A week ago Tuesday I was on the west end of the Big River Haul Rd. leading a Spring bird survey. I had been approached by Nicolet Houtz, Trails and Stewardship Coordinator, for Mendocino Land Trust, to see if I would be willing to lead some surveys, something I’ve done in the past. “Since 2003, working in collaboration with Mendocino Coast Audubon Society and Mendocino High School’s SONAR program, as well as trainers from Mad River Biologists, Big River Stewards have pursued a long-term study of bird populations at Big River.” These surveys will establish a baseline from which to monitor changes to the property. I first started doing these surveys probably in 2007 and continued through 2011. Since the death of Matt Coleman in 2011 the surveys have have been infrequent, if not on “hold”. Nicolet’s job is getting them restarted. I’ve written about Big River and Matt Coleman before. You can find that post here. You can find a report on the Big River Bird Surveys on the Mendocino Land Trust’s website.
The surveys are taken on 3 different parts of the Big River watershed, the West Haul Rd., the East Haul Rd., and Laguna Marsh. Each survey route consists of about 10 or 11 fixed survey points about 1/3 of a mile apart. This mostly allows for not recounting birds and since they are fixed you can get a feel for any changes at that point. Below is a map of the points for the West and East Haul Rds.
The surveys at each point is for a 10 minute period. During that time we count every bird seen or heard, trying not to count any birds more that once. This year’s surveys were accompanied by lots of Mosquitos. That not always the case. These surveys remind me just how many Wilson’s Warblers, Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Swainson’s Thrushes, and Song Sparrows there are along Big River. This year we had 2 Hermit Warblers (more on them later) and a softly singing White-throated Sparrow which is rare here at this time. During these surveys we have the rare privilege of driving the Haul Rd. behind the locked gate.
Near survey point 5 we stopped to check out the Double-crested Cormorant Rookery. This is the only “known” DCCO rookery in Mendocino County and with binoculars we could see 5 or 6 active nests. Will have to take my scope next time to observe them better. This rookery was discovered after a Spring Big River Bird Survey in 2011. We had noticed cormorants carrying what we thought was nesting material. I went back later and found the rookery.
On the way back we stopped to check out the Great Blue Heron Rookery which can be seen directly south from Matt’s Memorial Bench. We could only find 2 active nests. That’s Nicolet in back and Linda Perkins of the Sierra Club in front.
I have not been birding as much this year as I did last year. Still catching up with things around the house and my reading. I have continued my weekly Saturday birding at the Little River Airport and have moved to Thursdays for my “off” season SOS Shorebird Surveys at Virgin Creek Beach. Still using the MTA and my bike to get there. In fact I had a 88 day period between gas fill ups for my truck which is a new record. Some of that was caused by rain but it seems the less birding I do the more gas I save. How sad!
At the airport I have found that most of the migrating birds have arrived early this year, some as much as much as 12 days early (Allen’s Hummingbird). Only Wilson’s Warbler and Pacific-slope Flycatcher were on time. I found my first “Spring” Hermit Warbler “airport” record this morning during a bike ride around the airport. With the two we found on Big River (in a place where I’ve never seen them) and the two I heard singing Monday while walking around the “Wood’s” where I live, Hermit Warblers seem plentiful this year.
At Virgin Creek Beach the shorebird surveys during late Winter and early Spring have been the worst I’ve ever seen since I been surveying. Surfbirds, Sanderlings and Black-bellied Plovers were all in short supply. It picked up a little this last month and last Thursday (during some rain) I found 3 Ruddy Turnstones on the rocks.
Looking forward to the start of the regular SOS Shorebird Surveys in July.