Sunday, November 16, 2014

Remember Me

I left my good camera behind for a nice walk, but thankfully I had my cell to capture this wonderful moment.  It reminds me of UP!
Locked inside of urban sprawl, green spaces provide places for birds to live, nest, or rest (during migration). They are "islands" surrounded by an ocean of concrete buildings and roads. Is it possible for both humans and birds to coexist together in a shared space?  As I am discovering, it is a very complicated story for each bird species. 

It seemed that the entire coastline was "owned" and for much of it, our ocean views were blocked. Many homes had lots of non-native plants around their very green gardens.  Currently, much of California is in a severe drought right now. It was very obvious who had money and who didn't as the landscapes either reflected green or dusty brown. 
One of our target birds was the California Gnatcatcher.  It took us a couple hours to locate several of these birds around a protected estuary.   This species is very endangered in Southern California due to habitat loss.  It prefers the coastal scrub along the ocean that humans also enjoy.  I discovered that a lot of people in the general public were very angry at this little gnatcatcher.  The CAGN was referred to as "That bird." Apparently, "that stupid bird" was blocking progress!  For the first time in my birding travels, I heard anger from the opposition. Those who were not angry were apathetic.  Real estate was MORE important. Never have I encountered this attitude while on my treks for endangered birds. 

Hermit Thrush
As I stood in the "wild" space being passed by joggers on their cell phones, bikers, and cars, I strained my ears to listen for the catlike call. I was beginning to see why this bird was in trouble.  All around me, there were people and buildings along the border of the estuary.  Airplanes and helicopters flew overhead. Boats passed through the waterway. I was beginning to have my doubts.

Downy Woodpecker
It made me miss my open Southern Arizona landscape.  How do birds do it?  How do they survive within this massive human sprawl?  Turns out that some like it while others, like the CA Gnatcatcher, could unfortunately disappear from the area in the near future.

Western Grebes

After really studying the Orange County landscape well, I discovered that there wasn't really much space at all provided for these birds.  Hence the declining numbers!  Much like the Florida Scrub-Jay, its habitat is in decline.  These birds are now locked into areas, or fragmented, from other California Gnatcatchers. How will they maintain genetic diversity within their populations?

Savannah Sparrow(Belding's Subspecies)
It's amazing to me that so many people are apathetic about saving an endangered species. If this type of thinking was left unchecked, we'd be in a really bad place today. Some say it has already happened. On a global level (and locally), we are losing little battles here and there.  At the end, all of these little losses will add up into something very sad and big.  But who cares about a little gray songbird that looks like all the other gray birds out there? I do.  And so do a lot of other people.  

Now don't get me wrong, we had a blast.  I always enjoy the new challenges that come with the new territory.  So it was easy finding lots of new birds all cramped into these "green" spaces around Southern California.  The secret to birding around Cali is finding a central place inside the city and plan trips to nearby hotspots. Don't plan anything too far or you'll be on the road ALL DAY!  I learned that lesson well when I lived in the Bay Area many moons ago.

Acorn Woodpecker
There are so many wonderful California birds.  They have their own gnatcatcher, towhee, thrasher, gull and quail!  The Nuttall's Woodpecker featured below is also a California favorite....and a first for me!

Nuttall's Woodpecker-female
In all of this, I am somehow losing my mind as I try to process what is happening around me. There's no such thing as "It's just birding." anymore.  It's an obsession.  And to be honest, it scares me a little.  There are times I could just scream.  A new bathroom renovation or a trip somewhere exciting?  I get antsy.  I pace.  I need to explore and learn more stuff now.  There are times I get so tired that I don't want to do anything. But then someone will report something special and I'm back on the road! The fact is I feel good when I go out and do this. 

During our weekend trek, we stopped to check out the Tijuana estuary and walked 8 miles without even realizing it!  Micheal keeps track of our hiking.  Along the way, we meet weird people that tell us to follow them and see this "eagle" on a telephone pole.  Turns out the "eagle" is really a hawk. Another tells me about how her son would go out and shoot birds on the estuary and then tell her kid, "Hey son that's illegal. You're not supposed to do that."  From her "shared" stories on the trail, I don't think he ever listened to her. Then she told me to take a pic of a Great Egret that was too far away.  When is she going to turn off the trail??!!! Our nature trail connected with the local neighborhood for a time. Thankfully nature took over and we left the homes far behind. And the strange locals.

California Towhee
Officially we hear things are "protected" and yet, many times, there isn't anyone out "there" patrolling for poaching, shooting, etc. In many places, I see park officials stuck in information booths collecting entrance fees. I know they want to be out there working in the field.  So many of my friends in the business have told me about the endless paperwork that comes with the job.  And let's not mention all the time that goes into applying for grants to help cover the costs needed due to federal cuts, etc. We spend billions on war and killing and yet we don't have enough money to properly maintain and staff these wild areas.  Birders see it all. 

 Oak Titmouse
Imagine an oak tree without its tree sprite, the Oak Titmouse, jumping around the branches.  Or the empty holes in trees once used by the common Acorn Woodpecker. I couldn't imagine the landscape without these birds. Each species contributes something important to our environment. What will the fate of the California Gnatcatcher be?  Do we really care enough to protect it?  The real estate world is eyeing up their habitat for development and have not let this bird alone. They are pushing to have it taken off the endangered list this year.  Could they eventually win this seemingly uphill battle? 

