You may have noticed that there hasn’t been much posting here lately. It’s time for me to share the reason for that. Our family’s total attention has been taken away from the normal, happy pursuits of our daily lives by an impending health and environmental crisis that is being forced on the SF Bay area against the will of local government and private citizens.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), as you may now have heard, has determined to violate the California Constitution and aerially spray a combination of never-before-tested pesticides, carcinogens, mutagens and synthetic pheromones encapsulated in particulate plastic spheres over 9 urban counties in the state, beginning June 1st of 2008.
They began these egregious actions last fall in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. Following the spraying, more than 600 families reported severe illness from pesticide poisoning. In addition to this, the beautiful Monterey bay and the rest of the watershed were horrifically fouled with a toxic yellow foam that resulted in the death of at least 600 seabirds – probably more. Among these birds was the endangered Brown Pelican which is supposed to be protected by federal law.
Sonoma County is not currently scheduled to be sprayed from airplanes, but Marin County is, and the drift from the spray there will absolutely get into our air, our water, our land, our bodies and the bodies of our precious wild birds and animals.
Government officials have adopted a total policy of public deception, ignoring the damage that they have already done in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, referring to the pesticide as a ‘safe pheromone product’ and telling us, the free people of the United States, that we have no vote as to whether we want to be sprayed or not. 7 million people will be chronically exposed to documented carcinogens unless CDFA is stopped. This violates the Nuremberg Code which was adopted by all civilized nations after WWII to prevent human beings from ever again being experimented upon without their consent. The pesticide compound has never before been tested on urban populations – only over vegetables – so this is an experiment.
There are numerous lawsuits pending against the State for their illegal actions, there are 5 bills and 1 measure being presented in a desperate attempt to protect the people and environment of California from this violation of basic rights, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his financial supporter, Ag. Secretary A.G. Kawamura continue to insist that they will begin spraying us this summer.
What is going on here?
CDFA’s excuse for their unforgivable and unconstitutional actions – they are doing this in an attempt to control an insect which is considered a negligible bug elsewhere in the world – the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM). All scientists who are not on the State’s payroll or in some way tied up with forwarding the state’s plan have come forward with proof that that the moth can be ignored and everything will be fine. It has done ZERO damage to agriculture in California despite the fact that it has likely been here for decades. It is a little leaf-roller moth that does minor cosmetic damage to leaves where it builds its home. It does not eat fruits or vegetables. It simply builds its home on leaves. It is no threat to us, our food supply, native or ornamental plants or anything else. Research into this matter will prove what I am saying here. CDFA has chosen to lie, to use scare tactics to convince the people that unless the LBAM is wiped out, it will eat everything on the planet. This is unscientific, untrue and simply ridiculous.
The actual cause of all of this is that, many years ago, this moth was incorrectly classified as a Class A pest and trade restrictions were applied to any nation where the moth lives – places like Australia and New Zealand. In order to avoid the very trade penalties that were applied by the USDA to other nations, our government is now carrying out this outrageous program to show that they are attempting to eradicate the light brown apple moth. When they talk about economic damage to agriculture…they do not mean to plants…they mean trade penalties put on farmers because of the moth. Rather than correctly reclassifying the moth, they have decided to spray 7 million people living in densely populated urban cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Marin and all of the other residential areas of the 9 counties they have chosen. If they reclassified the moth, our nightmare would be over, but they have shown themselves unwilling to even consider doing this, despite the fact that Mexico and Canada have indicated that if we change our policy, they will change theirs.
One of the most outrageous things about CDFAs actions in this is that they managed to get a state of emergency declared so that they wouldn’t have to abide by laws that demand an Environmental Impact Report be conducted prior to taking any potentially-devastating action. The state of emergency enables them to skip over any safeguards for our health or the health of our environment. Their absurd claim that there isn’t time to test pesticides before spraying them on children, men and women because the moth will devour all living plants if they don’t stop it right this minute has been met with incredible scorn in the UC scientific communities. As the UC Scientists say, there is no emergency. The moth has been here for decades. There is no need to rush.
Unfortunately, our governor receives political donations both from the Ag. secretary, Kawamura, and the public has been especially aghast to discover that the governor has also received more than $140,000 in contributions from the maker of the pesticide spray – Stewart Resnick of Suterra, LLC. It is a case of dire political corruption, and the end results of the billions of dollar of profits these men have come to together to make will be the pesticide poisoning of at least 7 million Californians, the toxification of our bays, rivers and other water sources, the end of organic agriculture in the state and the death of untold wildlife.
If this sounds like a crazy conspiracy to you, please, begin to investigate the matter yourself. All of the major Bay Area and Monterey Area newspapers and TV stations are covering this public health crisis and mayors, city council members, supervisors, senators and representatives are engaged in a desperate battle to protect us and our lands from aerial spraying without consent.
The spraying will take place every 30 days, 9 months out of the year, for up to 10 or more years. This will results in chronic, longterm and extremely dangerous exposure to documented carcinogens and mutagens and particulate pollution (as deemed by the American Lung Association) on a scale that has never been seen before in the world. Everyone living in the spray zone will be subjected to this and groups that are expected to be most gravely harmed are children, pregnant women, women in general, the elderly and citizens who have chronic diseases or are attempting to fight off diseases like cancer. One of the xenochemicals in the spray is a known cause of breast cancer. Others are linked to reproductive harm. Others are endocrine disruptors. Because of this terrible danger, a refugee problem is emerging in California, as residents sell their homes and attempt to flee to safety. In other words, mayhem has begun here and it will only get worse if the densely populated Bay Area is sprayed.
I have personally spoken to many Monterey Bay region residents who were made terribly ill by the spraying. One father’s healthy little baby became delirious with eyes rolling into the back of his head and went into respiratory failure. The baby is now being kept breathing by means of asthma medication but the state is refusing to acknowledge this family or any of the hundreds of others who were damaged by pesticide exposure.
