Guest Post | A Birder’s Perspective on the Bay

Alameda resident Rick Lewis has been a Bay Area birder and a wildlife photographer for more than 30 years. His gorgeous photos often grace Save The Bay’s calendars, email communications, and website. Rick is passionate about preserving bird habitat in the Bay Area, so he created and narrated the slideshow below  to convey the beauty of Bay Area birds. Through his photos, poetry, and this blog post, he hopes to remind Bay Area residents how fortunate we are to live in this region, and to inspire everyone to advocate for wetland restoration and habitat preservation–for future generations of people and birds to enjoy.

There are good birding spots five minutes away. That’s not exactly correct – if I simply open the front door I can watch towhees, black phoebes, warblers, sparrows, crows, and various raptors. Skunks, squirrels, raccoons, and gopher snakes sometimes visit. This isn’t the ‘country’, this is Alameda. From here I can smell low tide. It’s all about habitat around the bay.

Despite urbanization, San Francisco Bay is recognized as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network—a place of hemispheric importance that impacts the entire state and has global implications. Birds are an indicator species and reflect the overall health of the region. The numerous accounts of falling bird populations being the result of human activity is an alarm all should heed. We are not separate from them; there is no separation. Connectivity binds us all and what we do here will certainly have ramifications felt far and wide. As Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Many years ago I was photographing a pair of young Brown Pelicans at the Berkeley Aquatic Park. They were quite chummy with each other and were enthusiastic subjects. Time and again they would walk towards me to investigate the camera. I would back up and they would rub bills inquisitively. This intimate encounter sealed my fate as a life-long birder and left me charmed, thrilled, and honored.

We almost lost pelicans, but they came back from the brink of extinction once we banned DDT. The story of the pelican indicates our positive influence when we decide to act. And also the resilience of nature. There are dozens of other stories like this out on the marsh. Take note of the wintering waterfowl and shorebirds near the base of the bay bridge as you approach from Oakland. The birds are content to feed and loaf as they ignore the traffic and surrounding activity. It is imperative that we preserve and restore what little habitat these birds have amidst the bridges and the cars. We just need to act now.

I believe that our very existence depends on the ability to experience nature close to our homes. Photographing birds along the shoreline is what I thrive on. I hope everyone who lives here will find something that inspires them in the wildness just beyond their doorstep. I am happy to share my inspiration through my slideshow and poetry. Please take a moment now to tell the Bay Restoration Authority to put a measure on the ballot to fund Bay restoration.

I have ever heard,
and listened to, the song
of birds.
Be it day, or
eve, or morn,
or the darkness we perceive
The song prevails, loud
And clear, breaking through
the mist of perversity
A beacon, a light,
a thing of utmost beauty
Dawn has come
and with it
life, illumination
and a joy too
sublime to calculate
and that is its

Thank you for all you do for the Bay.
Rick Lewis


A river otter on Lake Merritt?

river otter
If you spot a river otter, leave it alone and contact the River Otter Ecology Project. Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch. Click this image for more photos.

A couple weeks ago, something pretty unusual was spotted in downtown Oakland. A North American river otter stopped by the Lake Merritt boathouse, posed for a photo, and caused a bit of a stir.

Naturally, the photo found its way onto Facebook and Twitter, and Save The Bay passed it along with a sense of celebration: Huzzah for spunky and adorable Bay critters! Congrats to Oakland for reconnecting the lake to the Bay! Thanks to everyone who works to make the Bay healthy for humans and wildlife!

But then, at the request of one of our environmental partners, we agreed to delete our post from Facebook. Wildlife groups were justifiably concerned about the “Sutro Sam effect”—you know, the phenomenon where a bunch of bozos think it’s okay to approach a wild animal, offer it food, throw stuff to provoke a reaction, and unleash their dogs for uninvited play dates.

In retrospect, I’m not sure what we expected to accomplish by removing our Facebook post. If the otter (Let’s call her Merritt Mary) had decided to take up residence, there would have been no keeping the lid on it. We all know that soon enough there would be viral videos, a Merritt Mary Twitter account, and in all likelihood a parade of people getting all up in Merritt Mary’s face.

The fact is, many of us are generally pretty clueless when it comes to animals in the wild. We tend to imagine them as pets or pests, when we think of them at all. And when it comes to San Francisco Bay, we often forget that beyond the postcard-perfect view, it is first and foremost a habitat for hundreds of amazing species. Otters, sea lions, seals, porpoises, skates, sharks, jellyfish, octopuses, herring, pipefish, rockfish and many others make their home in the Bay. We don’t often see them, so it can be easy to forget that our own bad behaviors affect them every day—from the plastic bags we let escape into the environment to littered toxic cigarette butts we give so little thought to.

Personally, I’m still hoping that Merritt Mary will make her way back to the boathouse and take up residence somewhere just out of onlookers’ reach, like the sly sea lions famously have done over at San Francisco’s Pier 39. We could all use a reminder of the wildlife in our midst, if only to remind us not to be such bozos.

If you spot a river otter in the Bay Area, report your sighting to the River Otter Ecology Project

Weekly Roundup | May 31, 2013

newspaperCheck out this week’s Weekly Roundup for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay.

San Jose Mercury News 5/28/13
Chinook salmon study breaks ground in bay, Delta
On a sunny morning in the state capital, Mike McHenry, a fisherman out of Pillar Point Harbor in San Mateo County, guided his boat to a dock on the Sacramento River and readied its 10,000-gallon hold for some special cargo.
In about 10 minutes the vessel was teeming with fish, their speckled backs presenting various shades of greens, browns and yellows. Soon after, McHenry would steer his boat 109 miles to Fort Baker, just east of the Golden Gate Bridge, completing the latest phase of a groundbreaking experiment involving one of California’s most vital and popular fish, the Chinook salmon.
Read more>>

Marietta Daily Journal 5/24/13
Plastic ocean debris the target of new California bill
It’s a common sight on the nation’s beaches: among the sand, sea foam and gnarled kelp lay plastic bottles, bags and other garbage.
Each year cleanup crews throughout the U.S. collect millions of pounds of plastic trash from beaches and coastal waterways, with the biggest numbers coming from California’s 1,100-mile coastline.
Read more>>

The Sacramento Bee 5/27/13
California beaches brace for Japanese tsunami debris
It’s an unseasonably warm day, and Avila Beach is packed with sunbathers and tourists. Scott Milner attracts more than a few curious glances as he steps onto the beach holding a Ludlum radiation scanner and proceeds to take background readings next to the pier.
Read more>> 5/29/13
High mercury levels in fish caught at popular Laguna de Santa Rosa spot
Fish caught at a popular fishing spot in the Laguna de Santa Rosa between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa had unacceptably high levels of mercury, well above the threshold where health officials normally recommend against eating them, according to a new state survey.
Read more>>

Daily Kos 5/7/13
Sierra Club California Condemns Governor’s Delta Policy
The campaign by Delta advocates to stop the construction of twin peripheral tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta received a big boost today when Sierra Club California called on Governor Jerry Brown to abandon his “out-of-step position” on the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.
Read more>>