The Kite Nest

Over a month ago, a pair of white-tailed kites moved into our neighborhood. They were very visible and very out of place.

The neighbors behind me have a large back yard with redwood trees and live oaks. They were selling their house and had moved out, leaving it vacant. The house sold quickly and nobody appeared for several weeks.

The kites took over one of the live oak trees and seemed to be building a nest and mating activities began.

Then, after a couple weeks, although the nest was not visible to us, it seemed that eggs must present. Several times, we observed the kites chasing off invading ravens.

Three or four times I nearly retrieved my camera during moments when the kites perched on the very top of the large redwoods.

I feared that the new neighbors would move in and disturb the nest before the chicks were hatched and gone. It seemed unlikely that the duo would succeed in their efforts.

Escrow closed last Friday and yesterday the new neighbors hired a tree service to trim the trees in their new back yard. At 8:00 AM, the chain saws began to buzz.

An army of tree trimmers invaded the live oaks.

The kites are gone now, which is not surprising. Wish I’d taken that picture.

 

Amphibian Eggs

Checked a bunch of ponds for amphibian eggs yesterday. Here are some photos of what we found. Check the caption and click on the photos to enlarge.

In addition to frog eggs, we also found newt eggs.

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We even found one fresh batch of California Tiger Salamander eggs.

CTS eggs IMG_4769

California tiger salamander eggs. Note the nucleus in this backlit photo.

 

 

 

 

A Time to Speak

Much of my most serious time in the woods is done while hunting. That’s when I’m as quiet as possible. Often that is so quiet that a stick rubbing against my cap makes me jump.

Sometimes the woods are so quite that I stop and notice wheezing emanating from my own lungs or the pounding of my own heart.

The sounds of my trousers rubbing against brush or the snap of a twig, are not foreign to the woods. They could be produced by a number of critters or physical events.

On occasions, I have been so silent in the woods that special things have happened.

A little over 35 years ago I arose early during an archery back-pack deer hunt on a mountain in the California coast range. It was August and the trails were covered in two or three inches of dust. At first light, I moved cautiously and slowly along one such dust-covered trail not far from the top of a ridge that led to the mountain top.

The area was perfect deer habitat and I was feeling optimistic as everything seemed to be falling into place and the possibility of sneaking up on a buck was quite real.

Then a deer snorted from about 75 yards away uphill from me. “How could he have smelled me?” was my first thought.

Then another deer snorted and I heard it run off.

“So close, ” I thought to myself, not knowing what could have gone wrong.

I remained absolutely still as I stared up towards the ridge top.

I was standing in slight depression created by a minor drainage. The drainage led directly up the hill and my line of sight while watching was directly up said depression.

Then I caught movement about fifty yards up the hill. Something was coming down the drainage. It was a lion, a male lion with a very square head. He was lying low, but moving fairly quickly. I had little time to react before he would be right on top of me.

Obviously he had no idea I was there. Within seconds he was only 20 yards from me and still coming in a silent, slinking but ground-covering way.

I could only react. “That’s close enough pussy cat,” I heard myself say.

Stupid? Maybe, but that’s what I said.

In a flash the cat was out of sight. He covered the 10 yards between him and the closest thicket in almost no time at all. I never saw him again and I was thankful for that – except that the minute he went out of sight, I was somewhat terrified because I had no idea what he was doing.

I moved down the trail expeditiously and I believe he did the same. Neither of us wanted to become better acquainted.

Now, more than 30 years after that event, it is clear to me that the human voice is a valuable defence mechanism. Virtually all wild animals that live with humans are afraid of them. Sometimes our best defense is the sound of our own voice.

 

 

 

Conservation Versus Conservation

 

mayberry-feb3-026-mallard-flock-cropped

This great mallard habitat on Sherman Island is no more.

Our duck club, on Sherman Island in the California Delta, was some of the greatest seasonal marsh on earth. In winter, ducks, geese, shore birds, raptors, river otters, beavers, muskrats and many more critters thrived in that habitat.

It was great hunting.

After the California Department of Water Resources purchased the duck club from us, we continued to manage the property as a seasonal marsh. Then California decided that the property needed to be turned into a conservation experiment.

The primary goals were to reduce subsidence and sequester carbon. This was a prototype project. Unfortunately, the goals of the experiment conflicted with the existing use.

In order to test the hypothesis, the existing seasonal marsh would have to be replaced by permanent ponds.

DSC_0056 ducks

Our Sherman Island duck club was converted from seasonal to permanent marsh. It is no longer managed for waterfowl.

Having sold the property to the State, we were in no position to oppose the program. The rest is history. Although ducks and geese still migrate to Sherman Island, they avoid the permanent marsh in favor of the remaining shallow-flooded pasture that surrounds the property we used to own.

It’s easy to see the effects to waterfowl when you observe our property. It’s more difficult to quantify the effects this change had on the California waterfowl population, but when combined with other similar projects, it could be substantial. We’ll never know.

This was a situation where one form of conservation conflicted directly with another.

Conservation comes in many forms and we see conservation activities frequently, but underlying conflicts are usually invisible except to specialists who manage wildlife or wildlife habitat.

Ongoing are changes to wildlife preserves and refuges on public lands. Where lands are dedicated simply to wildlife, there is competition between thriving species and threatened species. Should endangered or threatened status always trump thriving or common?

Where land is purchased for and dedicated to a certain species or group of species, one would expect management of that land to be managed for that species. Is that always the case?

Take, for example, land purchased with Federal or State Duck Stamp money. Duck stamp funds are raised by our government agencies specifically to purchase habitat for migratory waterfowl. Hunters purchase these stamps with hopes that there will always be waterfowl to hunt.

California has a long list of threatened, endangered and special-concern plants and animals. What is the ultimate “trump” species? Can habitat for a threatened species displace waterfowl habitat on dedicated land?

garter snake on log

Sometimes habitat is designed by the forces of nature. Other times man redesigns land to favor one species or another.

Habitat can be converted by applying water. Timing of the water application is crucial. When water floods fields in winter and is left to dry during the spring, the habitat favors migratory birds. When farmers use water to irrigate, farming can create food for many species including waterfowl.

When land is flooded and water covers the land during spring and/or summer, it is beneficial for numerous species and sometimes waterfowl can nest there, but usually not.

When land is permanently flooded, it favors primarily fish species but there is little food to attract waterfowl, especially dabbling ducks.

We must not kid ourselves about permanent marsh. It may attract golf course Canada geese, but it is not important to migratory waterfowl.

It would be nice to think that conservation always benefits all things, but it’s not that simple.