California Gnatcatcher
For more about birds from around the world, check out Wild Bird Wednesday


  1. Great one. The first shot is priceless.

  2. Actually you know the first shot's look is awesome even if I don't know how it would turn out if it had to be printed.

  3. I'm saddened to learn that the people of California don't realize how important it is to protect endangered species. And it especially saddens me that people with money think they can use as much water as they want to just because they can afford it. Humans can be incredibly selfish.

  4. This excellent post left me saddened. It seems that very few really care about the environment and wildlife. That said, your photographs are fabulous, Chris! I love the various woodpeckers and was thrilled to see that you were able to see the little California Gnatcatcher. Let's hope that the species will live on ...

  5. Keep following your passion and spread the words through education. Excellent photos as always. Seems like it was a good trip with some contradictions.

  6. some beautiful birds, there. second time this week i've seen someone post an acorn woodpecker and his tree stash! awesome!

  7. The fifth one, Grebes, is greatest for me, awesome.

  8. You hit the proverbial nail on the head several times there Chris.I am afraid that I am in the pessimistic camp as the "believers" like you and I are seriously outnumbered by the apathetic and (more importantly) by those who wish to see the world covered in concrete and/or to make money from the process. Fopr the future well being of this still very wonderful world I hope I am very wrong.

    Loved your photos and your plea.

  9. Isn't it sad to see us HUMANS taking over all of the wonderful 'green' areas --all around the country???? Our poor birds and other wildlife don't have many other places to go...

    You did see quite a few beautiful California birds... Love the Nuttall's Woodpecker... And the Savannah Sparrow is gorgeous. The branches on that tree made it look as if he had a VERY long tail... ha ha

    Great group, Chris.

  10. Fantastic shots, so many birds all in one place.

  11. Fantastic selection of birds and great shots of them. Love the Western Grebe. Would love to see that in real life

  12. A discouraging story but we have to keep working for the little guys. You have really nice photos. I particularly like the acorn woodpecker.

  13. how interesting to see all the nuts in the trees bark. Never seen anything like this before :)

  14. Yeh...don't even get me started on idiotic humans and how they are ruining our planet... birds and animals everywhere are suffering and soon...well, thank God I will be gone ...I don't even want to know what will become of this place we call home......

  15. Ssad but true words, lightened by your wonderful photos. I don't know how to reach those people because they just don't or won't listen to reason. If they read your post it would surely help, but their minds are closed and all they care about is so called progress. By the time they come to their senses I fear it will be too late.

  16. Nice series! Your first photo is brilliant! :)

  17. Chris, now I know that when I come back to AZ you and I have to take a trip to CA because I need to see ALL of these species! Now I need to study the difference between the Nuttall's and the Ladder-backed woodpecker!

  18. Super easy Kathie! Nuttall's only hang out in California. They are darker with a different call.

  19. As always, an incredible post! It makes me so sad to know that people are more concerned about their ocean-front property, and developers about the almighty dollar than about animal habitat. The Dusky Seaside Sparrow...gone. Hundreds of other species of animals and birds all over this country...gone. I am upset right now about this bighorn sheep/mountain lion controversy going on in our own area. We upset the balance of nature every day by our ignorance and apathy. It makes me so sad. I have always been a champion of wolves. Birds, because they are so small and so largely "ignorable" by those who put their blinders on every day to nature's glory, are easy for those people to dismiss. They think "What's one or two species of birds, anyway...there are plenty of others." They just don't get it. So, anyway, now, off my soapbox (smile) and back to your amazing photos. Loved them! California does have so much to offer!

  20. Beautiful birds! I love the woodpeckers.

  21. Really deep post. I moved from San Diego in 1991 partly because of my profession's and public disregard for the natural things that make their place great (they only get the beaches).

    Not much better in other places, just less people and less $ to screw things up...your home in Tucson is by far a good exception. To think of that Calif. Gnatcatcher and the habitat it prefers, I wonder how it might adapt to those popular landscape "habitats" of a Hawaii-South Carolina motif?

  22. These are all wonderful pictures Chris. I missed this post when it was published. Sometimes your blog doesn't hit my read-y thingy. I have to go look for it. Have a great holiday kiddo. You should go to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving. The ultimate birder taking pictures of Turkey's! With STUFFING!

  23. :) Jeanne, I would so love to go back to Wisconsin. My family wants me to go back for the holidays. As for taking pics of the turkey.....nah, I'll just eat it! YUM! Can't wait for Thursday! Hope you do the same! Enjoy:) Me

  24. David, you are absolutely right. Tucson and especially Phoenix have altered so much of the landscape. One of the big topics here has been the decline of our Cactus Wren populations around suburbia and urban areas. Why? People don't like that Cholla Cactus. I am planning on putting some back into my cacti garden for the Thrashers and Wrens. This human spreadout is affecting everything around the world.

  25. I feel like I need to say good bye right now. Cali is a pretty built up place. Thank goodness some birds can adapt. I could really feel the passion in your post.

  26. This comes as no surprise to me Chris, working to conserve and restore an endangered species myself I often get asked 'why bother?' It still shocks me that people even ask that question but sadly they do.

  27. Gorgeous birds and photos Chris :) A very thought-provoking post - I get so sad when I come across people who seem to care so little about wildlife and the environment :( And don't get me started on housing development - dreadful plan over here to destroy habitat which is an important nesting site for nightingales :( And that is just one example :(


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