Because the pesticide is designed to release slowly into the air over a 30-90 day period each time it is sprayed, there will be no way to leave the area and come back when all is clear. There will be no all clear. The air will be full of the toxic matter permanently, year round, for years to come.
As a woman who has spent her whole adult life eating organic food and cherishing wildlife and the natural environment, my whole way of life has been threatened with destruction by CDFA and the USDA. Since I found out about the spraying, my world has been turned upside down, and I have been researching, making contacts with people and working to educate the community about this terrible crisis.
And that is why Birding Sonoma County has been quiet. If there is any hope of coming to a time again when we can all enjoy a walk in our woods, breathing clean air, taking joy in the wild birds and animals that make our lives so rich, we have to work now to stop this illegal and immoral poisoning of California.
And, I want to add to this that I hope no Sonoma County resident will be lulled into a false sense of security because we are not currently on the spray map. The USDA has announced that it intends to hunt this moth across the nation, and they will not hesitate to begin aerial spraying wherever they find it. Rather than reclassify the moth, they will do this to our beautiful country because it is profitable for them.
What this means is that, wherever you live in the United States, I urge you to join the valiant efforts to stop this terrible violation of our U.S. Constitution which grants us an inalienable right to safety. If you deeply value our nation’s tenets of freedom, it is the patriotic thing to do to fight these greed-driven men. If you care for your family’s health, it is the loving thing to do to fight this spraying of documented poisons. If you value our wild life and environment, it is the just thing to do to begin working to protect the voiceless animals and lands. We need every single one of you in this fight. Please, get educated now.
Watch YouTube Videos Documenting the LBAM Spray Health Crisis HERE
You can also start reading Bay Area newspapers or Google phrases like ‘LBAM Spray’, ‘LBAM Aerial Spray’ or ‘Health effects of LBAM spray’.
I want you to be able to investigate this for yourself. I realize, the reality of this situation is so horrific, it sounds like a bad movie or a crazy conspiracy theory. I’m not a fan of either one of those things. As my readers know by now, I am a very peaceful and simple person who loves the natural beauty of our world. But now, political corruption and corporate greed are threatening to ruin these best treasures – health, life and environment – for all of us. So, for now, I am putting down my binoculars, my paint brush, my personal happiness and I am giving my heart to this battle in hopes of finding a time of peace and joy in the future.
Please, join me in this crucial moment.
What is the matter with our state government? What moral creed sees sense in taking money away from people who are attempting to protect wild lands, and handing it over to people who are going to build a new death row facility? Take away the very thing – being in nature – that helps people to be both peaceful and sane, and put efforts into devising a torture chamber to murder them when they’ve gone insane? What kind of government calls that good?
Governor Schwarzenegger is planning to close our beautiful, sacred Tomales Bay State Park in Marin County along with 42 other desperately-needed and exuberantly cherished state parks throughout California. In addition to closing 43 parks, the governor intends to cut back on spending for education, health care, children, the poor, the blind and handicapped. The governor states he is doing this in order to balance California’s budget.
However, these proposed cuts of $13 million would only address 1/10 of 1% of Our Deficit
That’s right. Closing all of these wonderful parks would not even take us 1% in the direction of being back in the black.
And think of what will have been lost…
What’s So Great About Tomales Bay State Park
For birders, the answer is easy. Heart’s Desire Beach alone is incomparable birding habitat. Among the species we have so loved observing there are:
…and many others
We’ve seen gophers, foxes and deer here, too!
The sheltered cove is simply wonderful habitat for birds and wild animals. And, human beings – the animals who are perhaps the most in danger of losing their wildness, their connection with the earth, because men of business make decisions that we need more ways to kill people than to preserve their lives through abundant exposure to the very things that make being alive worth it.
When you stand on Heart’s Desire Beach with an osprey wheeling over your head, gentle tide at your feet, perhaps a rainbow arching toward the green, green land around you, you are glad to be human.
When you realize you are living amongst people who voted for a man who would take all of that away from you in order to murder poor crazy inmates more efficiently…you wish you could be a bird, or really, any other animal on the planet.
Tomales Bay State Park is also the setting of Indian Beach, Pebble Beach and both Shell Beaches – an area totaling some 2,000 acres of habitat that was once home to the Miwok peoples. If the Miwoks would have thought it nonsense that the government could own the land, I have no doubt they would have found it intolerable that the land could be locked away from the people.
The Pt Reyes Light has a good and revealing article on their website about this threat to our park. It holds out some hope that this proposal is merely intended to alarm people – that some kind of compromise will inevitably be reached. I, for one, am insulted that such an idea would ever even be considered or mentioned by any office holder. Our parks are our treasures. They have done a great deal more for us than any governor ever has.
Click to read a post identifying the birds shown above
I write this post with a heavy heart. When the Cosco Busan crashed into the Bay Bridge this past week, every birder I know immediately thought of what this disaster would mean for the birds. This time last year, my husband and I spent hours out in West Marin. The painting, shown above, was my sampling of the fabulous number of migratory species present in places like the Bolinas Lagoon. Every year, millions of wonderful shore birds flock to Tomales, Bolinas, Point Reyes, Inverness, Stinson Beach and the rim of the SF Bay for the cold months. Long-billed Curlews, Willets, Avocets, Pin-tails, Wigeons, gulls of all kinds, pelicans, sandpipers and dozens of other species line the sands and to see them is to enjoy a miraculous, unforgettable sight. San Francisco Bay and Marin County are the vital destinations of these precious wild birds, and within hours of the tragic crash, reports have begun to come in about oiled birds throughout the region.
Groups including the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, the Oiled Wildlife Care Networkand the International Bird Rescue Research Center have quickly dispatched trained employees to collect and attempt to save the birds. The SF Chronicle ran a story saying that the 58,000 gallon oil spill would likely affect hundreds of birds; I call that estimate extremely low. My guess would be that thousands of birds will be sickened and killed by the toxic oil, and that our water and beaches will be fouled for years to come.
This Google Map of the Oil Spill will show you where the oil has currently spread to and gives some details about the birds who have been collected so far. The IBRRC reports 350 birds currently in their care. Many more have been found dead.
