Photo by Alicia Smith
February 2020 Program
7:30 p.m. Tuesday - February 11, 2020
Poinsettia Pavillion, 3451 Foothill Road, Ventura (Free to Public)
The Salton Sea Update…with Andrea Jones
To learn more about the threats facing the Salton Sea, as well as about efforts that have and are currently being taken to conserve it, come hear Andrea Jones’ talk. Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon California, Jones will highlight why the Salton Sea is critically important to over 400 species of birds, describe which of those species are most threatened, and explain how Audubon is engaging in new solutions that will benefit both birds and people.
The Salton Sea, a saline inland lake covering 330 square miles in southern California, is a critically endangered Important Bird Area that hosts two-thirds of California’s bird species. For years, runoff from the Imperial Valley has fed the Sea. Since 2003, under an agreement to minimize California’s use of water from the Colorado River, water formerly used for agriculture has been steadily diverted to water-strapped urban areas like San Diego. At the same time, irrigation techniques have become more efficient, reducing the amount of water lost as runoff.
As a consequence of these developments, the Salton Sea is shrinking. By 2033, with 40 percent of its supply predicted to be cut off, the Salton Sea’s water level will likely drop by 20 feet, exposing miles of dry, dusty lake bottom, much of it contaminated with chemicals from pesticides and fertilizers. These chemicals can then be picked up by strong winds, and, in a region already prone to bad air quality, cause serious health problems in communities as far away as Mexicali.
For the Salton Sea’s wildlife, too, the future looks grim. Salinity is predicted to triple in the next 14 years, eliminating the Salton Sea’s fishery and most of the invertebrates that provide food for its many bird species.
Andrea Jones, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon California
Since 2006, Andrea has led our coastal programs and worked with staff and the network of Audubon chapters across the state to implement conservation projects at high priority Important Bird Areas (IBAs). She has been responsible for implementing science and conservation planning projects at coastal estuaries and saline lakes across California. She also oversees our efforts to protect and advocate for priority bird species and serves as a spokeswoman for bird conservation across California.
Prior to California, Andrea worked at Massachusetts Audubon where she served as the Director of the Coastal Waterbird Program and Grassland Conservation Program. Andrea received her M.S. in Wildlife Conservation/Ornithology and her B.S. in Wildlife Biology and Management from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with her research focused on grassland birds.
23rd ANNUAL GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT
February 14, through Monday, February 17, 2020
Saturday, February 15, 2020 VAS will Conduct a 9am Walk at the Treatment Ponds Led by Frank DeMartino and Adele Fergusson
The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world.
Each checklist submitted during the GBBC helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment we share. Last year, more than 160,000 participants submitted their bird observations online, creating the largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded.
Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or any-where in the world. Bird watchers of all ages count birds to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are.
In 2019, Great Backyard Bird Count participants in more than 100 countries counted more than 6,800 species of birds on more than 200,000 checklists! More than 160,000 participants submitted their bird observations online, cre-ating the largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever rec-orded.
Please visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website at birdcount.org for more information and be sure to check out the latest educational and promotional resources
Subscribe to Birdwatcher's Digest
When you start a new subscription 1/2 of the initial subscription price will be donated to Ventura Audubon.
Bruce Schoppe, VP Conservation
2019-2020 Conservation Committee Goals
VAS formalized a Conservation Committee in the last program year and held several meetings. Our conservation agenda is broad and ambitious. We encourage more people to become involved to whatever extent they chose. Below are the goals established for the Committee in the current program year.
The next meeting of the committee is scheduled for Thursday evening, February 6, 2020 at 6:30 – 8:30 PM in the meeting room at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, 4360 E. Main St., Ventura (telephone and East Main Street). We invite you to join us.
