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. 

State Parks Beach Report December 2019  

Alexis Frangis - State Parks Biologist

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 Nesting Season Update:  June 2018

Nesting season for least terns and snowy plovers is peaking at Ormond.  This season has seen more nests than we’ve seen in the past 4 years for both species.  At this early time, it is difficult to know if this is a result of the Ormond Ordinance that was passed last year which restricts activities that harm nesting success, or a fluctuation due to some other variable.  Ventura Audubon will continue to collect data and monitor the situation.

 

San Buenaventura SB- no plovers or terns

McGrath SB- Active plover and tern nests! Two plover nests have hatched and one chick has been spotted. Nests are spread out from McGrath lake all the way to the Santa Clara Estuary. There has been crow predation on some of the tern nests and we are waiting for them to relocate and try again. 

Mandalay SB- There has been a few plovers spotted periodically over the last few weeks with some scrapes, but as of today no nests have been located.

Ormond Beach- Ormond is up to 33 WSP nests and 34 CLT nests.  We've got 6 active WSP nests and most of our chicks are in the salt panne right now, so pretty hard to see, although some chicks might be seen at the lagoon.  CLT nests have just started hatching this week and should be picking up speed next week.  There are also  2 WSP that should be hatching near the lagoon in the next few weeks, and we anticipate that those chicks will gravitate to the lagoon too. 

So for Ormond the best action is at the lagoon!  

Hollywood Beach- There are 2 active plover nests within the symbolic fencing, near the large mesh fences. The females are disturbed easily, so if you or a member of the public sees activity, talk with the visitor to let them know what is going on and slowly move away so they can go back and incubate their nest. 1 nest has recently hatched 3 eggs of which 1 chick is still remaining.

In the meantime, we still have at least a month of busy nesting activity.  Chicks of both species are still hatching and the terns are very busy at Ormond Lagoon.  Fall migrants from the arctic and high plains are already showing up to rest and forage at the tideline. It isn’t too late to come out and appreciate out amazing wildlife.  Please join us for one of our Beaches Are Habitat outreach events (see below).

Beaches Are Habitat @ Hueneme Beach: Sunday July 2nd or July 16th from 12:00noon-4pm

Ventura Audubon volunteers will be at Ormond Lagoon just south of Hueneme Beach with spotting scopes.  We will be there to share bird viewing with beach goers.  We’ll see least terns catching fish and flying to the nesting area, and if we are lucky we’ll see one of our snowy plover chicks foraging by the lagoon.  Some of the recent migrants that have shown up are curlews, whimbrels and godwits.  If you’d like to help, we need volunteers for the July 16th date! By then we might even have least tern chicks learning to fly at the tideline. 

 

Please contact us at wsp.ventura.audubon@gmail.com.

In the meantime, we still have at least a month of busy nesting activity.  Chicks of both species are still hatching and the terns are very busy at Ormond Lagoon.  Fall migrants from the arctic and high plains are already showing up to rest and forage at the tideline. It isn't too late to come out and appreciate our amazing wildlife.  Please join us for one of our Beaches Are Habitat outreach events (see below).

 

Parking Directions:

Parking Option 1:  Park at Bubbling Springs park.  It's free, but a little bit of a walk to the beach.  From Hueneme Rd turn on Surfside Dr (toward the ocean).  Parking lot is before the railroad tracks.

Parking Option 2: Paid parking, closest lot is Lot C Hueneme Beach parking lot C.  $2/hr or $8/

Walk south along the tide line (toward the power plant) until you reach the post and cable fencing by the lagoon.

 

Volunteer Needs

Again, please be aware that the 4th of July holiday brings out extra people, more dogs off leash, drones, paragliders, vehicles, and many other activities that we do not see the rest of the year. The extra hands we have helping out and keeping an eye on things, the better chance of success we have! 

 We've had a rash of raven depredations in the south habitat.  A gull was seen today eating a snowy plover chick in the salt panne. So any volunteers who would like to walk the beach on the south end and record predator sightings would be appreciated! 

 

Anyone with questions can contact Cynthia at wsp.ventura.audubon@gmail.com

 

Action Alert: Support the Port Hueneme Police Department!  They recently announced they will be enforcing the restriction on animals on Hueneme Beach in cooperation with the Ventura Audubon Society.  Hueneme Beach is the gateway to Ormond Beach which is a globally important IBA.  This is a critical time for our endangered nesting birds and migrants. An excellent way to show them your support is to let them know of Facebook, follow the link below.  Like the post, thank the PH police!  They need to hear from you.

https://www.facebook.com/PortHuenemePD/posts/440485992995745

Then remind your friends and family to have beach fun with family dogs on one of our less sensitive Ventura County beaches that don’t have dog restrictions: Thornehill Broome Beach, Channel Islands Harbor Beach, Oxnard Beach Park, Marina Cove Beach, Promenade Park, Surfer’s Point, Solimar Beach, Faria Beach, Hobson County Park, Oil Piers (some but not all!).