In addition to our beloved birds, November is whale migration season here. The whales will be swimming through the oil, as will seals, sea lions and other marine mammals. I keep thinking about the family of river otters who have recently taken up residence in Rodeo Lagoon – birders have been watching them with interest as the appear to have learned to hunt pelicans. I can’t help but think that the otters must be dead now. Really, the total effect of this disaster is almost too overwhelming for a simple nature lover like myself to comprehend. I only know that West Marin is one of my favorite places on earth, and to see it thus spoiled fills me with sorrow and anger.
We have got to find non-toxic alternative fuels. If commerce and government allows the health of all local waters to rest on the shoulders of a single ship’s pilot, then we need to find some way to make sure that his mistakes can’t ruin life for all of the inhabitants of the Bay Area. Had the Cosco Busan spilled 58,000 gallons of olive oil, corn oil, orange juice, hemp oil or what have you into our water, we might have a bit of a problem, but we would not have this unforgivable crisis on our hands with our migratory birds and local wildlife dying all around us.
Where I live, much of the public water comes from the Russian River. The Russian River connects up to the ocean. For sure, some of this oil will end up in humans, too, and it’s simply unacceptable that the mistake of a single human being could have consequences this far reaching.
The IBRRC says they currently have enough volunteers to accomplish their work. Lay persons are urged not to approach oiled wildlife because it will further stress the damaged birds and animals. You can visit this page for further information about this. If you are going to be in this part of the Bay Area over the coming months, you might want to keep the following numbers near your cell phone:
To report oiled wildlife: 877-823-6926
To report oil sightings: 985-781-0804
To inquire about volunteering: 800-228-4544
Last year, my husband and I spent New Year’s Day out on the Bolinas Lagoon, our hearts absolutely on fire with delight over the multitude of magnificent shore birds. This year, our country should be making a New Years resolution to stop the madness of our fuel oil dependence which has made us enemies around the globe and a devastating threat to the habitat we share with local birds and animals. We need to see that enough is enough. Our earth is too precious for this.
There are days when you set out to bird and the air is strangely silent, the branches are still, the world seems empty of birds. And then there are the days when you stop, en route to a destination perhaps, just to check a favorite spot for a moment and you walk into a blizzard of bird activity, all the better for its spontaneous serendipity. This was such a day for us, as we pulled into Jack London State Park to avoid rush hour. Tiptoeing into the fenced garden behind Jack London’s beautiful Craftsman cottage, we seated ourselves in a birder’s paradise, so alive with species, activity and song we hardly knew which way to look.
Lesser Goldfinches were everywhere but on our shoulders. The last of the Western Tanagers mingled with the first of the Cedar Waxwings in the treetops. Yellow-rumped Warblers have just arrived with a few signal American Robins, speaking of the changing season. Flickers and woodpeckers were everywhere, but over all, a family of fabulous Pileated Woodpeckers gave us some of the closest views we have ever had. 99% of the time, we hear the Pileated Woodpeckers in the distant western forest, their monkey-machine-gun calls and jackhammer drilling announcing their kingship of the State Park, but today, at least 3 of the birds were right beside us, and we got to hear an amazing greeting between two of them as they met in an oak tree at the back of the garden. These unusual calls sounded rather like the sounds of geese, with a cooing quality softening the normal harshness of the Pileated Woodpeckers’ voices. Clearly, this was an intimate family conversation. At a distance, their hammering is incredibly loud. Up close, it sounds like someone knocking a house down! What a thrill to see this lord of the woodpeckers and his royal family ruling over the garden of birds.
Our bird count from less than an hour spent in the cottage garden today is as follows:
Northern Red-Shafted Flicker
In addition to this, there were hummingbirds in the Mexican sage plants, but we remain even worse at identifying hummingbirds than we are at identifying gulls. Probably Allen’s or Rufous. All told, this gives us a total of 17 different bird species in the garden! And it wasn’t merely the number of species but the sheer number of birds that made our afternoon so wondrous for us. What a lovely time!
Any moment in wild bird habitat can give you pleasure like this. We still have enough light here in October to stop someplace on the way home from work, or we can spend whatever other free time we may have in nature, simply enjoying this lucky abundance of birds. The cottage garden in Jack London State Park is a great bet, but you know of other places, too – special places.
As we were walking back to the car, I was musing over the thought that birding resembles strong human emotions. When the moment is over, we have nothing physical to show for it, nothing in our hands, nothing to bring home with us. We only know that we had an experience, nameless, perhaps, and difficult to communicate, but something that meant a great deal while it was happening. In today’s stressful world, the birder fills himself with these moments and can draw from them as from a well of peace. Birding can keep us emotionally balanced, I think. What do you think?
Did you like the game of hide-and-seek as a child? If so, then birding for wrens will likely strike you as extra fun. As a clan, they are some of the Bay Area’s most secretive little birds, more often heard than seen. A flash of clay or chestnut in the scrub or reeds, the flick of a tail, the glimpse of a bright black eye, tantalizing the birder who will stand there for minutes at a time, yearning to make a correct identification.
Today, we’ll turn our gaze on Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii, one of the larger SF Bay Area Wrens. My Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, says Bewick’s Wren is a year-round resident, but I see the bird so sporadically, I can’t confirm this from my own experience, and Sibley has been wrong on occasion in this regard. Measuring an average of 5.25″ from beak to tail, Bewick’s Wren, like most wrens, will instantly strike you as being ‘all-tail’. With the exception of the Winter Wren, which looks like it has almost no tail, wrens have some of the most splendid, striped tails on the local birding scene. Identification clue number one for wrens is that they tend to hold their tails up-turned, as if proud of their lovely plumes.
Again, like most wrens, their movements through the brush are flickering, turning this way and that, seeming to flash from branch to branch rather than flap or fly. Whenever I see Bewick’s Wren, I am struck by how nuthatch-like he is, not only in his movements, but in his overall shape. The long beak, small oval body and stiff tail are all reminiscent of the White-breasted Nuthatch. The Brown Creeper also comes strongly to mind when looking at wrens.