Expand committee participation
Invite volunteers from volunteer survey participants
Increase committee visibility - Newsletter articles, calendar, post the meeting date/location with an RSVP email address in the newsletter
Assess conservation topics as they arise and advise the Board of Directors
Santa Clara River
Encourage and support further acquisition and restoration along the Santa Clara River
Partner with other conservation organizations on Santa Clara River
Recruit volunteers to maintain the Reed Smith trail
Communicate important issues to chapter membership and the board
Lead guided bird walk in the spring
Ventura River – Least Bell’s Vireo Recovery
Determine next step or steps with regard to restoring LBVI to the lower Ventura River
Schedule meeting with USFWS, WFVZ
Working with Ventura Harbor Department, resolve enforcement issues and develop a plan for dune restoration at Hollywood Beach
Work with landowners and others on Ormond Beach “restoration plan”.
Develop a plan to sustain the Shorebird Restoration Program on Ormond and Hollywood beaches.
State Parks Beach Report December 2019
Alexis Frangis - State Parks Biologist
Photo by Alexis Frangis Western Snowy Plover chick
Three of our local State Beaches, McGrath, Mandalay and San Buenaventura, provide habitat for the threatened and endangered Western Snowy plover, California Least Tern, and other species of shorebirds. Beach nesting birds face a variety of threats from habitat loss, human disturbance, predators and environmental conditions. The nesting season spans from March-September which coincides with the busiest time for beach recreation. In order to protect these birds and their sensitive habitats during the nesting season, symbolic fencing is installed with signs posted around their nesting areas and are monitored by State Parks Environmental Scientists.
The 2019 nesting season on our State Beaches collectively had 23 snowy plover nests, 15 of which hatched and 8 nests failed or a fate could not be determined. Hatch success for snowy plovers can be attributed to the use of nest exclosures, which resemble small wire cages, and can help protect plover eggs from predators. The plovers can move in and out of the small openings of the exclosure while certain predators, like crows and ravens, can’t get in.
Still, getting a nest to hatch a nest is only the first half of the journey. Once the chicks hatch, they leave the nest and protective fencing to feed on invertebrates in the wet sand and amongst the wrack (seaweed and other natural wave cast debris that wash ashore). The small flightless chicks are most vulnerable during the weeks before they are able to fly, or reach fledging age. Fledge rates cannot be accurately determined as chicks are not banded at these sites, although fledgling aged plover chicks were observed early in the season at McGrath.
Mandalay and San Buenaventura State Beaches typically have lower nest numbers and chick survival rates due the increased levels of human activity, dogs (despite not being allowed on State Beaches) and abundant predators like crows. At McGrath within the Santa Clara Estuary Natural Preserve, the California least tern colony established a total of 70 nests this season. Only about 20 least tern nests hatched before skunks found and decimated the colony. Unfortunately, no least tern chicks survived to fledging age at this site. Skunks hit the nesting birds particularly hard late in the season and were the greatest cause of nest and chick loss, but other causes of nest failure include other predators like ravens and gulls, flooding by high tides or rising estuary water, windblown sand and abandonment.
Despite the challenges experienced this season, one success that persisted throughout the year was our volunteer program. Volunteers are an integral part of shorebird recovery and we can’t thank them enough for their commitment and contributions. Our volunteers provide invaluable outreach and education to beachgoers, assist with fence installation and removal, data collection, observations and monitoring, and so much more.
This season a keen-eyed volunteer alerted monitors to the presence of plovers in an unlikely location at Marina Park. Dedicated volunteers were present from sunrise until sunset to provide education and outreach to the constant crowds of people visiting the popular beach park over a very busy weekend. Because of the efforts of these volunteers, countless people were introduced to the snowy plover for the first time.
This type of outreach informs people about the birds, but also introduces them to the concept of beaches as habitat and the importance of sharing the beach with other species. Increasing public awareness is a key piece to the recovery of species like the snowy plover and least tern whose survival depends on coexisting on the same beaches that people use for recreation. State Parks would like to sincerely thank Ventura Audubon and the many dedicated volunteers who helped with shorebird recovery this season.
