Monthly Archives: March 2014

Bioblitzing!

Today and tomorrow, National Geographic and the Golden Gate National Parks are coordinating a Bioblitz and biodiversity festival throughout the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA).  Check out the basic info here.  Registration for the formal expert-led inventories is now closed, but there are a few other ways to participate.

1) Go out and make some sightings of your own!  Between noon today (28 March, 2014) and noon tomorrow, any sightings within the GGNRA that are posted to ebird or iNaturalist will become part of the data for this Bioblitz.  You can be a member of the scientific community by contributing your observations.  The green areas on the map below show the boundaries of the GGNRA and Golden Gate NPs — a diverse set of parks that include Crissy Field, The SF Presidio, The Marin Headlands, Muir Beach, and more.  Josiah Clark and I (and hopefully a few more folks) are gonna bring some GREEN to the event.  We’ll be biking around the presidio and up into the Marin Headlands to survey bird diversity and more without using any fossil fuels.

2) Bring friends and family to the biodiversity festival. From 9-5 today and tomorrow there are interactive exhibits, live animal demonstrations, and music, at East Beach in the SF Presidio.

I hope to see you out there!

The map of the SF area with GGNRA lands colored green.

The map of the SF area with GGNRA lands colored green.

Jasper Ridge new arrivals

A millipede crept along the trail. (Photo courtesy of Sonny Mencher, 3/17/2014.)

A millipede crept along the trail. (Photo courtesy of Sonny Mencher, 3/17/2014.)

New birds continue to trickle into the SF Bay Area.  As March flows into April, this trickle will broaden into a stream that strengthens throughout the month.  On Monday, I helped conduct one of the monthly bird transects at Jasper Ridge, Stanford’s local biological preserve (and the location of some fascinating ecological research).  Our transect winds through open oak woodlands, into some riparian (creekside) habitat, and through a peaceful redwood grove.

A newly arrived gnatcatcher staring us down. (Photo courtesy of Malia DeFelice, 3/17/2014.)

A newly arrived gnatcatcher staring us down. (Photo courtesy of Malia DeFelice, 3/17/2014.)

Migrants have arrived, including a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher mewing from the edge of a patch of Blue Oak woodland, and many Orange-crowned Warblers demarcating their territories.  One highlight was the song of a returning Wilson’s Warbler — my first of the Spring!  And of course, we enjoyed old favorites like Acorn Woodpeckers and Hutton’s Vireos.

An Acorn Woodpecker hanging out on a granary tree.  (Photo courtesy of Sonny Mencher, 3/17/2014.)

An Acorn Woodpecker hanging out on a granary tree. (Photo courtesy of Sonny Mencher, 3/17/2014.)

Springtime birding practice

In the SF Bay Area right now, hormones are raging, songs are exploding from every thicket, and every third bird seems to be carrying nesting material as it sneaks past.  I love birding at any level of intensity, but I do enjoy continuing to hone the craft and sharpen my skills of observation and inference.  Here are three challenges that I’ve been enjoying this spring.

  • Find a nest.  As you observe the birds, think about them as individuals, and ask what they are doing and why.  If you find a local bird carrying nesting material or food, extended observation will often show where they are nesting.  DO NOT AGITATE THE BIRDS OR APPROACH THE NEST TOO CLOSELY.  Causing nest failure would be a true shame.  If the bird appears agitated or is calling incessantly around you as you near the nest, back off.
  • Learn a bird’s repertoire.  Do you have a local wren or sparrow singing?  Does its song sound the same every time, or does it mix things up?  How many different elements are there (e.g. a buzzy part, a high whistle, a descending wheeze, a long trill)?  What shorter calls does it make?  Take notes on a single individual and really get to know it.
  • Identify habitat features.  For an abundant bird in your neighborhood, note the location of individuals.  Are there any common features that explain their presence?  Why are they absent from other spots?  For example, what tree species are the preferred perches of singing American Goldfinches?

If you do any of these exercises, let us know in the comments.  We can’t wait to hear what you’re learning (and share more of what we’re learning).

Owling in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Moon

So, how can a Northern California birder hear dozens of owls of 4 different species in a single (very early) morning?  By hopping on a bike!

Owling, the quest to hear and occasionally see owls at nighttime, is challenging by car.  You need to find a spot to pull over, and by the time you’ve hopped out and closed your car door, every nocturnal creature in a 200m radius is aware of your presence.  On foot, a canoe, or a bike, you can experience nocturnal sounds with minimal disturbance.  The sense of peace on a quiet road is powerful.

Last week I took advantage of a warm, still night and biked up Page Mill Road in Palo Alto until I reached Skyline Drive, a road that follows the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.  By 2:30am I had dropped down into San Mateo County along smaller roads.  From there I began a languid ride back uphill, rolling past solemn redwood groves, mixed oak woodlands, and grassy meadows.  Great Horned Owls constantly exclaimed their presence, and one forest break offered up a pair of calling Northern Pygmy-Owls, harmonized by a distant Western Screech-Owl.  The saw-whets occasionally wailed from mixed creekside habitat, and their toots could be heard from across broad, wooded canyons.

sky islands

As dawn broke at Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve, I discovered that I had risen above the clouds.  Mountain ridges peeked above the condensed water vapor, islands in a vast sea.  The rewards of an early wake-up.

Hi!

Welcome to Slow Twitch Birding.  This site is dedicated to sharing stories about green birding (i.e. fossil-fuel-free birding).  In addition, a few of us are working towards setting a new US green big day record this spring, so you’ll hear about the boatloads of birding, exploring, and planning we’ll do in the upcoming months.  Finally, I’m a PhD student studying ecology and evolution, so I’ll share occasional scientific stories, ideas, and analyses.