Color is very important in identifying wrens. Some are a rich, burnished copper, others a duller brown. Bewick’s Wren’s overall hue is somewhat muddy, with gleams of chestnut in his long tail. But the most important identification mark on this bird is his prominent white eyebrow. It stands out quite clearly from his brown and grey tones, and the other thing to observe is the overall plainness of his back and shoulders which are unmarked.
Comparing Bewick’s Wren to the Marsh Wren
At right, you will see my illustration of a Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris. I felt it would be helpful for local birders to compare these 2 birds to see the differences between them. Wren identification can be challenging for new birders, because all wrens tend to be brownish, striped beings. In differentiating between these 2 wrens, you will have two big clues:
1) Markings – Scroll back and forth between the Marsh Wren and Bewick’s Wren. Yes, they both have those white eyebrows. But look at the backs of the birds. The black striped patch of the Marsh Wren instantly confirms who he is, and lets you see how much plainer the Bewick’s Wren is by comparison. Overall, the rich chestnut tones of the smaller Marsh Wren are much more vivid than the soft browns of Bewick’s.
2) Habitat – This is a major factor. Bewick’s Wren inhabits the understorey brush of coniferous and deciduous forests, where he is at home with his secretive habits, hiding amongst bracken. By contrast, the Marsh Wren’s name correctly identifies his home – in the reeds around ponds and in wetlands.
Other local wrens include the House Wren and the Winter Wren. Each has it’s own markings and habitat. So, very often, getting a correct I.D. involves the birder asking, “where are the stripes?” and, “what is the habitat I’m in?”
Further field notes on Bewick’s Wren
Though not quite as much like the old electric-typewriter-gone-haywire calls of the Marsh Wren, the Bewick’s Wren’s song is complex, consisting of metallic trills and buzzes, not exactly musical, but very fascinating to hear in the forest. The long, down-curved beak of this bird is an important tool, as you might guess, enabling him to pry into crevices and along the ground for insects and spiders. Bewick’s Wrens nest in cavities or holes and 4-7 white or pink speckled eggs are common. Patience and good ear birding are often your best tools in honing in on this charming and interesting local bird.
Where to see Bewick’s Wren in Sonoma County
As the accompanying map will show, Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen, California, yet again proves itself superior birding habitat when it comes to Bewick’s Wren. When you go through the toll booth, turn right into the upper parking lot, drive to the far end of the lot and park near the narrow trail entrance by the eucalyptus grove. In addition to being great woodpecker habitat, and a good spot for migratory warblers, this grove of trees has become our likely spot for Bewick’s Wren. About halfway between the entrance of this short trail and the ‘t’ it comes to out in the sun at the end of it, on the left hand side of the path, there is a scrubby area where we have repeatedly seen a pair of Bewick’s Wrens, and with patience, have gotten excellent up close views. Bring a picnic, bring your birding binoculars and have a fabulous day in this wonderful park.
It’s October now, so keep an eye out in the park for Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Oak Titmice, Stellar’s Jays, Pileated, Downy, Nuttall’s and Acorn Woodpeckers, Flickers, the last of the Western Tanagers, Western Bluebirds and White-breasted Nuthatches. Soon, the fantastic Varied Thrushes should be flying into the park. Last year – the winter 2006/2007 season – was an irruptive year for the Varied Thrush, bringing us more of these birds than normal, and Jack London State Park was literally spangled with them. Oh, things are getting exciting in the birding world this month. Keep your eyes open!
Sibley’s birding guide says that the White-crowned Sparrow is a year-round bird in Sonoma County, CA., but locals know that’s not true. This trusty little bird disappeared when the weather heated up, early in the year, heading north to cooler Canada. Just this afternoon, my husband called me to the window excitedly. There, at the foot of the photinia hedge, a lone White-crowned Sparrow was hopping humbly through the green grass. His friends and family will arrive any day now, and we hurried out to sprinkle organic sunflower seeds under the apple tree to welcome them in our usual way.
For new birders (and even experienced ones!) Sparrows can be one of the harder species of birds to identify. So many of them are brown and stripey in a way that seems indistinct. Luckily, the adult male White-crowned Sparrow’s head markings are unique among his Bay Area neighbors, so this is one sparrow new birders will quickly come to recognize.
Read our Sparrow Identification Guide to improve your understanding of our most common Bay Area sparrows, and start looking wherever there is low, brushy growth in your garden and neighborhood. Soon, the White-crowned Sparrow will be joined by the Golden-Crowned Sparrow, the White-throated Sparrow, the Sooty Pacific Fox Sparrow and other charming relations. Last year, birders were flocking to a parking lot in a Petaluma park because Harris’ Sparrow had put in a surprise appearance there. You never know who you’ll see when you start keeping your eyes on the birds!
This is just a quick bird alert post to announce that one of our favorite birds, the Cedar Waxwing, has just arrived in the SF Bay Area. I saw a birding report this week that mentioned them being spotted in West Sonoma County, in Sebastopol, and yesterday, we saw them in the more eastern part of the region near Kenwood, CA. Our glimpse was merely of a flock passing high over head, but the soft zeee, zeee, zeee calls left us in no doubt.
What other wild bird can rival the Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum, for sheer elegance? His smooth-as-wax plumes and softest fawn hue makes the birder long to reach out and touch this beautiful bird.
It does seem to me that mid-September is a mite early for the Cedar Waxwings to have arrived. I normally associate these birds with the ripening of the persimmon trees where they flock in tremendous numbers, gobbling up the vermilion fruits as soon as they are ripe. The persimmons are still pretty green around here, but perhaps the waxwings are dining on the last of the blackberries.
Are you seeing Cedar Waxwings in your neck of the woods? Know a never-fail spot you could share with new birders who would like to check these fine fowls off their lifelist? Please feel free to comment here. And, please, read our in-depth article on the Cedar Waxwing to learn more about this wonderful bird.
