Monday, January 19, 2015

Birding Without Borders

A new blog started with the New Year documenting the adventures of an avid young birder from Oregon who is traveling the world and reporting what species he sees with a little help from friends he makes along the way. He’s off the grid in South America for a few days now but you can catch up with his exploits of the first few weeks starting in Antarctica. I’m finding it almost as much fun as being on the trip so far with a lot less wear and tear. Enjoy!

Birding Without Borders

Monday, January 12, 2015

20 Years since Wolves Return to Yellowstone

Today is the 20th anniversary of the first Gray wolf release back into Yellowstone in 1995. We’ve learned a lot since those first eight wolves returned to the Northern Rockies. It had been 69 years since the last wolf was extirpated in 1926. The effort to bring wolves back can be traced back to Aldo Leopold who suggested just that in 1944. It took over 50 years and a lot of hard work to make that happen.

Much has happened since then too. Over 1600 wolves now roam the Northern Rockies with Gray wolf populations now in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. A few wolves have made it as far as Utah, California and Colorado. Much has been learned about the key role this top predator plays in the ecosystem but there is a lot more needed to understand how we can coexist in the future. How long will it take before we can look back and say the wolf has returned to it’s historic range and necessary role in the ecosystem?

Kathie Lynch: Yellowstone wolf report on 20th anniversary

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Serious Avian Flu Issue

A highly pathogenic version of the avian flu has shown up in Canada recently with other exposures in Washington and Oregon. This appears to pose a serious threat to the poultry industry and given that wild birds are a vector to spread the disease it is a wildlife risk as well. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center is a very good source of information on this and other wildlife disease issues. The highly pathogenic version is a big risk to the poultry industry with wildlife being a carrier spreading the disease. This virus likely originated in poultry and spread to wildlife and then back to domestic birds. The low pathogenic version has more common outbreaks and is less dangerous. A scientific task force recently convened on this subject and produced an informational statement

We here in California are in the middle of the Pacific Flyway during fall migration and should continue to track this situation. Dead waterfowl can be turned over to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The State Veterinarian's office will handle similar cases from domestic or zoo sources. As always, anyone handling dead animals should wear disposable rubber or latex gloves, bag them in plastic and then wash thoroughly with hot water and soap. 

Pay attention to the open skies and, at least in this case, the ground around you. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sea Turtles in Nova Scotia & increasing strandings

During a trip across Canada and down the east coast earlier this fall, we discovered a sea turtle organization in Nova Scotia near Halifax and had an informative conversation with a young marine biologist there. It was a surprise to me and apparently until recently, for marine biologists working with the species that large numbers exist this far north. Huge leatherback turtles roam the area and were unknown to scientists until they listened to local fishermen. Jellyfish fuel these giants traveling great distances in the ocean. Most of the work done up north now focuses on education and monitoring leatherback movement.

Strandings of these long distance travelers is known throughout their range but is especially a problem in the Cape Code area they pass through. It seems there is another increasing problem causing strandings beyond the fisherman nets and plastic pollution known now.

Cape Cod appears to act as a trap for sea turtles due to geography and water temperature patterns. Increasing numbers of migrating sea turtles are being found stranded in this area due to "Cold-stunning effects". The long term effects of these large events or flying survivors down to Florida or holding many young turtles in tanks until sea temperatures rise later in the year are hard to predict. Most sea turtle research effort goes into monitoring nesting now. Clearly much more is needed as well as how all of this is being affected by climate change.


Cape Cod Mystery: A Surge of Stranded Turtles -

The New York Times

Volunteers are waging a rescue effort after finding almost 1,200 turtles washed ashore since mid-November, far more than in the previous record year.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Picking up after your dog is more than a courtesy; it’s conservation!

Have you ever had the experience of stepping in dog waste left behind by others?  Unfortunately, it’s a common experience these days when one is outside home, elsewhere in the city, or other places wherever there is a concentration of human activity. Unfortunately, one of these areas is Sutter’s Landing Park in the vicinity of river access and the nearby parking lot.

Is it important to clean up after your dog in such places? There are local regulations that require this in public places. What about when you are in nature? Wildlife certainly don’t clean up after themselves. There are situations where it is necessary to do so when it affects human health and safety. A local example of this may be the pond at McKinley Park where water quality has declined due in part to larger numbers of waterfowl concentrating and human feeding occurs.

It seems clear that such areas exist in the American River Parkway and other local areas based on current dog recreation activities. Identifying these areas is an important step in taking action. The following Nature Conservancy article gives a good overview of the problem, a tool the public can use to identify these problem areas and encourage people to come up with solutions.  Picking up after your dog is more than a courtesy; it’s conservation.


By Lisa Feldkamp, senior coordinator, new science audiences, The Nature Conservancy

What is PooPower!?

Remember the last time you stepped into a pile of dog excrement? Chances are, it’s not a pleasant memory.

Now think about that stinky, smelly mess – in your drinking water.

It’s a BIG problem. In America, pet dogs produce about 10 million tons of poo each year.

If that poo doesn’t get properly scooped and disposed of, it ends up going untreated into our stormwater and from there it can end up in drinking water.

That’s not just a big mess; the bacteria in dog waste could have serious implications for the environment and human health.