ORMOND BEACH KIOSK
VAS would like to extend a huge thank you to boy scout Billy Busse, Billy’s parents, Leigh and Richard, and Troop 252 for building a new information kiosk at the Arnold Rd entrance to Ormond Beach. The kiosk will provide a centralized place for birders to post their bird sightings, updates on snowy plover and least tern nesting activities and a bulletin board for field trip announcements, community messaging and educational materials. It is replacing an old plywood stand that has become a useless eyesore over the past several years.
Billy provided the labor and design with support from the Boy Scout community and his parents. Billy will deservedly earn his Eagle Scout badge with this project.
Billy also raised most of the money for this project himself. The final costs were donated by generous responses to our first Facebook Fundraiser. Thank you to everyone who contributed! 100% of the funds went to materials and a kiosk fund to provide maintenance and repairs.
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.
Local Planning Issues that Affect Birds and their Habitats
By Debra Barringer, VAS Board Member
Santa Clara and Ventura River Levees
Santa Clara River (SCR)-1 Levee Improvements
Per new federal (FEMA) mapping efforts additional homes and businesses near local rivers are now considered within 100-yr floodplains and therefore levees need to be strengthened and in some areas heightened. The alternative chosen for a portion of the Santa Clara River (SCR) includes the addition of soil cement (hardscape) to the river side of dirt levees. VAS members who participated as stakeholders at SCR-1 meetings were concerned about the hardening of the south riverbank for potentially 5 miles north of Hwy 101, the additional difficulty for wildlife species to access the river, and the loss of riparian vegetation that will be cleared from around levees.
The stakeholders are still negotiating to add bike paths, benches, fences, interpretive signs, and new river access. Although VAS loves getting people into nature, we still have concerns about more people being introduced into a portion of the river that was fairly isolated and is near the endangered least Bell’s vireo and other sensitive birds’ territories, especially during nesting seasons. Although VAS loves getting people into nature, we still have concerns about more people being introduced into a portion of the river that was fairly isolated and is near the endangered least Bell’s vireo and other sensitive birds’ territories, especially during nesting seasons.
SCR-3 Levee Improvements EIR
VAS members were disappointed that the County Watershed Protection District decided on the addition of a 968-ft long, 6-ft high block wall along the SCR next to Ventura Road. As with the SCR-1 river reach, our concerns include limiting wildlife access to the river corridor, and the additional native vegetation losses to be cleared along levees, which reduces nesting opportunities for riparian birds and good habitat for other species.
Ventura River (VR)-1 Levee Rehabilitation
Similar to the issues for the SCR remapped floodplains, updated FEMA regulations have added many more homes to the flood-prone areas near the Ventura River. Still in its pre-scoping process, several stretches along the Ventura River are being looked at to strengthen and raise levees and to add hardening material. In addition to the armored riverbanks, VAS members are concerned about vegetation, especially in the estuary, near levees that will be cut back. We hope they will do bird surveys before and during this removal and include habitat replacement.
Santa Clara River Estuary Special Studies Working Group
The City of Ventura and stakeholders met over a couple of years to determine how to adjust the tertiary treated water that Ventura Water should divert for reuse and how much discharge (if any) is needed to benefit the estuary and protect its native species. Wildlife interests voiced that a reduction in discharge is not always adverse for every species as assumed. For example, many migratory birds use the estuary when mudflats form during low water conditions. In addition, if sandbars increased or formed they may become good nesting habitat for species such as snowy plovers. The resulting management plan will be adaptable to ensure there are no negative impacts to sensitive species.
Ventura County General and Local Coastal Plan (LCP) Updates, (Unincorporated Ventura County)
Local Coastal Plan update topics:
– Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA) (County Board of Supervisor’s Hearing Dec. 4, 2018 was postponed)
The issue most related to VAS work is new ESHA protections for beaches and dunes. The late snowy plover mentor Reed Smith convinced the Hollywood Beach Harbor Department to avoid beach grooming near the dunes where nesting occurs and only working outside the breeding season. During writing of the updated Draft LCP, Debra coordinated with the County Biologist to craft language to codify and strengthen these protections. She has also presented the idea of nonnative plant removal from dunes that have grown unnaturally high. This could provide more suitable nesting habitat for beach-nesting birds. The County and Coastal Commission agree with the idea, permitting and funding are pending issues.