Fall is certainly setting in. Woodpeckers everywhere. And now, the sleepy, hazy cry of the Cedar Waxwing graces the air. It’s a great moment in the Bay Area birding year.
No matter how hot the weather may feel, I know that fall is just around the corner when the woodpeckers wake up from their summer silence and begin to make themselves known once again in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nuttall’s Woodpecker seems to blast the first coming-of-fall fanfare in our part of Sonoma County in the North Bay. Acorn woodpeckers aren’t far behind. Within weeks the orchards, woodlands, creeksides and backyards are places to glimpse startling darts of black-and-white wing, red crest, gleaming eye. With the exception of the Red-breasted Sapsucker, all of the birds in this guide are year-round Bay Area residents, but you’d never know it until summer begins to wane and woodpecker excitement begins!
This illustrated guide to your local woodpeckers will provide you with basic stats about each of the 7 birds and links to further information, where available. I have sized the woodpecker images to give a visual representation of their relative, respective lengths from beak to tail. Bookmark this special edition post of the Birding Sonoma County Blog for quick bird identification reference in the months to come…months that will be filled with wonderful woodpeckers!
With his small bill and marshmallow fluff back, the Downy Woodpecker is arguably the dearest of all our local woodpeckers. He is incredibly agile amongst the tree branches and trunks, and you may even spot him foraging amongst weeds. His drumming is short and somewhat slow. It’s surprisingly audible for such a small woodpecker when you are standing nearby. The call is a very soft pick, and there is also a descending, thin rattle.
The female lacks the red crown of the male. Downy Woodpeckers nest in hollows in trees, and lay 4-7 white eggs.
Where to see the Downy Woodpecker in the Bay Area
Riparian habitat is a favorite of the Downy Woodpecker, as is the case with most woodpeckers. Nearly any creek with a growth of mixed trees is a likely spot to spot this bird. Try the creek at Willowside Road in Santa Rosa. If you have trees in your own yard, don’t be surprised if this smallest of all woodpeckers pays you a visit in the coming months. Read more about the Downy Woodpecker.
Often mistakenly identified as a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Nuttall’s Woodpecker features bold, horizontal striping all down his back. Ladder-backed woodpeckers do not live in the San Francisco Bay Area, but Nuttall’s Woodpecker is one of our most common woodpeckers. Both males and females possess the striped pattern that makes identification so easy. Only the male, however, has the crimson crown near the back of his head. Note the beautiful facial stripes, as well.
Chances are, you will hear Nuttall’s Woodpecker before you see him. His metallic, drill-like call can quickly help you zone in on his location. His drumming is not notably loud, but is fairly lengthy. His movements are quick and agile, and birders are always delighted to see Nuttall’s Woodpeckers appear to defy gravity by scaling along the undersides of horizontal branches.
Nuttall’s Woodpeckers tend to pick nesting holes excavated in oaks and cottonwoods, and 3-6 white eggs are common.
Where to see Nuttall’s Woodpecker in the Bay Area
Any stream with oak trees or cottonwoods present is a good bet for sighting this bird. However, rural neighborhoods throughout the North Bay play host to countless Nuttall’s Woodpeckers and if you only keep your eyes open, this is an easy woodpecker to check off your lifelist. Try the mixed forests of Sugarloaf State Park in Kenwood, California if you’ve yet to see a Nuttall’s Woodpecker. Read more about Nuttall’s Woodpecker.
North American sapsuckers have their own genus (Sphyrapicus), but one look at this fabulous bird is enough to explain why American bird guides group sapsuckers in with woodpeckers. Like woodpeckers, sapsuckers use their stiff tails to keep them propped up while clinging to tree bark and their bills are powerful borers. The Red-breasted Sapsucker is one of our absolute favorite birds, with his stunning crimson head and intelligent eyes. He is a birding bird, spending long moments simply observing the other bird species around him.
Note the broad white patch along the front of his shoulder, and the somewhat blurry white markings on his back. His bill is incredibly strong, and he drills rings in concentric circles around the trunks of trees, and then uses his long tongue to extract sap and insects. He is often trailed by smaller insect-eating birds such as Ruby-crowned Kinglets, who are hoping to take second helpings from the Red-breasted Sapsucker’s numerous excavations.
Unlike the six other woodpecker-type birds in this birding guide, the Red-breasted Sapsucker is only with us during the cold months of the year. Sapsuckers nest in hollows in dead trees and lay 4-7 white eggs.
Where to see the Red-breasted Sapsucker in the Bay Area
Bird guides tend to list the Red-breasted Sapsucker as an inhabitant of mixed forests, but we associate this bird with fruit trees. If you happen to have an apple tree in your yard, you may just be lucky enough to get to study this wonderful and unusual bird at home. We do not consider the Red-breasted Sapsucker to be a common bird in the Bay Area, so you’ll need to have serendipity with you to check him off your lifelist. Read more about the Red-breasted Sapsucker.
For his industry alone, the Acorn Woodpecker deserves renown. When the acorns are ready to harvest, a single bird may drill hundreds or thousands of holes in a tree and fill each one with an acorn. Acorn Woodpeckers aren’t picky. They will turn telephone poles and wooden building frames into pantries, too!
Sibley’s birding guide refers to the facial pattern of the Acorn Woodpecker as “clownish”, and I have to agree. The male’s yellow and black face with a fire red crown is almost shocking to see up close. His movements seem almost mechanical, as if he were a puppet or an automaton. His eager eyes are a vibrant yellow, and his powerful beak is a tool of tremendous value to him.
Acorn Woodpeckers nest in colonies, laying 4-5 white eggs in a hole in a tree. All members of the colony share in the excavation, and in raising the young. Oddly, it has been suggested that the massive food storing habits of these birds are merely meant to preserve the life of the colony in case of emergency – Acorn Woodpeckers are largely insectivorous, but in case of a cold, harsh winter, they are quite prepared to survive on nuts.
