Photo by Alicia Smith
VENTURA AUDUBON CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT
January 4th, 2020
Preliminary count at days end was 180 species!!
Brown Pelicans Photo by Alexis Frangis
Calling all birders!
Our Christmas Bird Count is Saturday, January 4th, 2020.
The CBC is the longest running citizen science effort in existence. Bird counts take place all over North America with a few in the Caribbean and Latin America as well. This will be the 120th Christmas Bird Count conducted by National Audubon.
On the Ventura Audubon count last year, we recorded 172 species in spite of the afternoon storms.
Frank DeMartino is Organizer and Compiler. Please contact Frank at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or (856) 906-8733. (Yes, 856 is the correct area code!) or, you may call the Section Leader with whom you have counted previously or may wish to work with this year.
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We will get together at the end of the day to review the day’s highlights and to consolidate the sector counts for a provisional total of species count.
The end of day review includes a potluck dinner at the Church of the Foothills. 6279 Foothill Road, Ventura at 6:30 PM. The potluck is open to members, friends and guests; you do not have to be a field observer to be included.
Those attending are requested to bring the following types of dishes based on the first letter of your last name.
Main Dish: A - G Salad: Q - Z Dessert: H - P
Please bring your own place settings, utensils and beverages (water and hot coffee are provided).
January 2020 Program
7:30 p.m. Tuesday - January 14, 2020
Poinsettia Pavillion, 3451 Foothill Road, Ventura
Protecting Wildlife and Wild Places…with James Hines
The program will cover some of the Sierra Club's work locally on protecting the Los Padres National Forest, Channel Islands National Park and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. He will also discuss Sierra Club’s work on protecting mountain lions, banning wildlife killing rodenticides (rat poison) and protecting local wildlife corridors.
He will also touch on some of the work he does as part of the Sierra Club National Public Lands Team which works to protect national public lands units in the west.
James Hines lives in Ventura and is the 5th generation of his family to be born, raised and live in Ventura county. He was born on his family's 40,000 acre ranch which today is part of Lake Casitas. He was born there before the dam and lake were created.
He is the former chair of the Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter (Ventura and Santa Barbara counties) and currently serves as the Los Padres Chapter conservation director. He has worked on the Sierra Club National Public Land Team and also on the Sierra Club Protect Wild Utah campaign.
He is, currently, the team leader of the Sierra Club’s California/Nevada Wildlife Team, a team made up of Sierra Club staff and volunteer activists who develop and carry out wildlife protection campaigns for the Sierra Club in the two states as well as marine mammals and marine species offshore of California.
Bruce Schoppe - VP Conservation
Recently, two conservation bills of local interest have advanced in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In late November, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act (H.R. 2199), heeding the call of Californians to safeguard some of the state’s most unique public lands and rivers for future generations.
The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act is the product of years of discussion and negotiation involving business leaders, conservationists, elected officials, ranchers, mountain bikers, and other stakeholders interested in the use and well-being of these iconic lands. It would protect forests, grasslands, and wild rivers across the region by safeguarding approximately 245,000 acres of wilderness, creating two scenic areas encompassing roughly 35,000 acres, and designating 159 miles of wild and scenic rivers in the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument.
The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act now awaits a vote by the full House and a hearing in the Senate.
More recently, on December 12, 2019, the U.S. Senate Committee on Natural Resources passed the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act (S.774, Feinstein D-CA). The Rim of the Valley Corridor Protection Act would require the National Park Service to work to protect 130,000 acres from the San Gabriel Mtns of LA county across into the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mtns of Ventura county and on into the coastal Santa Monica Mtns, adding the Rim of the Valley Corridor to the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area.
A natural wildlife corridor which would allow for passage recreational use as well as historic preservation and educational use.
The bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee in early December and now moves towards full House and Senate votes, likely in January 2020.
Also, two recent reports on threats to birds resulting from climate change have gained attention. In late summer, Cornell Lab of Ornithology released a report reporting that nearly three billion birds across North America had been lost since 1970. The report published in Science in September 2019 was followed by Audubon’s update of an earlier study highlighting bird species threatened by climate change: Survival By Degrees, 389 North American bird species are vulnerable to extinction from climate change.
We’ll have an opportunity to hear from Dr. Kenneth Rosenberg, the Cornell reports lead author. The UCSB Arts & Lectures Thematic Learning event will take place at on Wednesday, January 29, 2020, at Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Fleischmann Auditorium at 7:30 PM. Sponsored by Santa Barbara Audubon Society and others, Dr. Rosenberg will discuss the analysis that led to this sobering conclusion, what the loss of common birds signals about the health of our environment and what we can do to reverse these trends and restore bird populations.
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).