Another LCP ESHA issue that may affect native birds, other wildlife and their habitats involves homeowners in the Santa Monica Mountains (SMM) portion of the County. Currently, these homes are required to clear a 100-ft vegetation radius around structures as “fuel modification” for fire safety. Clearing done before 2003 did not have to pay mitigation for removing what is now known as ESHA, which in the proposed LCP changes is more clearly defined to include native coastal sage scrub/chaparral (CSS/chap). Mitigation is required per the California Coastal Act. CSS/chap habitat is unique to southern California, supports many sensitive species, and is quickly disappearing or becoming fragmented to render remaining patches insufficient for many species. Under the current LCP, mitigation for new ESHA removal is very expensive and time consuming and often involves buying land. In the LCP update, the County wants to add a fee option to provide another way to mitigate new CSS/chap losses, similar to what LA County does in the SMM. Still expensive, no open land would have to be found/bought but fees would be pooled for the County to buy or improve similar habitats in protected areas.
A group of current SMM residents that have already cleared land are concerned about the threat of fire and some that spoke at the August 23, 2018 County Planning Commission Hearing believe that cutting more native vegetation (up to 200 ft radius of structures) will make them safer. They do not believe they should have to mitigate or pay for this additional ESHA habitat loss that is the equivalent of clearing 6 acres (vs. 2 acres for the 100-ft buffer around a typical dwelling). That extra 4 acres is a large loss of resources and territories for many small animals and birds for each home that clears more.
A Ventura County Fire official spoke at the Planning Hearing stating that while in some cases more vegetation removal may be a good idea, he believes making the structures “harder” is more important. This includes fire-resistant roofing and siding, and no wood decks, wood furniture, fences, or firewood piles near structures, or dried leaves/needles in gutters that can catch and spread embers. Information is available explaining why clearing more than 100 ft from homes has no advantage and may have negative consequences (e.g., allowing fire-prone grasses to fill in, increased land erosion potential) at: https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/By-topic/Wildfire/Preparing-homes-for-wildfire and on the valuable and unique yet often-maligned chaparral habitat we are surrounded by at: http://www.californiachaparral.org/bprotectingyourhome.html.
Sea Level Rise (SLR) Working Group
Threats to natural coastal areas include increased erosion, higher tidal inundation and flooding, reduced sediment (sand) supply, and increased pressure from human development and recreational activities on coasts. Debra participated on a natural resource specialists team who selected the most vulnerable species for beaches, dunes, freshwater and estuarine habitats. A long-time favorite of VAS, the snowy plover, was chosen for dunes. Keeping an eye on these indicators will help the County develop adaptation strategies to affect future policies and ordinances to deal with SLR.
In areas where open lands still exist, the County is considering ways to keep and enhance the open space to allow natural habitat migration away from eroding coastlines. They are also considering sediment management plans for all vulnerable beaches.
General Plan amendment - Wildlife Corridors/Habitat Connectivity Working Group
Major landscape connections that link natural habitats on a large scale through the County were determined by an independent scientific research group (South Coast Wildlands partnering with many NGOs and agencies). For development considered ministerial, the County has no influence. For discretionary permits, the County wants to steer development away from blocking/narrowing these crucial corridors for wildlife travel, dispersal, and access to breeding partners and habitats. Stakeholders who weighed in included ranchers, farmers, and rural landowners as well as agencies and wildlife interests. We discussed clustering development, types of fencing, lighting, and riparian areas’ importance.
City of Oxnard - Parks Focus Group
Oxnard is working on a Parks and Recreation Master Plan. At this first focus group meeting (September 27, 2018) they were gathering general ideas about parks improvements in the city. The group agreed that more parks in urban areas are needed, more bike trails to access them, more trees and native plants, and Debra submitted the idea for more dog-friendly parks away from beaches (where dogs can disturb breeding and migrating birds).