Where to see the Acorn Woodpecker in the Bay Area
The obvious answer here is that Acorn Woodpeckers may be seen in almost any part of the Bay Area where there are oak trees. For an almost guaranteed sighting, visit the colony of Acorn Woodpeckers in Annadel State Park. Take Highway 12 east of Santa Rosa, turn left on Lawndale Road, and park in the small parking lot of the foot of the Annadel State Park trail access. Just above the parking lot, on the trail, you will see a very obvious dead tree. Hang about for five minutes or so, and you will be almost certain to catch sight of the noisy antics of the resident colony here. Note especially the extremely loud wake up, wake UP, WAKE UP! call of these unusual, yet common, woodpeckers.
We know that birders have sighted the Hairy Woodpecker in the Bay Area, and respected birding guides list them as being year-round residents here, so we are including them in this woodpecker guide, but must confess that we have never sighted a Hairy Woodpecker locally. We were fortunate enough to witness several pairs of these birds in Calaveras County in eastern California on our most recent birding vacation, and they were fantastic. If you know of a likely local spot to see the Hairy Woodpecker, please do comment here and share it with us.
We had always been concerned that we might not be able to tell the difference between a Downy Woodpecker and a Hairy Woodpecker. Compare the two bird illustrations I have created for you here, and you will see why these two species always give new birders pause. The markings are almost identical, but take our word for it – when we saw our first Hairy Woodpecker, we immediately knew it was no Downy! Large, powerful, and long-billed, the Hairy Woodpecker is a unique and easily identified bird when you see it in person.
In addition to being such a good sized, showy fellow, the Hairy Woodpecker is extremely vocal, and we witnessed the pairs we saw greeting each other with rapid series of notes and rattles. Hairy Woodpeckers do not excavate their own nesting holes, preferring to find homes built by other excavating birds. 3-6 white eggs are laid on a bed of wood chips inside the nesting hole.
Where to see the Hairy Woodpecker in the Bay Area
You tell us. We would love to hear from you if you know where to find these marvellous woodpeckers. Our birding guides indicate that they prefer mature forests, and this certainly agrees with our own experience of encountering the Hairy Woodpecker in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Read more about the Hairy Woodpecker.
UPDATE TO HAIRY WOODPECKER INFO!
Expert birders Lillian and Don Stokes have been kind enough to share with me that the above information from the Audubon Bird Guide regarding Hairy Woodpeckers not excavating their own nesting holes is incorrect. Don and Lillian have seen Hairy Woodpeckers excavating nesting holes many, many times. Thanks to them for the correction!
Additionally, within days of writing this guide, we saw our very first Hairy Woodpecker in Sonoma County, CA. What a funny coincidence. He was a big, beautiful male, and was on a dead tree near the Lawndale Road entrance to Annadel State Park near the village of Kenwood. He was sharing his roost with a Nuttall’s Woodpecker, and his larger size immediately gave away the fact that we were not seeing a Downy. What a neat accomplishment to finally see this bird in the Bay Area!
Northern Red-shafted Flicker
You are quite right if you have noticed that the Red-shafted Flicker looks nothing like any of the other woodpeckers on our local list. It’s only when you take a look at an extensive North American bird guide and see birds such as the Gila Woodpecker or the Red-bellied Woodpecker that you realize that not all woodpeckers are black and white. The beautiful bronze sheen of the Northern Red-shafted Flicker’s wings and his remarkable stripes and spots are unique in the Bay Area birding scene.
The Northern Red-shafted Flicker is a large, substantial bird with a powerful bill. We call him the ‘helping bird’ because the holes he excavates provide homes for so many other wild birds. In flight, the Northern Red-shafted Flicker always delights the birder with his unexpected display of salmon pink underwings. What a surprise!
The Northern Red-shafted Flicker excavates his nesting holes in trees or posts, and 5-10 white eggs are common. He does a fabulous imitation of a Red-tailed Hawk, kyaar, and a repetitive flicker, flicker, flicker call, which wins him his distinctive name.
Where to see the Northern Red-shafted Flicker in the Bay Area
This is a very common bird. The Northern Red-shafted Flicker has adapted to both deciduous and evergreen forests, open country, and desert. There are vast numbers of these birds in Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen, California during the cold months of the year. Read more about the Northern Red-shafted Flicker.
King of the woodpeckers, king of the forest, the magnificent Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America. The potential rediscovery of the similar Ivory-billed Woodpecker does put this claim of being biggest in question, but for certain, the Pileated Woodpecker is the mightiest woodpecker you will ever see in the Bay Area. With his long neck, flaming crest, and beautiful striped face, the Pileated Woodpecker fills the birder with awe, no matter how often he is sighted.
There is something almost eerie about walking through a quiet wood when the silence is abruptly disturbed by the deafening, jackhammer drilling of this powerful fowl. His excavations echo throughout the forest, leaving you in no doubt as to his presence and sovereignty. His rapid, mechanical calls come down to you from the canopy, as you eagerly try to spot him amongst the branches. It is always amazing to us how well this large woodpecker can conceal himself when he wants to, but catch him in flight and you will never forget the stunning sight.
Both male and female Pileated Woodpeckers have a red crest, but the male’s extends all the way forward to the bill, and is accompanied by a red cheek stripe. Pileated Woodpeckers excavate their holes in trees and lay 3-5 white eggs. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly flush these birds up from the ground when you are walking in the woods. They feed on the insects that live in fallen trees.
Where to see the Pileated Woodpecker in the Bay Area
I will again recommend the mixed woods of Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen, California, as a likely place to see these unforgettable woodpeckers. The hallmarks of good Pileated Woodpecker territory are old forests with old trees and plenty of fallen logs. Read more about the Pileated Woodpecker.
Birding Sonoma County hopes that this guide will be of lasting use to you for many years to come. We feel that woodpeckers add such a special pleasure to birding. Their activity and their beauty is a gift to behold.
We would greatly appreciate it if our readers would contribute to this guide by leaving comments. Though we do set out birding all over the Bay Area, we know our own corner of this region best. We want to know where you are seeing woodpeckers. Do you know of a surefire spot for sighting one or more of the seven species in this guide? Please take a moment to share that with all of our readers!