“The problem is universal and the simple act of cleaning up after your dog has environmental benefits as well as personal health benefits.  Yes, the environmental benefits of reduced pollution in our parks, streets and waterways are apparent, but many people are unaware that the bacteria in dog waste are potentially a hazard to us as well,” says Duncan Chew, Project & Community Engagement Manager of PooPower.

PooPower! is a project that started in Australia using citizen science to map dog poo ‘hotspots’ and encourage people to come up with solutions.

They are working to transform the poo problem into an energy solution with biogas made from doggy doo.

Why is PooPower! Important?

Dog feces has a lot of bacteria, more even than human feces. The EPA has many resources on best practices for disposing of waste and reasons to do so. One fact sheet notes “a day’s waste from one large dog can contain 7.8 billion fecal coliform bacteria, enough to close 15 acres of shellfish beds.”

Excess nutrients in the water from dog waste could also contribute to algal blooms that are bad for fish, other aquatic life, and our drinking water.

“In extreme cases eutrophication [excess nutrients] will deplete the waterway of its oxygen and impact the health of plants and animals,” Chew explains.

Picking up after your dog is more than a courtesy; it’s conservation.


A responsible dog owner disposing of poo. Photo © Lisa Parker/Flickr.

Recommended disposal options for dog poo (flushing, trashing, and burial) are often imperfect. Flushed dog stool can overwhelm the sewage system and with both trash and burial there is still a chance that the feces will wash out into the water system.

That is why projects like PooPower! are working on using dog poo for biogas. This solution keeps the poop out of the water system and provides an alternate, renewable energy source.

PooPower! also taps the potential of dog feces to get kids excited about science.

Dog poop is part of our every day lives, easy to find, and it ties in to many science and social science topics.

Starting from dog poo, teachers can lead into discussions of watersheds, bacteria, social systems and much more. 

How Do You Get Involved in PooPower!?

Get started finding dog poo hotspots in your area with the iPhone app.

“People have the best sense of humour when it comes to dog poo and the Poo Power! iPhone app is the best example of that.  Citizen scientists around the world are quite happy to take photos of dog poo to be publicly published and GPS-tagged on our map,” says Chew.

Then learn more about the options for disposing of dog waste in your area. If you’re not satisfied with currently available options, go to your city government with ideas for improvement.

Don’t be afraid to educate your neighbors (politely).

“What people can do is support each other in improving the cleanliness of our parks and streets. If you’re out walking the dog and see someone who doesn’t clean up after them, offer them one of your dog poo bags as a gentle reminder to do the right thing,” Chew advises.

You might get some strange looks when you’re taking pics of dog poo, but give it a try. It may lead to some very productive conversations.

More recent research on how our canine companions impact local ecology.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Watching a Mountain Beaver at work

The Mountain beaver (Aplodontia rufa) is the most primitive known living rodent species. It is a semi-fossorial secretive species in it’s own family and thought to be ancestral to squirrels. I’ve been interested in the species for a long time now and put together a journal of sorts on it.

Direct observation of the mountain beaver is uncommon but here’s a recent video clip from the “Camera Trap Codger” that gives a view into the life of this unique species.


Little Earthmover

Ever wonder what a mountain beaver does outside of its burrow?


I guess I'm not surprised. 

Well, have a look anyway.

Here's some footage of a mother and her offspring taken during last summer's Camera Trapping Workshop in the northern Sierra Nevada.

There's not much to say.

Mountain beavers are just like big pocket gophers when it comes to moving earth. 

Nov 23, 2014 3:05 AM


My Mountain Beaver Journal

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mono Lake at 20 Past, Present, and Future

Monday I attended an all day conference on the Mono Lake decision 20 years ago held at the Byron Shear Auditorium in the CalEPA building.

The pre-meeting looked like a who’s who of the major players for this landmark and the day promised to be one filled with lawyers, judges and policy wonks of a higher caliber. I expected to find much to reflect on and draw from now looking ahead into a very uncertain future. A climate cloud hangs over the Mono Basin like the rest of the state and west. A few previews have been seen already in the form of this drought that grips everyone and everything tightly now. Who will look out for the lake, its resources and the rest of the state and lead us into these uncertain times?

I made it through the full conference except for the reception afterwards. All 4 sessions were informative and thoughtful. My cold became more of a distraction as the day progress and I stayed more in the background as a result. I took notes on my iPad and reviewed them later for tasks and follow-up activity.

I left glad that I attended, reassured that progress is being made and that Mono Lake case history remains one that informs state leaders of issues and more complex challenges that need to be addressed with climate change and the current drought as strong motivations. No clear solutions were offered and there was a mix of optimism and doubt of how the Public Trust foundation can work through the conflicts between water diversion and environmental needs elsewhere in California. Clearly, more can be done if there is a move from conflict to cooperation as was the case with Mono Lake.

Mono Lake seems in relatively good shape with some built in conditions that will likely kick in next year reducing the diversion of water to Los Angeles. Water quality, available supply and increased evaporation remain serious issues in the Mono Basin requiring close attention. The city of Los Angeles has made much progress in reducing water consumption and intends to lower needs by another 20% in the future. The rest of the state lags far behind. Water allocation reductions must apply to all users, not just fish and wildlife. What is reasonable? There is enough water for reasonable uses. We just have to care enough to make the hard choices. Instead, we will likely next see an attempt by some in Congress to roll back environmental and wildlife laws in the name of the drought across the west coast. Here we go again.