The Big River Bird Surveys–Laguna Marsh


Thursday morning was my second of three legs of Big River Surveys. This time it was Laguna Marsh. Laguna Marsh is a beautiful place to bird but very few birders get a chance to bird there because it’s a hard place to get to. I haven’t been there in over three years.

Four of us left the main Big River parking lot at 6:00AM and traveled up Comptche-Ukiah Rd. for about 9 miles to a locked logging gate (far right red arrow). Beyond the gate was Conservation Fund property. Down a logging road we went to a second locked gate (left red arrow) behind which was California State Parks property and Laguna Marsh. Another way of getting there is a trail (green arrow) about 7 miles up Comptche-Ukiah Rd. I hear that it’s very steep and you have to cross over an old falling down bridge at the bottom. You can also walk or ride your bike 8.3 miles up the Big River Haul Rd. and ford the river (yellow arrow). There are other logging trails into the marsh but you would need an ATV and a good sense of direction. The blue arrow is the last survey point on the Big River East Haul Rd. survey. It’s 1.83 miles by straight line, 2.2 miles by trail to the marsh from that point. The actual survey points at Laguna Marsh are shown below.

The Mendocino Land Trust has this to say about Laguna Marsh. “60-acre Laguna Marsh, an unusual inland and extensive fresh-emergent wetland representing one of the most productive habitats on earth.” I could not find much else in the literature and study’s available on the Big River area. 

Some of the attractions for birders visiting Laguna Marsh are the Wood Ducks and Purple Martins, a California Bird Species of Special Concern. Wood ducks during the survey route were abundant but unfortunately we could find only two Purple Martins (a pair going in and out of a hole) towards the end of the route. Normally we would find 6 to 8. One of the main snags that we’ve alway found Purple Martin in was quiet. In fact there was almost no swallow action during the whole survey with just a few Violet-green Swallows and one Barn Swallow seen. It seemed strange because the mosquito population was huge. Another California Bird Species of Special Concern is the Olive-sided Flycatcher. They have always been present at the marsh with 3 or 4 present during our surveys. They were very active during our visit. Another California Bird Species of Special Concern that has been found at the marsh is the Vaux’s Swift. None were found during this survey. A review of Ebird records for them shows that they are very rare in Mendocino County this year, especially along the coast.

We made it out alive without too much blood loss and next up will be the Big River–East Haul Rd. survey.

Spring Ranch Birding

They’re not exactly working me to death at my little part time job so I took off to do some local birding at Spring Ranch just down the road from me. Spring Ranch is mostly coastal grassland with some trees on the north and south with the ocean on the west. I haven’t birded this area much but I’m starting to enjoy the area. They seem to mow the grass around the boundary of the ranch (probably for fire prevention) which creates a lot of short grass. Perfect for certain sparrow species.

 There are several old barns on the property that local groups are trying to restore. The history of Spring Ranch can be found here.

There are two benches with plaques on them overlooking the ocean.

Did I see anything? I knew I could do it! I found a coastal Horned Lark. This is a little better picture which shows why they are named “Horned” Larks.

There was a Cackling Goose that I ran into several times. 

There were many gulls flying by, Oystercatchers, Turnstones, and Cormorants on the rocks, and Savannah Sparrows in the grass. The only things wrong with my birding experience was that it was cold and foggy. Fog has returned to the coast. 


Western Snowy Plover and Climate Change

The image to the left is by Becky Bowen from the SOS website.

I am in training as a Snowy Plover Monitor for California State Parks. It is one of the reasons that I was included in the recent Western Snowy Plover Breeding Window Survey

This post will concern itself with the effects of climate change on the Snowy Plover. It will be mostly a copy and paste article.

Mendocino Coast beaches support a fair number of Snowy Plovers during the Winter. According to the information I have, there is a mix of both Western and Interior Snowy Plovers. The Interior birds are not listed as threatened but just had their ranking as a California Bird Species of Special Concern raised due to climate change. A link to that report is on a past posting of mine and can be found here.

In May 2012, the USFWS revised the Critical Habitat designation for the Western Snowy Plover along coastal California, Washington, and Oregon.

 “In summary, this revision increases critical habitat from 12,150 acres to 24,527 acres of coastal beach-dune ecosystem habitat along the Pacific Coast essential to the survival and recovery of the snowy plover.” This change came about because of a lawsuit. The revision published in the Federal Register on June 19, 2012 is very detailed in describing current climate change science and it’s effects on not only the Snowy Plover but also our coastline. You can also replace the words, Snowy Plover, with any shorebird that spends any time here in Mendocino.

Climate Change

“Our analyses under the Act include consideration of ongoing and projected changes in climate. The terms ‘‘climate” and ‘‘climate change” are defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”

“Sea level rise and hydrological changes associated with climate change are having and will continue to have significant effects on Pacific Coast WSP and its habitat over the next several decades. Sea level rise is a result of two phenomena: Thermal expansion (increased sea water temperatures) and global ice melt (Cayan et al. 2006, p. 5).”

“Recent observations and models (including the models we used to evaluate Pacific Coast WSP habitat) indicate that those projections were conservative and ignored some critical factors, such as melting of the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets (Heberger et al. 2009, p. 6). Heberger et al. (2009, p. 8) have updated the sea level rise projections for California to 3.3–4.6 ft (1.0–1.4 m) by 2100, while Vermeer and Rahmstorf (2009, p. 21530) calculate the sea level rise globally at 2.4–6.2 ft (0.57–1.9 m); in both cases, recent estimates were more than twice earlier projections. Combined with California’s normal dramatic tidal fluctuations and coincidental storms, the severity of the latter increasing with more frequent El Nino Southern Oscillations due to increasing surface water temperature (Cayan et al. 2006, p. 17), the effects of sea level rise are expected to reach farther inland than previously anticipated (Cayan et al. 2006, pp. 48– 49; Cayan et al. 2009, p. 40). Similar effects are expected to occur along the Oregon and Washington coastlines (Galbraith et al. 2002, pp. 173–183; Huppert et al. 2009, pp. 285–309; Ruggiero et al. 2010, 211–262). For the Pacific Coast WSP and other shorebird habitat, Galbraith et al. (2002, pp. 173–183) in a study of sites in Washington (Willapa Bay) and California (Humboldt Bay and San Francisco Bay) projected losses of intertidal habitat could range between 20 and 70 percent of the existing habitat. In addition, sea-level rise may result in coastal areas to lose their ability to continue to support the current number of shorebirds. Areas with steep topography (Northern California to Washington State) or seawalls (Southern California) with limited beach habitat are expected to have the most severe losses (Galbraith et al. 2002, pp. 173–183).”

“Additionally sea-level rise would cause: (1) Inundation of low-lying areas by high tides; (2) flooding of coastal areas during major storm events, especially near river mouths; (3) acceleration of erosion of coastal bluffs; and (4) a shift in beach profiles, move the position of the mean high water line landward (Huppert et al. 2009, p. 285).”

Predation and human disturbances are addressed in the comments section but that’s not the subject of this post. The full revision in the Federal Register can be found here

Other resources for the Western Snowy Plover’s recovery plan can be found here