Marin County, California
Point Reyes National Seashore Superintendent Don Neubacher welcomed animal exterminators, White Buffalo Inc., to our local seashore at the end of July. West Marin locals are seeing the helicopters, seeing Fallow and Axis does with ear tags and collars, and seeing large storage containers that will hold the bodies of the 1000 mother deer that White Buffalo will rocket-net, shoot, and captive-bolt over the next three summers. Locals are outraged at the intrusion of violence in their once-peaceful park and Trinka Marris of Friends of The White Deer states,
“The number of 1000 is misleading. The public needs to understand that killing the does will result in hundreds or thousands of orphaned fawns dying a horrible death of slow starvation. The NPS is choosing not to count these baby fawns’ death when they give the number ’1000′.”
This is fawn season. Visitors to Marin may just have the chance, if they are very lucky, to glimpse one of the white or speckled fawns that have just been born this year. The above photograph, taken by photographer Trish Carney, shows the beauty and defenselessness of these baby animals. I am writing this article here to voice my own horror, and the horror of the people of Marin over the fact that these innocent baby animals are about to witness their mothers, sisters and aunts murdered in the following way by White Buffalo Inc.’s brutal gunmen:
“White Buffalo will bait deer, trap them in a net, and then kill them with a captive bolt (the same instrument used in slaughterhouses). A video taken in Illinois shows netted deer wildly struggling to escape. Then a person sits on a deer, another holds her head, and a third fires a 4-inch captive bolt into her brain. While each deer is being wrestled and killed, the others frantically continue to struggle as they watch and hear their companions dying, only to await the same fate.”
In addition the abuse documented here, many of the does will be shot at and will wander the seashore, perhaps gutshot or crippled, bleeding to death. If White Buffalo Inc.’s gunmen manage to capture a shot deer, their policy is to suffocate it by putting a plastic bag over its head.
If this cruelty to animals occurred anywhere outside of government lands, the perpetrator would be sued by the Marin Humane Society with a very good chance of being convicted of a serious crime.
I am a birder, and you, my valued readers, are also birders. If spending all of those hours in nature, watching our feathered fellow creatures has taught us one thing, it is that the animals with whom we share the planet are beings of dignity and wonder. I am sickened to the heart to know the fate that is currently meeting the gentle Fallow and Axis Deer of the Point Reyes National Seashore. I am sickened by the cruelty and stupidity of mankind.
Bambi was a cartoon; these deer are actually living beings
I have been appalled by the coverage most of the local newspapers have given to the plight of the Fallow and Axis Deer of Point Reyes National Seashore. In their strivings to hit on a catchy title for their editorials and articles, journalists working for the Press Democrat, The Marin Independent, The San Francisco Chronicle and the Point Reyes Light have repeatedly likened the local deer to Disney’s cartoon Bambi.
And they aren’t saying, “Didn’t anyone realize how horrible it was that Bambi’s mother was shot?”
Their tone is, “Well, wow, it’s just like Bambi. Aren’t I clever to have noticed that?”
The Bambi cartoon has traumatized countless children, despite it’s unrealistic attempt to make it all seem okay that Bambi’s mother was killed, because, after all, then Bambi makes friends with a rabbit and some other cute and cuddly creatures of the forest.
In real life, it will not happen that way for the orphaned fawns who will starve to death once their mothers are dead. I am completely disgusted to realize that journalists are so out of touch with even the most remote concept of respect for life that they can trivialize the trauma and pain of a living, breathing baby creature by glibly comparing it to a cartoon. Shame on each one of them for this inhumane attitude towards wild animals.
But Hunting’s An Old Time-Honored Tradition, Ain’t It?
White Buffalo Inc’s gunmen are not hunters. Hunters are the Aleutians who kill whales with spears so that their families can eat. Once upon a time, hunters were people like Pa in the Little House on the Prairie series of books about pioneer life. Men like Pa shot only enough animals to feed their wife and children. They shot stags…not does and fawns in fawn season! Hunting was a practice developed by humans in order to survive…to have something to eat. Hunting is not a sport. Hunting is not a business.
For the record, I am a vegetarian. I have not eaten meat in more than 15 years. I am ethically opposed to any type of killing of animals. However, I am also quite aware that in many parts of the world, native peoples still rely on hunting as their primary food source. I may feel sadness over the Aleutian killing of whales up in the far north, but I get it…this is how these people survive and they’ve lived like this for centuries.
This is at the opposite end of the spectrum from camouflage-draped men shooting firearms from helicopters in order to brutally eliminate thousands of deer at a time. These are not hunters. They are violent, twisted people. The president of White Buffalo compares killing deer to brushing his teeth and is eager to tell reporters how much he enjoys his job.
What kind of a person takes satisfaction in the screams of defenseless animals while bolts are being shot into their brains? What kind of a person is that?
White Buffalo Leaving A Guilty Trail of Blood Across the United States
They ride into your town under government protection, in case some hippy might wave a “Please don’t shoot my friends” sign at them. They meet with the press and talk about what great shots they all are and how professional, efficient and humane they are. They talk about the great hunting life they lead. The press prints the standard propaganda for you and your neighbors to read. They tell you they’ll be giving the meat to the homeless, so everyone can feel better about it.
Then the shooting starts.
White Buffalo’s policy is to keep times and places for shootings a secret, but the word always seems to leak out. Suddenly, people are finding baby fawns keeling over in their backyards. Children are screaming over stumbling upon the bloody, half-dead body of a deer. You and your neighbors are threatened with arrest if you so much as try to take a single photo of the carnage.
Maybe the homeless do receive some of the meat, but most of the dead mothers are left to rot in the fields. White Buffalo is securely escorted from the town with many thanks from the NPS, and the people, the animals and the land are left reeling from a trauma that will never heal.
What is happening in Marin, California has happened in Ohio, New Jersey, Connecticut and a growing number of states across our country, always at the request of park officials, and always against the consensus of local citizens. It’s a terrible, sickening pattern and Marin is only the newest town on White Buffalo’s woeful list.
