other disturbances flush chicks from hiding places.
This remains Hollywood Beach's greatest challenge - that vulnerable chicks have to share the beach with humans, dogs, and vehicles and that human activity attracts crows. This year the nesting season ended by mid-July, about a month and a half later than last year’s abruptly short nesting season. By July 19th, WSPs in groups appeared as migrators and hatch years from other beaches.
August-September counts on this beach are high - from 50 to 80 WSPs roosting in the wrack areas that monitors have been able to expand by working with sand-movers and groomers. Some in the public have complained about the un-groomed areas but this is evidence that wrack and debris are critical elements that provide habitat for migrating birds on our beaches.
California least terns (CLTs) were observed flying over the beach and foraging in nearby waters on 12 survey days. Even though CLT pairs touched down on the beach on two observed occasions, no scrapes or attempts to nest were recorded at Hollywood Beach this year.
10 Ways to Keep Snowy Plover Chicks Safe
Adorable Western Snowy Plover chicks have hatched along California beaches. With July 4th around the corner, the next couple weeks are the most critical time to protect these birds.
The beloved Western Snowy Plover is making a comeback but it is still listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. You can help speed the road to recovery by taking the following 10 steps this summer.
1. Respect the fences and signs, and stay outside of areas roped off for breeding Snowy Plovers.
2. Keep dogs on leash or away from the beach. Or visit a dog-friendly beach.
3. If you see small eggs on the beach outside a fence, back away to let the parent bird return and call harbor patrol to let them know.
4. Avoid use of loud or large flying things that snowy plovers perceive as predators such as drones, fireworks, and kites. Do not release balloons.
5. Grab your binoculars and enjoy watching Western Snowy Plovers instead of approaching nest fences.
6. Educate your friends about Snowy Plovers and ask them to share the shore responsibly.
7. Pick up trash on the beach and join an annual Coastal Clean Up Day near you.
8. Contact Audubon or wildlife officials for a talk or tour of a nesting area.
Enjoy this Share the Shore video and share it with your friends!
And this link will take you to: Ventura Dogs on the Beach Brochure
Thank you for doing your part to keep Western Snowy Plovers chicks safe.
Ventura Audubon Society is a chapter of the National Audubon Society located in Ventura County, California
Mailing address: P. O. Box 24198, Ventura, California 93002
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