The Final Insult, or, What’s In A Name?
My husband and I are both proud to have partly Native American ancestry. We honor the way our ancestors existed within an environment, rather than viewing themselves as somehow outside of it. I want to state, as a woman with Native American heritage, that I am personally offended by the name of this company – White Buffalo, Inc.
From their website at whitebuffaloinc.org:
“Native American legend tells of the White Buffalo Woman who offered a sacred pipe to a Dakota tribe, explaining that the pipe symbolized that all things were connected. Its purpose was to remind people of their tie to nature, what nature gives and what should be done in return.”
What? What is this? Is what we are supposed to give in return the wholesale, inhumane slaughter of some of nature’s most fragile and lovely creatures? I was stunned reading this statement. It is so insulting that this company would dare to use a Native American legend to describe their behaviour.
And, just for the record, the version of the White Buffalo legend I know goes like this:
Once White Buffalo Woman appeared to two men. The first man was disrespectful to her and tried to harm her. She turned him into a pile of bones. The second man was respectful, so she gave him a pipe and taught him special music.
If my Powhatan Indian ancestors were only alive today, I am sure they would find it hard to keep the sarcasm out of their voices as they explained to White Buffalo Inc. the actual fate of the bad man who harmed nature. I can hardly believe the irony of White Buffalo Inc.’s selective twist on this old story and they have wound up looking very foolish in doing this.
The Fate of Nature
Every time I sit down to add a new blog post to this birding blog, I am trying to share my deep love of wild creatures with you. Today, I am sharing my sadness and outrage. If you share my feelings, please, take the time to visit the following website:
Please visit Trish Carney’s Flickr photo set to view her photographic documentation of the fallow deer of the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Well, birding has been a bit on the quiet side since the heat of summer set in on us here in Sonoma County. Sure, the California Quail are still making their evening promenade through the cool grass, and some of our migratory visitors are still in evidence if you know where to look, but the the rapture of spring is past and the flurry of fall has yet to begin.
Just when we thought things had gotten sedate in the local birding world, we found ourselves face to face with a long-sought raptor – Cooper’s Hawk!
What a thrill to spot this awesome bird of prey, perched on a wire over Hwy 12 near the residential community of Oakmont, just east of Santa Rosa, CA. You can bet we pulled the car over fast, leapt out of our seats and rushed through a bunch of extremely painful starthistle nettles to zone our birding binoculars in on this fabulous fowl!
You will DEFINITELY know it’s not a Red-shouldered Hawk
In Sonoma County, our 2 most common hawks are the of the genus Buteo. These common fellows are the big Red-tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis, and the Hallowe’en-colored Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus. Most of the time when you see a hawk as you’re driving around Sonoma County, it’s going to be one of these two birds. Yet, Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, is also a year-round resident. Note that he’s not a Buteo. Cooper’s hawk is of the genus Accipiter…a whole different branch of the birds of prey! If you’re used to the Red-tails and Red-shoulders, Cooper’s Hawk will immediately stand out as a very different looking raptor to you. Let’s compare him to the Red-shouldered hawk here, just to illustrate how different the fieldmarks of the adult birds are.
Yes, both of these birds feature that beautiful rust coloration on the chest, but note how the orange color goes right over the Red-shouldered Hawk’s head and shoulders. By contrast, the distinctive slate-colored cap of the Cooper’s Hawk gives the bird’s head a much darker appearance.
Now compare the wings and tails of the two birds. I call the Red-shouldered Hawk Hallowe’en-colored because of how his checkered black-and-white feathers contrast with the orange. By contrast, the slate of the Cooper’s Hawk’s head continues all down the back of his neck, shoulders, wings and tail. There is a striping of two grey tones on his tail, but it is not nearly as pronounced as the black and white tail of the Red-shouldered Hawk.
The two birds are of comparable size, with the 17″ Red-shouldered being perhaps an inch or so larger than Cooper’s, on average. The shape of the birds is markedly different, however. The Red-shouldered hawk looks somewhat like a well-fed teddy bear. He is stocky and sturdy looking. When I saw the Cooper’s Hawk this week, I was immediately struck by what a slender overall shape he had. I’d never seen such a slim-looking raptor before. His amazingly long tail only adds to his streamlined appearance. The tail-length is something that really stands out about this interesting bird – no other local hawk has such a long one.
Both birds have bright yellow legs, but Cooper’s Hawk has glowing red eyes! Be sure to notice them when next you see this less common local raptor. Yet, even the major field marks of head color and wing/tail color are likely to be plenty to let you know you are spotting Cooper’s Hawk and not the regular old Red-shouldered.
Further field notes on Cooper’s Hawk
Birds of prey thrill me. They are exciting to me in a way that is different from the joy I feel over seeing a warbler or a wren. Their majesty and powerful flight are awesome to behold. Yet, all the same, I know I can only have this appreciation of local raptors because I am a human being. When Cooper’s Hawk left his perch on the electric wire and flew directly over our heads, I was aware of being very glad that I’m not a little songbird. Yes – I’m afraid that little birds are the mainstay of Cooper’s Hawk’s diet. In fact, backyard birders often spot their first Cooper’s Hawk next to the birdfeeder. Yikes! Nature’s ways aren’t always pretty and I confess to feeling sad about the fear small birds must feel when they sense the shadow of this enemy slipping toward them.
Once the Cooper’s hawk was out of sight on Hwy 12 this week, the air was suddenly filled with goldfinches, house finches and doves, all coming out of hiding, relieved to be okay. The world of birds is full of rather heart-thumping moments like these. You realize this, the longer you watch.
In addition to making appearances in suburban areas, Cooper’s Hawks tend to inhabit riverside and forrest terrain. They build bark-lined nests of sticks on a platform and 3-5 blue eggs are common. Immature birds are a combination of brown and white and harder to identify than the adults.
Keep your eyes on the skies. If you see that beautiful slate and orange combination in a long-tailed hawk, chances are it’s Cooper’s!